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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 1003


Mr SULLIVAN (7:35 PM) —The Woodford Folk Festival is, without argument, the largest folk festival in the Southern Hemisphere. From humble beginnings at the Maleny showgrounds in 1987, the festival has truly achieved the goal the Queensland Folk Federation set itself—to be a world-class folk festival. Now it is acknowledged around the world as such.

Each year, from 27 December to 1 January, over 1,800 Australian performers and a handful of overseas performers entertain more than 120,000 festival patrons in 400 concert events in around 25 venues. This is not simply a folk music event or, for that matter, a music event. While there is a diverse range of music on offer for patrons, this festival is much more than that. With a program of concerts, presentations and workshops that include stand-up comedy, poetry, dance, visual art, wellness, circus, vaudeville, film, discussion, environmental presentations and performance art, this is an event that truly has something for everyone.

In 1994, the then Maleny Folk Festival had outgrown its original home at the Maleny showgrounds, and the Queensland Folk Federation purchased a property at Woodford in which to continue to produce the festival and, in recent years, a new event, The Dreaming, a presentation of Indigenous culture. Several thousand Woodford Folk Festival tickets are sold each year before the program is released. The festival community is a community that people want to be a part of. While the media concentrate on exotic-looking festival patrons for their news images, the fact is that, year after year, patron surveys reveal that 40 per cent of festival goers are professional people—lawyers, teachers, accountants, public servants and the like.

Like all events of this type, the Woodford Folk Festival can be adversely affected by weather, whether it be excessive rain or excessive heat. Excessive rain during the 2007-08 festival manifested itself in a reduction in presale tickets for the 2008-09 festival. Unfavourable weather last Christmas could well have spelt the end of the festival. As it was, almost perfect festival weather helped boost the daily box office takings to the point where the 2009-10 festival is assured and is already in the planning.

The demand for camping spaces at the festival could best be described by saying that, for the six days of the festival, the ‘permanent’ population of the site exceeds that of Nambour. Exacerbating the weather-dependent nature of the festival’s income is the cost that has to be borne by the Queensland Folk Federation, a community group, in providing the necessary infrastructure and services for that number of people. Services include the full extent of services provided in any community—water, electric power, sewerage, rubbish collection, police, fire protection, ambulance and medical services and a supermarket. The infrastructure necessary to provide many of those services is particularly expensive, as I know from having that responsibility between 1998 and 2006. The constant need to expand the sewer system, the electric power distribution network and the water treatment, storage and distribution network and to increase the number of amenity blocks, much of it to meet public health requirements, is a serious financial stress for the organisation.

The infrastructure shortcomings of the site are a major factor in preventing further events from being held on the site. In an ideal world, much of the property’s underground water and sewerage infrastructure would be replaced by larger capacity pipes to cater for the larger volumes produced and the overhead low-voltage power distribution network would be removed and placed underground. There needs to be a substantial injection of money for infrastructure into the property, an injection that, in my view, the Queensland Folk Federation cannot manage alone, given its dependence on the weather.

Were the property an arts centre in the traditional sense, controlled by government at some level rather than by a community group, public funding for the edifice would be certain. Were the Woodford Folk Festival an event owned by government at some level, public funding would no doubt flow to it at the obscene rate that it does towards less successful events that are the brainchildren of arts bureaucrats. Over the years, some infrastructure funding has been received from both the federal government and the Queensland state government, but not at a meaningful level. Tonight I indicate that I will be seeking federal government leadership for a program that would involve federal, state and local governments in the provision of funding for a comprehensive infrastructure program for the Woodford Folk Festival site.