Your guide to the new live music laws

December 12, 2023 was a big day for live music in NSW. On that day, the State Parliament passed new live music laws in something called the 24-Hour Economy Legislation Amendment (Vibrancy Reforms) Bill.

And about time too.

After 15 punishing years of lockout laws strangling the night-time economy here in Newcastle, this is a very welcome move. So, the lockout laws were repealed in 2023 after a trial between October 2021 and October 2022. Then it was time to deal with that flock of suburbanites who decided to move to the inner city and then promptly complained about the noise.

Live music performances were stopped, venues closed, and people lost jobs.

The people who reside in the inner city seem to fail to realise that the inner city belongs to all of us. Like the beaches and the parks, the inner city is there for everyone. It is the central place where we, as a community, can join together to celebrate and commemorate. Anzac Day, New Year’s Eve, Footy Grand Final wins – we all celebrate them in the inner city. Our inner city.

Finally, the government has made it harder for a single, serial complainer to shut down a venue. And that’s not all. The new laws cover six areas – here’s a quick summary:

Noise Complaints

On November 29, 2023, Newcastle’s state member Tim Crakanthorp made a speech in parliament where he stated that “noise complaints are a huge issue faced by Newcastle venues”, citing the challenges faced by the Adamstown Bowling Club, the Hamilton Station Hotel and the Stockton
Bowling Club

Mr Crakanthorp also said, “it is embarrassing that our live music venues have halved over the last 10 years and it is embarrassing that a single new neighbour can move next door to a historic pub or bar and have it closed down by making noise complaints”.

The complainants had seven different agencies to whinge to. Not any more. From now on, Liquor and Gaming NSW will be the sole regulator for noise complaints. Complainants will also have to prove that they have attempted mediation and there will have to be at least 5 complaints from five different households. No longer can a venue be shut down by a single noise complaint. Hallelujah!

Finally, the laws also introduce ‘order of occupancy’ measures to protect longstanding venues from people who move into an area and then complain. So, buyer beware – don’t move near a pub and expect it to be quiet.

Entertainment Precincts

Last year, Sydney tested out the Enmore Road Special Entertainment Precinct and it was a huge success, with the area now being hailed as one of the best going-out districts in the world.
Now, this model is going to be spread throughout the state.

So, what does this mean for Newcastle? In his speech to parliament, Mr Crakanthorp mentioned that “Darby Street, Beaumont Street, Watt Street and King Street would all make great special entertainment precincts”, as well as referring to the West Best Bloc Fest in Newcastle West.

The dedicated precinct will allow for additional trading hours for venues that host live music, two hours for nights that live music is on and one extra hour for other nights of trade. The new noise laws apply as well as powers being given to the Council to adjust trading hours on development consents to support diverse late-night offerings.

Some feel that designated Entertainment Precincts are not the way to go but it is better than the status quo. Either way, the more that our artists and the venues they perform in are protected, the better.

Activating Outdoors

Following the COVID-19 shutdowns, the temporary exemption that allowed venues to use private land for outdoor dining has been made permanent.

This does not, however, apply to footpaths and this shines a light on an unjust anomaly in Newcastle. Why is it that some venues are allowed to have patrons drink kerbside while others are not? This inconsistency is a plague that discriminates against some, restricting their trade and appeal. This should be looked at and a consistent rule applied for all.

Also, now, Councils have been given permanent power under the new legislation to temporarily close roads for outdoor dining or performances. Previously, the Council had to apply to Transport for NSW for all closures but now this only applies to classified roads.

NSW 24-Economy Commissioner

NSW is the first jurisdiction in the world to appoint a 24-hour Economy Commissioner. This is a sign that the government is taking these things seriously – well, at least we hope so.

Basically, the job provides the commissioner with “the authority to provide oversight, coordination, and advocacy for a mix of diverse cultural, social and business activities and experience across the night-time economy”.

In short, the commissioner will provide advice and recommendations to the Minister. Let’s hope they are listened to.

Streamlined, Contemporary Licensing

As well as changes to streamline the application process for liquor licenses, the new laws will also incentivise venues to host live music, offering to maintain the temporary discount on fees for live music venues.

This has to be a plus, encouraging venues that aren’t hosting live music to do so. Hopefully, the result is a plethora of new venues offering live music right across the state.

The new laws also expand the types of venues that can access extended trading hours for special events.

Looking After Night-time Workers

For those that don’t just work from 9 till 5, things like access to available public transport, health care and retail are limited. These folk play an important role for all of us, especially in helping the hospitality and creative industries thrive.

So, the government is proposing to “implement a plan to make the night-time economy more rewarding, safe, flexible and accessible for night-time workers”.

The intention is there so it will be interesting to see what materialises. Hopefully, something will be done to improve the sub-standard bus services, taxi availability and rail services.

After deliberately cutting late-night rail services to discourage those living in Maitland, the Valley or even further afield from coming to Newcastle for a night out, let’s hope we see the return of transport options for these punters.

Since the repeal of the lockout laws, Newcastle has seen its night-time scene slowly show signs of a vibrant life ahead. There is hope that, despite the cries of ‘TOO LOUD’ from retirees in their harbour-side apartments, this city can reclaim its title as one of the most creative cities in the world, supporting and protecting artists and venues from the self-interest that has deprived so many of great art over the years. So, let’s get your opinion. What do you think of the new laws? Do they go far enough?