Pictured Above: Steve Dimopoulos MP, Victorian Minister for Creative Industries. The Minister stated that the Government's promises would be "delivering more opportunities for musicians and the teams that support them." Source: Luis Enrique Ascui
As the 2022 Victorian Election’s spending commitments ticked into the tens of billions, there was a single line in the Labor Party’s live music policy announcement that has the potential to radically change the city, its venues and its nightlife moving into the future:
“We’ll supercharge the creation of new venues too, ending the freeze on late-night licences in inner-city councils, including Yarra, Stonnington, Port Phillip and Melbourne’s CBD”
The freeze mentioned was instituted in 2008 and halted granting new licenses past 1am, as the Brumby Government was scrambling to curb alcohol fuelled violence. They initially opted for a 2am lockout, covering venues in the 4 Local Government Areas listed but excluding Crown Casino. Protests involving a cross section of music scenes and venue runners alongside young people, plus an ill-fated trial where assaults increased in the trial area, drove the government toward the freeze as a more politically acceptable option.
It was a quieter, more regulatory route, but its impacts would only worsen as old venues closed and new ones opened without the chance for similar trading conditions. Conditions for an exemption were onerous and often out of reach for small and medium sized venues, so existing licenses became worth their weight in go. Colour even touted their possibly-24-hour licensing arrangements as a leading edge whilst promoting the venue’s open in 2019 (RIP!).
Across all available Victorian Gambling and Casino Control (VGCCC) data, 2014-2023, active late-night licenses have decreased in Metropolitan Victoria by 10%, even as the state population grew by over 25%.
So, amid increasingly troublesome ticket sales in a frightening economy, the competing golden road of property developers and hospitality groups looking for rarefied city space with the cashflow to often outbid music ventures – as happened with The Mercat, to name a single example – a lot’s changed in 15 years for the local music scene, and the freeze is due to end on 30 June.
What impact might it have? I got the chance to hear from Indicia, one part of the teams that run Signal, a club night centring the Black/Queer roots of dance music, as well as Chimera and Nightfall. Having recently completed a PhD studying the city’s queer nightlife communities, he notes that this is only the first step in rebuilding Melbourne’s nightlife options given the mounting pressures venues now face elsewhere.
The opportunity for new venues to open in highly trafficked areas with greater licensing hours available to them will improve the chances of them being willing to take the plunge, but should also mean more doors opening for promoters and performers across the spectrum, who Indicia notes are “currently hamstrung by the literal physical infrastructure of having nowhere to hold an event.”
Aside from the economic benefits of having access to more spaces, the chance for new entrants to open venues should also mean diversification of what Melbourne’s nightlife venues are presenting, booking and giving time to, fitting the government’s view that more entertainment of any sort is a net positive.