Before I begin, let me be clear: I bear no ill-will toward Woodford Folk Festival.
In fact, I’ve got a soft spot for the event.
My first muddy festival dance was to John Butler Trio at The Grande (back when he still had dreadlocks, mind you). My first puff of a joint was on the hillside overlooking the closing ceremony. My first and only eviction was thanks to a zealous Woodford bouncer who didn’t look kindly upon underage drinking.
Woodfordia is a place where culture abounds and memories are made, and for that I sing its praises.
But, as of the 9th of May, our beloved festival site is also a place for the kind of handshake deals that separate the winners from the losers in Australia’s “Game of Mates” style of democracy.
An MP looking for “investment opportunities”
I don’t blame the organisers of Woodford Folk Festival for welcoming Labor’s promise of $8.52 million in federal funding with open arms.
After all, Federal MP Susan Lamb approached them looking for investment opportunities in her electorate.
Any event would be crazy to turn down free money – especially when the offer is enough to literally pave the way for permanent infrastructure that will accommodate “year-round visitation” and events.
Conferences. Training programs. Concerts.
The ALP has promised it all, and Woodford is confident it will deliver “hundreds of jobs” in return:
“Over the initial three-year period including the construction phase, this project will inject over $60M in economic impact into the Moreton Bay Region and a further $50M into the rest of Queensland. This represents 546 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) person-years in the region for the three-year period and a further 354 FTE person-years in the rest of Queensland,” a Woodford press release states.
Jobs in construction. Jobs in arts. Better facilities for punters.
What’s not to like?
Exclusive handouts are not best practice
Well, to be blunt, it’s not fair.
There are 233 other Australian music festivals (not counting those festivals devoted solely to arts and theatre).
And, much like Woodford, these festivals inject money into the economies of the regional towns in which they’re situated.
Erik Lamir, founder of Bohemian Beatfreaks and Rabbits Eat Lettuce, recently commissioned an independent assessment of the economic benefits his events have on the 10,000-strong town of Casino.
“We found our events contribute upwards of $1,000,000 annually to the Casino region via cafes, petrol, event expenditure, grocery stores, bottle shops,” he told Dreamland Magazine in an interview last year.
Meanwhile, Sam Goldsmith, co-founder of Esoteric, started a regional music festival three years ago that now draws 5000 people to the tiny town of Donald in Victoria (population: 1500) every year. And, he has achieved this success without the help of any government grants.
In fact, when it comes to federal investment, Woodford’s promised package represents the most federal funding for any music festival in Australia:
- A total of $480,855 in grants were given to seven festivals in 2018 under the Festivals Australia scheme. The largest individual grants were $100,000 each for the Darwin Festival and Dark Mofo Festival.
- $3.4 million was allocated for the entire national Regional Arts Fund in 2018.
And, then there are festivals like Mountain Sounds and Psyfari that, rather than receiving federal funding, are destroyed by ever-increasing regulatory costs that make their previously successful events economically untenable.
Why then, would a party that espouses the virtues of arts and culture and “fair go”economic growth, promise such a large sum of money to an already established festival (which, as a registered charity, does not pay tax) without offering the same opportunity to other events?
What is the justification for such an inherently unfair move?
This isn’t about the arts, it’s about votes
A cynic might assume the investment has something to do with the electorate Woodford Folk Festival is situated within.
Woodfordia is located in the federal seat of Longman, a seat that has flip-flopped between the Labor and Liberal National parties three times in the last fifteen years. And, despite the fact Labor won the last election, the town of Woodford itself leans towards the Liberal National Party with 53% preferring the conservative party.
Luring conservative regional votes with the promise of jobs and growth while appealing to left-leaning voters with arts funding is a smart election strategy.
And, it’s a strategy that’s been whole-heartedly embraced by Woodfordia. Speaking of Susan Lamb MP, who has attended the festival on many occasions, Woodfordia founder Bill Hauritz said:
“She was more than actively pursuing jobs; she was part of the thinking behind this way forward. Bringing Shadow Ministers Anthony Albanese and Tony Burke to the festival was part of her strategy to get this promise from Labor and if they’re elected, we can finally see Woodfordia delivering an ever-increasing economic dividend in this region throughout the year, not just at our peak event periods”.
And, should Labor win the election, this is most likely what will happen.
Woodfordia will be open throughout the year, brickies will get work, punters will get out more, and the whole electorate of Longman will prosper at the expense of other regional areas.
Unless, of course, Labor commits to delivering that “economic dividend” to the rest of the regional Australian festivals, instead of sending all of their funding to one small town with a big name and a marginal seat.