The Hon. JAN BARHAM [6.05 p.m.]: Events portray a community’s character. They present the culture of an area and are an important contribution to the social capital. They can also make a significant contribution to the economy, especially in tourist areas. On 10 September I attended the inaugural Sample Food Festival at Bangalow in Byron shire. The organiser, Remy Tancred, assembled more than 100 of the region’s growers, producers, restaurateurs, and art and craft suppliers from the region for a festival that celebrated and displayed the abundance and creativity of the North Coast. The event attracted approximately 8,000 people, who sampled and purchased the best and freshest of the region.
This event highlights the support for sustainable agriculture and the benefits of fresh, fine food. I raise this event and its success in the context of how the region maintains its attraction and diversity as a sustainable destination. There has been recent media focus on Byron Shire Council’s seeking to retain a degree of control of its identity and proposing to limit the number of large music festivals held in the area. Byron shire is an iconic tourism and event destination. The challenge is how to maintain a quality of life for the community while being economically and socially diverse.
Local events such as the Bluesfest and the Splendour music festival have attracted wide acclaim. The council and the community have been proud to host those events and the council has adopted a policy to support the continuation of two major music events annually. The aims of that policy are to recognise the contribution that events make to the diverse character and culture of the shire, to encourage event organisers to promote events that recognise and contribute to the evolution of this character and culture, and to manage events so that they do not adversely impact on the existing character.
The diverse talents and interests of the area embrace a broad platform of expression that is reflected in the range of events that continue to evolve. Local events are as varied as the community. They include the very popular and successful writers festival, film festivals, a billycart derby, a classical music festival, a vintage event, a kites and bikes event, underwater and surf festivals, a harmony event, a comedy festival, the woodchip event, the Starlight Wellbeing Expo, a triathlon, art expos, the Mullum Music Festival, the Bluesfest and, in past years, Splendour in the Grass. This is in addition to the activities that are part and parcel of the peak tourism period and schoolies week. Organisers deliver an average of three significant events each month that attract visitors, local and regional residents, and many from the large Queensland population to the north, just an hour away, who come over the border to enjoy our cultural diversity and natural landscape.
The community supports a tourism focus, but one which respects the host community. The shire has a small population of fewer than 30,000 residents and a visitor population of more than 1.5 million. The proposed festival site at Yelgun, known as North Parklands, is the subject of an application to establish a dedicated event site to host multiple music events, not only the widely renowned Splendour festival. The application is currently awaiting determination by the Government under part 3A. An application for a trial event at the site was approved by the council but overturned by the court after an appeal was lodged by a community group.
The proponents then made an application to the State Government. The Government has said much about returning planning matters to the local level, but that did not happen on this occasion. The community’s and the council’s concerns about the potential environmental and social degradation caused by multiple music festivals have been articulated as has their desire to maintain a broad cultural diversity. The concern is that the area will be characterised as a party town. Already there is wide community concern about alcohol-fuelled events and antisocial behaviour and how these might deter people from visiting the area.
The Byron shire has been at the forefront of environmental protection and sustainable development for more than 30 years and it is its distinctive character that makes it so attractive to locals and visitors. The event limit is recognition of the need to consider the future rather than simply to let market forces take control and perhaps define and diminish the overall character of the town. The shire does not want to be known as a music festival destination alone. It has so much more to offer and it seeks to maintain and develop a diverse cultural character.
It is recognised that there are positives in terms of economic and cultural benefits from large music events, but there is also potential for impacts on the social amenity and the environment. The community is concerned that the rich cultural diversity is maintained and that space is provided for more local events to emerge and seek the support of the community. The events policy seeks to restrict the number of large events that operate in the shire to allow the community to continue to define what and how we reflect our cultural identity. The potential for approval of a site that increases the number of large music events in the shire would present the shire as a music festival hotspot, which is not a desired outcome for the community.