Dancing in the streets? Nope, too much red tape

September 7, 2015
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Spring is finally here, which means the silly season is fast approaching. As we emerge from hibernation to enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine, I’m looking forward to enjoying some community and outdoor events without three layers of woollies.

If you want to hold any kind of event that is open to the public in Canberra, the ACT government provides a 41 page planning booklet covering everything from lodging details of your event with eight different agencies to planning for accessibility and environmental controls.

Insurance is a must as well, no matter how small or apparently risk-free your event may be. If you are hiring a hall or room, you will either need to ensure you are covered by the public liability insurance held by the venue provider, or obtain your own.

With that level of rigmarole, is it any wonder that people are reluctant to initiate community events?

Back in 2011, Andrew Leigh encouraged people to hold Christmas street parties in their own neighbourhoods to build “social capital”.

As part of Canberra centenary celebrations the ACT government funded Parties at the Shops, which aims to instil “a sense of community pride, appreciation of Canberra’s local art and cultural talents, and closer ties between Canberra’s business and arts communities”. This program is still going strong in 2015 with recent events held in ScullinDowner, and Ainslieamong others. The ACT Government also maintains an events fund to encourage more people to make the effort to run events.

The challenges for ensuring public health and safety are complex.

In 2013, changes to the Food Act 2001 required that all food operations, including community fundraising BBQs, would be required to appoint a “food safety supervisor”. After an outcry, a limited exemption for stalls operating less than five times a year was put in place.

These changes were recently extended, with non-profit organisations using volunteer staff now designated as exempt from the Act unless they are operating at a declared event such as the Multicultural Festival.

That year the ACT government also suggested they might have to charge traffic control fees for a Forrest home using its Christmas light display to raise money for SIDS charities. In the end no fees were charged, but the policy is still in force.

These acts were motivated by safety and not because the events themselves were unwanted.

But in the end, it’s as much a question of the perceived attitude of the government as the red tape involved. For example, the Mooney Valley City Council provides friendly and accessible event planning guides and fact sheets that send a welcoming message to those wanting to run events. They even have a dedicated form to streamline temporary road closures for street parties, including the provision of road closure kits.

The ACT government’s recently-launched Access Canberra site promises coordinated approvals assistance for events, which is a very promising step forward.

They should consider maintaining a central list of community rooms and facilities available for hire on Access Canberra, and providing a simple, online process that allows groups to book and use any of these facilities. It should also be easier to hold street parties and get the necessary equipment and traffic control support from TAMS.