‘Sydney’s gone mad’: Absurd festival ban
RED tape overkill in NSW almost saw ballet banned from a key venue of a performing arts festival because authorities deemed any type of dancing as an activity that could lead to drunken violence.
Kerri Glasscock of the Sydney Fringe Festival said not only was ballet inadvertently banned, an attempt to turn a shop into a temporary performance space had to be abandoned because the premises would have had to be refitted to the same fire safety levels of an airport.
"This is an example of how mad things have got in Sydney. How have we become a world where the artistic program of a major arts festival can be dictated?" she told news.com.au.
The accusation comes as NSW faces an election this month where overbearing regulation has become a political issue.
News.com.au has spoken to pubs and venues that say they are hamstrung by multiple layers of bureaucracy, from local councils to police and the state government, whose rules often overlap and regulations contradict one another.
Nanny state NSW was saddled with so many "overbearing and archaic regulations", Ms Glasscock said she was even encouraged to break the law as one way to overcome onerous and seemingly nonsensical rules.
"You are viewed through a lens that you will do the worst thing possible," she said. "We're never treated as professionals; we're viewed as troublemakers."
The Sydney Fringe Festival is the largest independent arts festival in NSW with 2000 artists performing across the city.
The program includes theatre, cabaret, live music and dance - events not usually know to lead to outbursts of violence.
But Ms Glasscock said she faced a bizarre demand from police when she applied to open a temporary festival hub and bar in 2017 and 2018 at an industrial site in Sydney's inner west.
"Police looked at a previous year's festival program, when we'd run a series of discos, and they used that to assume we would run dance parties," she said.
"But those discos were a family disco and a silent disco. And they hadn't taken into account the other 400 events we did.
"They put in restrictions to say that we could operate but with no DJs and no dancing and they assumed we would not have an issue with that," Ms Glasscock said.
While the police didn't specifically mention ballet, Ms Glasscock said the broad nature of their objections meant any dancing, whatsoever, would have fallen foul of the rules.
"Ballet and contemporary dance are dancing. If the police had come down and seen there was a breach of the DA (because of ballet) I could have been shut down or fined. So I would have had no dance at all in my major festival hub," she said.
"At no point was my history as a responsible operator taken into account. And what's wrong with dancing? How can the police can dictate an artistic program of a major arts festival?"
NSW Police has been contacted by news.com.au about their objections to dancing at the festival and their general attitude to liquor licencing but has not responded.
With the backing of council, Ms Glasscock eventually managed to get the vague reference to "dancing" removed from the DA.
"Most of the people I know in this industry run safe venues, they're not risking people lives or their livelihoods," she said.
Sydney MP Mr Greenwich said the government didn't trust people and wanted to "regulate festivals, fun and night-life out of existence".
"It's an approach of we'll tell you what to do, rather then we'll work with you," he told news.com.au.
He wanted to see a small business commissioner set up to act as a middle person between festivals and venues, and the authorities.
Police, he said, were just following the letter of the law imposed on them by the government.
"I'd like to see the government and police having a live music and performance task force who can work with organisers to make sure these things don't happen. No one benefits from ballet being shut down, there's no public safety risk," Mr Greenwich said.
Tyson Koh is the founder of Keep Sydney Open, a political party running candidates in the upcoming NSW election. He wants to see an "office of the night" created to foster strong links between police, local residents and businesses.
He told news.com.au NSW's crackdown on entertainment venues was being heavily influenced by the police's risk-averse attitude.
"The nanny state in NSW didn't just start with lockouts laws. There's been a long track record of the NSW Government stifling ground-up activity in favour of an oppressive top-down approach," he said.
"It's being led by police and unfortunately the police's views on the night-time economy diverge from much of the community.
"It's the infantilising of people around night life and going out with friends."
On another occasion, Ms Glasscock said a plan to temporarily convert a hairdressing salon into a performance space fell victim to overbearing council red tape.
"There was no increase to the capacity and the actor would have played the role of a hairdresser. The only thing that would have changed would be you'd pay for a theatre ticket not a haircut," she said.
But the festival was told it would have to upgrade the salon to the tough 9B public space building classification, which airports and sports stadiums have to adhere to.
"We'd need new doors and a new toilet for just five days of theatre. It's an example of how mad the regulatory world is and how mad things have got in Sydney," he said.
It was all too much and the plan was axed.
"It boils down to performance leading to a higher assumption of risk. But why is it more of a risk for 30 people to sit in a hairdresser and watch theatre rather than 30 people sit in a hairdresser and get their hair cut?"
Ms Glasscock said she had been urged by some people to open the theatre salon regardless.
"But if you operate in the shadows you're breaking the law and you can't build a sustainable business knowing it could be shut down," she said.
Both Labor and the Liberals will look to lessen some regulations on the entertainment and night-time economy if they are elected.
But Ms Glasscock said the issue had been put in the "too hard basket" for too long.
"South Australia has fixed this problem where a mandate came from the premier, who said we want to have a vibrant city and got everyone working together," she said.
"We drastically need reform so we can create a diverse night time that isn't just about nightclubs. NSW need to be brought into line with other states."
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