Security requirements for inner city Melbourne music venues are set to be slashed in a desperate government bid to save live music from the scrapheap amid spiralling liquor licensing costs and a looming state election.

As hallowed punk-rock incubator The Arthouse announced it was going the way of The Tote and shutting its doors next year, the owner of several live music venues, and a leading candidate to take over The Tote’s license, Jon Perring, told Crikey he will meet next week with Victorian gaming minister Tony Robinson to thrash out a new deal that would see security linked to a venue’s alcohol sales as opposed to current laws which are triggered by the presence of “live or amplified music”.

“I’ll be seeing Tony Robinson. It’s a no-brainer to fix, it just requires the commission to de-link security compliance with live music and relate it to alcohol consumption,” Perring said.

“There’s no relationship between live music and violence. If we can’t fix this problem there’s no way of saving the Tote. It’ll be hasta la vista baby and we’ll be back to watching Lateline.”

A major factor in the demise of The Tote under licensees Bruce and James Milne was a doubling in security expenses from $60,000 to $120,000 a year after the venue was issued with a a new set of demands by Liquor Licensing Victoria chief Sue Maclellan. The increase dwarfed the hike in fees under the new risk-based framework for licensed venues, which was only about $1,600.

Perring said Maclellan, the Victoria Police and other inner city venue owners will be involved in the discussions, that would see venues assessed on a case-by-case basis, rather than the current approach which has lumped Tuesday afternoon ukulele acts in with sold-out Saturday night rock shows. In both cases, venues are required to employ two security guards for the first 100 patrons and another guard for every 100 after that, regardless of the level of perceived “risk”.

Letters sent from Liquor Licensing Victoria to several venues this week demand that owners abide by formal requirements over security guards and CCTV, as well as stump up for extra license fees.

A spokesperson for the state government, Rebecca Harrison, told Crikey that the Director of Liquor Licensing had the power under the Act to “exempt or modify business from the high risk conditions on a case by case basis”.

Late this morning The Arthouse revealed it was also set to close as a result of the new laws that came into effect on 1 January. In a statement released to music website Mess and Noise , Arthouse manager Melanie Bodiam said that she had altered her licence to trade until 1am to avoid a hike caused by the fresh fees, denying it vital revenue from late night alcohol sales.

“The Arthouse is affected by the new liquor licensing laws that kicked in on the 1st of January this year. As a consequence we are now licensed till 1am opposed to 3am as before. I’m sure you can imagine the impact of loss off revenue and staffs wages.” A “frosty” relationship with the venue’s landlord was also to blame.

The case of The Tote was also compounded by the circumstances of the lease, which was a month-to-month proposition, and the personal financial situation of Milne, who is believed to be hovering close to bankruptcy. On Monday, Crikey revealed that Milne was struggling under the weight of a $75,000 bill owed to Carlton and United Breweries from a failed booze deal with the collapsed Blueprint music festival. A Tote staff member was dismissed as a result of the transaction.

On ABC radio this morning, millionaire Tote landlord Chris Morris went into more detail on the state of the hotel, revealing he had recently granted Milne a “rent holiday” as he struggled to keep the business afloat.

The other major concern is believed to be the physical state of the building, which will require substantial investment from Morris’ Colonial Leisure before a new lease can be offered. Prospective proprietor Perring told Crikey that despite the latest hiccups, The Tote remained a viable business.

The issue of live music venues is considered a serious election issue by the state government, especially in marginal inner-city electorates that could see sitting members skittled by the Greens. The member for Richmond, Richard Wynne, is sitting on a tenuous 3.1% buffer in his electorate, which includes The Tote. The electorate of Melbourne, which includes The Arthouse, is held by Bronwyn Pike by an even slimmer margin of 1.9%.

Peter Fray

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