The PoPE is dead

Published in The Music Network


The unpopular PoPE has been ousted. Now pubs and clubs across New South Wales have no excuse but to turn-on the live music, reports Lars Brandle.

Years of tireless lobbying paid off last week when the NSW Government abolished the Places Of Public Entertainment license – better known by its unfortunate acronym PoPE.

In one decisive move, the Government hacked through its own red tape and promised to pump new life into the grass-roots live music circuit, a scene which until now saw the state’s venues burdened with an onerous license mechanism.

With effect from October 26, NSW’s pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafés and other venues will no longer need the special licence to host live music performances. For new venues, gigs will be considered as part of their respective development application.

It’s a measure designed “to enliven NSW’s music scene, and allow musicians to do more of what they do best – perform,” declared State Planning Minister Kristina Keneally.

News of the breakthrough was music to the ears of not-for-profit industry support organisation Music NSW, which fought long and hard to eject the legislation. “The removal of the PoPE licence makes every hospitality venue in NSW a live music venue, should they wish. The effect of this has the potential to be massive,” says Eliza Sarlos, Creative Director of Music NSW. “We are hoping that this mass engagement of live musicians will see a cultural shift towards a greater appreciation for the music and musicians coming out of NSW.”

The development has been warmly received from clubs through to artists and authors rights society APRA. Dean Ormston, Director of Corporate Services at APRA/AMCOS, declared the progress as “fantastic news for live music in NSW.”  By removing the need for development approval,” continues Ormston, “the NSW government has effectively removed some of the biggest impediments to the NSW live music scene.”

Clubs NSW also welcomed the decision to dump the PoPE, a requirement which it claimed had been “strangling” the live biz. The peak body’s CEO Anthony Ball said clubs hosted almost 70% of live music in NSW, with more than $52 million spent on live music each year.

The much-maligned PoPE was renowned for being clunky, unnecessary and expensive. For the privilege of hosting live entertainment, local councils slapped venues with both licensing fees and additional compliance, a massive drawback which played into the hands of gamblers and sports fans who were increasingly treated to the sight of pokie machines and dedicated sports screens. Last year, clubs across the state spent almost $500,000 on licences alone.

The sweeping changes to the live venues landscape couldn’t come soon enough, notes Sarlos, who highlights the plight of local venues the Hopetoun, Annandale and The Harp. “On one level, (the NSW live scene) is struggling,” she says. “There is no incentive beyond being personally driven to be a live music venue, especially when stacked up against other forms of income for venues, like pokies.” Sarlos has called for government support and subsidies for those venues taking the gamble on live entertainment.


The road to remove the PoPE has been a long and arduous one. Moves to protect the state’s live music heritage began with an inquiry spearheaded by the Musicians Union at the turn of the decade, and has rumbled on ever since. The key protagonists for change have included the NSW Department of Planning, Arts NSW and the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing, while Sarlos and Ormston praised the unflagging efforts of Music NSW board member John Wardle.

Meanwhile, APRA and AMCOS has teamed-up with the Australian Hotels Association, Clubs NSW, Restaurant & Catering Australia and the Music Council of Australia (MCA) on a campaign, entitled The Live Music Revolution, the goal of which is to rejuvenate the Australian live music industry and boost the number of venues. The project will focus on providing interested businesses with case studies of how live music can work in their business.

“We’ve all been working separately for a long time towards the same end – to put the ‘live’ back in live music and to promote the community, cultural and economic benefits of live music,” Ormston comments.

The end-game in all this is about fostering a better, more lively environment for artists. “The new legislation can reinvigorate the live music scene across NSW on a day to day basis, and give more opportunities to artists who don’t fit a festival environment or aren’t yet at that level,” says Sarlos. “It is now up to venues, the artists and the music community to realise this great potential.”