Sydney’s live music scene continues to undergo a state of flux, including the ongoing saga of the iconic Annandale Hotel – which has been listed for sale as buyers circle – while political figures like Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore voice their support for local venues, including Moore’s recently proposed Cultural Policy for the city.

However, as previously reported, one particular political figure is making life especially difficult for a small Surry Hills live music venue, making noise complaints to local council in actions that contradict her party policy line.

It was found in March that NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon had lodged multiple noise complaints against Playbar, a newly established venue with distinct “raw, street and underground style” specialising in jazz and hip-hop nights. Playbar was subject to noise complaints made to Sydney City Council by the government official’s electoral offices that are located above the basement venue.

Playbar’s owners, Daniel Robertson and Sarah Vuong, had acknowledged there was a problem with the insulation between their bar and Senator Rhiannon’s office, but were taking steps to fix the problem, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that they were forced to reduce noise levels to “about as loud as an iPhone speaker can go” by a City of Sydney Council officer.

Despite maintaining their volumes at levels approved by local council, Mr Robertson was told the venue’s levels were in breach of offensive noise laws. In response, says Robertson, “the music was turned down to a level that the senator, not the inspectors, deemed acceptable, leaving people’s voices being too loud… A solution offered was to ask our patrons to talk quietly to each other in the bar.” “We have to shorten staff hours, cancel musicians, and stand to loose (sic) the business.” – Daniel Robertson, Playbar

Mr Robertson has also detailed how the imposed sound restrictions have severely affected business, “I do not think, though, that her office is aware of what her actions against our business are actually doing,” he wrote on Playbar’s social media site. “We have to shorten staff hours, cancel musicians, and stand to loose (sic) the business.”

Co-owner Sarah Vuong also previously remarked, “we’ve got one shot to make this work and we’ve put our life savings into this.” Adding that: “we don’t want to be closed down over an issue that we’re working very hard to solve. They (Ms Rhiannon’s office) are not being very neighbourly about this matter.”

Since the dispute began after Playbar’s February opening, Senator Rhiannon’s Facebook has been flooded by angry live music supporters questioning the Greens Senator’s issues with live music.

One incensed “local resident (and voter)” posted: “I am absolutely shocked by the amount of times Dan and Sarah (owners of Playbar) need to turn their music down (well outside of office hours mind you, where’s the compromise on your side?) due to the constant visits by workers from Sydney City Council that you instigate.”

Adding that, “these constant visits areresulting in patrons leaving by the dozen and inevitably their business losing large amounts of money.”

In response to another concerned commenter, Senator Rhiannon writes: “This is not a political issue but Leichhardt Labor Councillor Darcy Byrne is trying to turn it into a Labor attack campaign that misrepresents the Greens’ and my position on live music and small bars.”

The Greens Senator also points towards a blog post she wrote on the issue, highlighting her time as an MP in NSW parliament and “was an enthusiastic supporter of the small bar legislation.”“My position has not changed. I have been working hard to resolve this issue. All we are after is some insulation.” – Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon

“I worked closely with live music activist John Wardle and backed the Musicians Union and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance in their attempt to foster more performing opportunities,” she writes. “My position has not changed. I have been working hard to resolve this issue. All we are after is some insulation. We are keen for small bars to flourish.”

Senator Rhiannon, whose Greens portfolios include animal welfare, forestry, higher education, international aid and development and women’s rights, maintains that her complaints addressed towards the venue was not a personal vendetta, but cited she often needed to work at night and at weekends, her work disrupted by the noise coming from the open bar.

“We are not seeking to close the bar down,” the Senator tells the Sydney Morning Herald. “Quite the contrary. We are just keen to get some insulation and have been working towards this since October 2012.”

Senator Rhiannon says the previous tenants of Playbar, a chess shop, had an insulated ceiling between the two spaces when she had first moved into the offices, located in a building on Surry Hills’ Campbell Street, “but the ceiling was removed before the bar owners took over,” she explains.

“Months before the bar began operating I signalled that there was a problem as I could hear the conversations of workers downstairs from my office,” says Senator Rhiannon.

The Senator also had the Commonwealth Parliamentary Office commission an acoustic engineer who “measured the bar noise inside my office at 30 decibels above the accepted noise level for an office,” says the Greens official, “I and my staff have met with the bar owners on a number of occasions, always keen to sort things out amicably.”

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