Among a soul-music enhanced ceremony that saw 11 Aussie musicians bestowed with honours at The Age Music Victoria Awards last night was a landmark announcement regarding Victoria’s live music scene.

Victoria’s live music scene will soon welcome new legislative changes that will address current liquor regulations and vexed laws on all-ages gigs that currently restrict the state’s venues to hosting only over-18s and underage events – with never the two overlapping.

Victorian Minister for Liquor and Gaming Regulation, Edward O’Donohue has announced that the Liberal Government will amend the Liquor Control Act in early 2014 to cut back the red tape for live music events, enabling “the introduction of a new alcohol-free All Ages license for live music venues and events,” albeit with a slight caveat on the age bracket.

As discussed in our opinion piece on the topic, unlike other Australian states that have been free to run All Ages shows, Victoria has been hamstrung by laws first introduced in 2004.

State body Music Victoria have been pushing hard for amendments since May, in a series of Live Music Roundtable discussions, breaking some ground the following June. But the new announcement is the first sign of major change to cutting the red tape.

The changes that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) are looking to introduce include a new fast-track application for low-risk underage events that will halve the lead time for an application to be lodged, as well as changes to standard conditions for underage events to reduce the cost to venues of holding these events. “This is a massive outcome for the live music Industry that will benefit artists, venues, promoters and young music fans who are the future of the industry.”

Both reforms address the 2004 Act that contains a long list of conditions that didn’t offer strong incentives for venues to host underage events; including lodging applications – at $178 a pop – 45 days in advance of an underage event, 10pm curfews, and costs for one ‘crowd controller’ per 100 minors.

Additionally, the VCGLR will introduce a new category of alcohol-free youth events which are for patrons aged between 12 and 25 years of age, to be implemented by 2014 with “interim measures” to be put in place for youth events until the full legislative overhaul is complete.

UPDATE 21/11: A statement from the office of VCGLR’s Mr O’Donohue has clarified on some of the terms of the new reforms, which include removing the requirment for licensees to seek approval to host alcohol-free underage and mixed-age gigs.

Venue operators will now only be required to notify VCGLR of proposed shows at least seven days before the event is held to enable the appropriate compliance.

“The current application process is administratively burdensome and hampers the growth of the live music industry in Victoria,” said Mr O’Donohue. “These reforms are designed to encourage a vibrant live music industry in Victoria, by allowing events to be held without undue restriction or the burden of unnecessary red tape.”

As an interim measure, the VCGLR is streamlining the application process for venues seeking to host ‘low risk’ underage events with the new fast-track application processes, reducing documentary requirements and processing times for applications.

The licensing reforms and new 12-25 category was arrived at through mediations at these discussions, following consultation with stakeholders and community representatives, with the reforms aimed at striking a balance between reducing costs for licensees and the live music sector, while satisfying the safety and legislative concerns of Victorian Government and Police when regarding unaccompanied minors attending events at licensed venues.

Peter Chellew, Executive Officer at The Push, calls the amendments a “generous act by the Victorian Government in support of our vibrant live music sector and in favour of young people’s rights to access cultural activities.”

Adding that the changes tackle through “‘steam punk’ liquor regulations straight out of the 19th century and provided an innovative result that accurately reflects 21st century community values.

“Barriers to live music for young people will be reduced. Young audiences will now engage in positive live music culture within safe environments, rather than at uncontrolled warehouse or house parties. This is also a great outcome for young people in regional areas, where the local pub is often the only safe space available to enjoy live music.”

Festival booker and live music advocate Richard Moffat, of Way Over There, was thrilled by the news. “I can’t begin to express how happy I am to know Melbourne venues will once again be hosting delicensed all-ages shows,” he says. “It is what I grew up with I the 80s and the main reason I now work with so many musicians I have admired and loved.”

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