The city of Melbourne often fancies itself as Australia’s “cultural capital,” thanks in no small part to its thriving and diverse live music scene.

It’s a title the city wears with pride – but judging by the spate of crippling state legislation over the past few years, it isn’t a title that’s guaranteed to stick around forever.

One of the most significant threats to Melbourne’s cultural livelihood and an ongoing concern of the arts community is legislation which make it next to impossible to hold an all-ages music event.

“Can you remember your first gig?” says Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan. “Back in the 1980s, there were ample opportunities for a teenager to experience live music, whether it was Painters & Dockers Rockin’ the Rails, or Spiderbait playing at Fitzroy’s Friends of the Earth warehouse.”

“Opportunities like these left an indelible imprint on a teenager’s mind, setting them up for a lifetime of gig going. They may have even started a band or got a job in the industry. But there are less opportunities for young people to experience underage gigs these days because of the prohibitive compliance burden on delicensing a licensed venue.”

The problem is that while everywhere else in Australia is able to run over-18s, under-18s and all-ages shows, Victoria liquor licensing laws introduced in 2004 restrict venues making it extremely difficult to host over-18s events, and separate under-18s events in the same venue. The combination of the two, an all-ages event, is all but impossible for most venues.

In Victoria, to have minors on the premises, a venue must completely de-license itself for the night and lodge an application 45 days in advance of an event. Each application, which costs $183, can only contain a maximum of three gigs. Events must finish before 10pm and no one over the age of 18 is allowed in unless they area “bona fide adult superviser.” Venues must provide and pay for one ‘crowd controller’ per 100 patrons.

All in all, the long list of conditions doesn’t offer strong incentive to encourage venues to host underages events.

“How the live music capital of Australia can continue to ban all ages gigs, while adults and teenagers safely mingle at all ages gigs in other states such as NSW and global music cities such as London, is frankly a farce,” says Donovan.

Indeed it does seem baffling that Victoria still lags badly behind other states on this issue, especially considering the simple ways in which other states are able to overcome this problem (wristbands for drinkers, dividing sections into drinking and non-drinking etc).

Instead in Victoria, if a band wants to play to their underage fans, they have three options – stadium shows, de-licensing a venue, or using non-traditional venues.

Stadium shows use the all-ages system, as do many sporting events and even some music festivals such as Big Day Out.

“While it would seem less complicated to take alcohol out of the equation and hold shows at halls, licensed venues have the infrastructure and equipment to be in the best position to host these events,” explains Donovan.

“However, licensees have to pay $183 and wait for 45 days to receive a permit to delicense a venue to hold an underage gig (much higher and longer than other states). Music Victoria argues that venues with a good track record of holding under age events should be able to bypass the application process and just inform police of events.”

“Music Victoria believes that young musicians and music fans have been discriminated against for long enough.”

However there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) have released a consultation paper, entitled ‘Temporary Approval of Unaccompanied Minors On Licensed Premises’, opens with a ‘Purpose’ mission statement that reads:

The VCGLR is seeking feedback on its plans to streamline the application process for licensees seeking to host underage music events on licensed
premises. We are interested to hear from the public about this issue, particularly from licensed venues that provide live music entertainment. All feedback will be considered to determine whether the proposed reforms should be implemented or amended…

The underage licensing reform was triggered by a Live Music Roundtable, the series of discussions tabled by Music Victoria and the State Government, in which live music industry and professionals raised concerns with the VCGLR about the difficulties that current venue operators face, while underage music fans are left out in the cold when it comes to the selection of entertainment.

You can view the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation’s (VCGLR) consultation paper here, and have your say on cutting the red tape by emailing [email protected]  or heading to

“If you are under 18 and want to see more gigs, a promoter who wants red tape cut to make it easier to put on under age gigs, a band that wants to play more gigs to under 18s, or you want to see all-ages gigs re-introduced, then you have less than a week to let your voice be heard,” urges Donovan.

Submissions on the consultation paper are due by 5pm on June 18.

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