After ongoing delays on long-held promises, the Melbourne live music scene is at last getting the protection it needs from noise complaints and encroaching residential developments as the State Government looks to implement the coveted Agent of Change policy.

Victorian Planning Minister Guy is set to sign off on a range of legislative reforms this week, as The Age reports, including making changes to planning regulations that will honour the Agent of Change principal, where the onus is placed on property developers and residents new to an area to shoulder the cost of soundproofing rather than making it the responsibility of targeted venues.

“This means beloved pubs and clubs that are home to live music in Victoria will not be forced to close due to noise complaints from those in new apartment buildings or new houses next door,” Mr Guy said of the new changes. “This is by far and away the strongest planning regulatory reform in Australia that protects existing live music venues.”

Under the new residential development policies, property that is within 50 metres of a live music venue is responsible for noise mitigation and compliance. Additionally the State Government will also set up $500,000 funding towards older live music venues and heritage buildings to provide assistance in fronting for costly soundproofing.

“This is a big win for the Victorian live music industry, a lot of things that were broken have finally been fixed.”

Minister Guy is also making amendments to building codes so that venues under 500 square metres don’t have the same strict compliance rules as much larger venue spaces. Environment Minister Ryan Smith is also set to release a discussion paper on the review of “out-dated” environmental protection authority noise levels in future.

“This is a big win for the Victorian live music industry, a lot of things that were broken have finally been fixed,” says Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan. Though he was celebratory, he says that he wants to expand noise protection to other areas of the music industry, including recording and rehearsal studios and other live music spaces.

Mr Donovan also noted that the implementation of the Agent of Change policy was “too late for some venues, like Cherry Bar, [but] it looks like it has come in just in the nick of time for many other venues.”

Melbourne’s Cherry Bar recently put the call out to the music community to help raise funds for expensive soundproofing renovations to the AC/DC Lane venue to pre-empt a noise complaint dispute with residents moving into an apartment tower overlooking the venue this month.

The CBD bar managed to raise a staggering $50,000 in under 24 hours, with co-owner James Young saying it sent “a message to the world that people love and cherish live music and will scrape and fight to protect what they love in the face of rampant soulless residential development and the lack of meaningful support and real protection from authorities.”

Live music lobby group SLAM similarly criticised the Victorian Government for dragging its feet on following through on its pledge of support of the Agent of Change principle, Minister Guy promising its implementation as far back as December. The policy was then conspicuously absent from the Napthine Government’s raft of 36 reforms and red tape cuts in January.

“In the seven months since that promise to Parliament, the Minister for Planning has failed to deliver,” SLAM said in a statement late last month. “The State Government has been asleep at the wheel on agent of change, placing venues and other businesses under financial stress and jobs at risk.”

Mr Guy hit back, saying he was “very disappointed” with SLAM, urging them to “do the right thing by their stakeholders and comment more positively about the actions the government has been taking.” 

The Planning Minister tells The Age that he had hoped to finalise the Agent of Change reforms back in April, but that the government had been working closely with the Environment cabinet and Office of Liquor and Gaming, as well as music industry bodies like Music Victoria to navigate the complex negotiations and legislation to a satisfactory result.