A ten-day compliance program inspecting venues across Tamworth during the unofficial Tamworth Country Music Festival is not intended to pressure venues into cancelling their events says, senior government officials.
On Tuesday 12th January a string of major Tamworth venues cancelled their live music events scheduled for the next week following a visit from SafeWork, Liquor and Gaming and NSW Police.
With less than 5 days until some gigs were booked, the short notice caught musicians, hospitality workers and Tamworth locals by surprise.
Facebook events were hastily removed from hotel social media pages and some venue operators remained tight-lipped as to the cause of the cancellations.
Our newsroom can reveal Tamworth Regional Council emailed hospitality venues on Tuesday 15th reminding them the Tamworth Country Music Festival is cancelled and informed them a triple-barrelled compliance operation would be taking place.
The email stated "As you will be aware the Country Music Festival is not running in 2021, however, there is an “unofficial” mini-festival where some venues are providing live entertainment in lieu of the traditional Festival."
The letter goes on to outline the compliance program and lists the government bodies involved, following up by stating "The intent is not to disrupt venues but to provide advice and guidance, coupled with enforcement where necessary."
Chief Inspector Jeff Budd, Officer in Charge of Tamworth, said the compliance program was initiated because there was a clear intention by venues to continue to have live entertainment despite the cancellation of the festival.
"This could potentially compromise their ability to remain within their COVID plan," Chief Inspector Budd said, "Secondly there is a majorly reduced number of police coming here over the period."
CEO of Wests Entertainment Rod Laing said their venues cancelled because of the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19.
"We have decided to back out and cancel our entertainment for the ten-day period in the best interest of our members, guests and staff," said Mr Laing.
However, several other venue operators and music industry stakeholders, who do not want to be named for fear of retribution, came forward to our newsroom saying they believe venues have been pressured into cancelling events.
Peter Dunphy, Executive Director for Compliance and Dispute Resolution with the state Government's Customer Service Department said they are here to assist venues and did not tell anyone to cancel their events.
"I want to make that really clear for the record we are encouraging people to have their events, we want to make sure that they are both successful and also safe," said Mr Dunphy.
Chief Inspector Budd said the pre-event meetings with SafeWork and Police were not intended to pressure venues.
"The Police role is never ever to tell Business what to do," Chief Inspector Budd said, "Businesses have to weigh up the public risk."
The cancellation of the 49th Tamworth Country Music Festival was announced last year 6 months prior to the festival due to COVID-19 restrictions, yet many locals still feel like the ten-day period between 15th to the 24th January is a time for live country music.
COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings began to lift in November 2020 and live sporting events got the go-ahead to host tens of thousands of patrons.
The state government driven Great Southern Nights Tour saw the revival of live music across NSW and venues in Tamworth began to host weekend performances and NYE parties with live music.
Mr Dunphy said SafeWork and Liquor and Gaming were asked by local Police to assist with the ten-day compliance program.
"Our role as SafeWork is just to provide information and assistance to the venues," Mr Dunphy said, "In regard to Liquor and Gaming they will also assist Police with doing inspections during the events.”
Mr Dunphy said this type of triple barrelled compliance operation is 'unusual and exceptional' and has only become common since COVID-19 and public health orders were enacted by the government in March last year.
Venues in the Tamworth region have only had one reported breach of COVID-19 rules since they were enacted and Mr Dunphy agreed this is a respectable record.
Mr Dunphy said local police expect a significant increase in the number of people visiting Tamworth and therefore deemed the ten-day period a significant event.
Chief Inspector Budd said considering many venues are cancelling events there is likely to be fewer people in town.
"It's the right thing to do," Chief Inspector Budd said, "I wouldn't like to be a venue who is inadvertently named as being a business were COVID has come to town."
Despite some major cancellations live music is still planned at many venues across Tamworth and countless stars will be in town over the next week.
For a full list of gigs still going ahead please visit Destination Tamworth.