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Tuesday, 6 February 2001
Page: 21406

Senator LUNDY (7:03 PM) —Tonight I rise to talk about the very important issue of the safety and security of young people attending rock concerts and music festivals. Before I go to that, I wish to offer, on behalf of the federal parliament, deepest sympathy to the family and friends of 15-year-old Jessica Michalik. Jessica died tragically as a result of being involved in a crowd crush at the Sydney Big Day Out last month. It is extremely hard for all parents of children who attend concerts to comprehend this senseless loss of a young life. Equally, it is extremely hard for a young person to lose a good friend in such tragic circumstances.

It is a heartbreaking tragedy, and I believe the death of Jessica may have been preventable. This tragedy has raised many valid concerns about the safety and security of young people attending these large-scale music festivals in Australia. The staging of events, particularly those that attract crowds of 40,000 to 60,000 people, the majority of whom are aged between 15 and 25, places a legal and moral obligation on the promoters and organisers to ensure that every step is taken with respect to their security and safety.

The Big Day Out has become a cultural institution in Australia and, along with events like Homebake, it is a very important part of the music festival scene as well as being a launchpad for local music and talent. I do not want to see an end to these music festivals; in fact, the opposite: I totally support the continued staging of music festivals and events. I want to see more young people given the opportunity to see their favourite bands and to celebrate in youth orientated cultural events. That said, it is very important that the tragic death of Jessica Michalik not be dismissed as just an unfortunate accident. There are ways to ensure that crowds are safeguarded and the wellbeing and health of fans considered. The only positive outcome that may emerge from the Big Day Out tragedy is that there be an immediate reorganisation of crowd control and security at these concerts.

The principal complaint levelled at the organisers was the refusal of the Big Day Out organisers to use what is known as a T-barrier for crowd control. This issue was raised by the lead band, Limp Bizkit. This type of crowd management effectively segregates a massive crowd into smaller, more secure enclosures. I understand that this style of crowd management is commonly used in North America and in Europe, where large-scale music festivals are common. A T-barrier is just what it sounds like. It is a barrier that divides the audience closest to the stage into two separate groups by a protruding corridor that extends into the crowd. Importantly, this corridor allows for greater access for security and ambulance officers to help anyone in need.

According to a web site I viewed on crowd management strategies, this T-barrier is effective because it reduces the lateral crowd surges and provides medical and security people with a better view of what is going on in the mosh pit. As point out on their web site, the first rule of crowd management is not to have a crowd larger than you can safely manage. It sounds pretty straightforward.

In Australia, the management of crowds is the responsibility of promoters and concert organisers, with some local government jurisdiction. The successful management of large crowds requires proper training of staff, well-prepared emergency strategies, adequate communication, alcohol and drug policies, and assessment of the types of acts performing. In the US, there is a code of practice, and it is time we considered a similar approach. I note that Limp Bizkit, the American band that Jessica had gone to see, had been very critical of the manner in which crowd control was organised at the Big Day Out. Limp Bizkit are apparently known for their energetic stage antics, and therefore the promoters of the Big Day Out should have known that extra measures were needed in terms of crowd control. To their credit, Limp Bizkit quit the Big Day Out tour immediately after Jessica's injuries became apparent. Their decisive action ensured that safety came to the forefront in the media treatment of Jessica's death. I want to publicly acknowledge the sincere efforts of Triple J and the lengths they have gone to, both in terms of their condolences they have offered to Jessica's family and their web site, which expresses their concern and sympathy.

What needs urgent revision is the way promoters and venue operators treat their patrons, many of whom are young, and many of whom are vulnerable in that regard. For example, I have heard that only two ambulances were on hand at the Sydney Big Day Out. If this is true, I call on Messrs West and Lees, the promoters, to urgently address their priorities. During this year's Big Day Out festival, 30 young people were apparently injured and required some kind of medical assistance. Many of these were very young and were quite probably scared and frightened by the experience of being crushed, pushed, shoved and jostled in a large crowd on very hot days.

This brings me to another point that needs to be addressed by promoters, and that is the access to water. It is simply unacceptable to charge $4 or $5 for a container of water at such a concert, when temperatures are in the high 30s. The risk of dehydration, leading to cramps and loss of consciousness, is very real. I might add that the temperature does not have to be so high for a risk of dehydration to be present—remembering that many of the young people are dancing and working up a sweat, and dehydration can occur very quickly. It is unacceptable and downright dangerous not to have free and ample supplies of water easily and readily available. Simply spraying a crowd with water is not good enough. It comes nowhere near dealing with this issue. The health of young people is far more important than profit margins. Young people do not have a lot of money. With tickets to the Big Day Out and other similar concerts costing $80, many in the crowd would not have had the spare $20 or $30 that it would have required just to keep up an adequate intake of water for that afternoon and evening.

Let me conclude by urging all music venue and concert organisers to think carefully about their responsibilities and duty of care under the relevant state occupational health and safety legislation and associated public liabilities. I continue to welcome and encourage under-age concerts, youth festivals and music festivals of this type, but I do take this opportunity to caution organisers not to put their profit margins first but to make a priority the safety and security of the young people and, in fact, all people attending the concerts that are their responsibility. For so many young people, in particular, these concerts are a social highlight, a very special event in their lives, and there is absolutely no reason that they should be putting their health at risk by attending them.