Is Busking Illegal?
Street performance, known colloquially as “busking”, is an accepted part of the urban street landscape in Australia. Councils often consider these performances to enhance a city’s cultural attractions. However, there are laws and regulations that apply to busking in Australia. This article examines the legality and regulations on busking in capital cities of Australia.
What Is Busking?
Busking is performing in public for gratuities (voluntary donations). This is distinct from begging or asking for money without giving anything in exchange. A busker is someone who entertains others in a public place (by dancing, playing a musical instrument, singing, clowning or juggling).
Is Busking Illegal in Australia?
The laws that regulate busking vary according to the state or territory. Generally, busking is legal for permit holders as long as they abide by certain conditions.
Busking is only permitted in certain areas of Sydney. A street performer must obtain a busking permit from the City of Sydney Council or the relevant authority in their area. Each member of a group of performers must have their own permit. A busker cannot be paid a fee to perform.
Buskers can sell recordings during the performance as long as it is their own work and it complements the performance. Any act that involves dangerous materials or instruments must pass a safety review. In Sydney, performances cannot involve any animals.
Busking is only permitted in limited areas of Brisbane city. A street performer must obtain a permit from the Brisbane City Council before busking in Brisbane. A busker must have public liability insurance of at least $10 million with the local council as an interested party. The performer must apply and attend a Busking Audition Day to be eligible for a permit. Only successful applicants receive permits. Brisbane City Council imposes restrictions on buskers: they cannot use offensive or abusive language, use dangerous items or have items for sale.
To busk in Melbourne, a street performer must apply, pay a fee and attend a Safety, Amenity and Performance review. A performer hired by a private organisation does not need a busking permit.
In Melbourne, only a professional busker can obtain special permits. The City of Melbourne Council offers several different permits, such as a Pavement Art Permit for artists who work directly on the pavement. Buskers also must abide by certain conditions to perform in the city.
Buskers do not have to hold a permit to perform in Canberra. The only two restrictions are that the busker must not trespass without permission from private property owners or restrict pedestrian right of way.
In Darwin, a performer must apply for a busking permit from the Darwin City Council. Currently, only daily permits are available.
Perth offers both single and group permits for up to six performers. A busker must obtain a permit from Council House to perform within the City of Perth jurisdiction. A new busker must obtain a one-month probation permit but can purchase longer permits after the probation period expires.
A busker can sell CDs if they pay an extra charge on top of their permit. A busker can only stay in one spot for half an hour before moving to another location at least 50 meters away. Amplification devices can only be battery-operated and no more than 72db.
The Hobart City Council only grants busking permits for performances at Salamanca Markets. A busker can accept, but must not solicit, money for their performance. There are no fees or auditions, but the performer must abide by certain restrictions. A busker must not obstruct pedestrians, vehicles or stallholders, wear or display advertising or play recorded music when they are not performing.
A busker must hold a Street Permit from the Adelaide City Council to perform within the city. Adelaide imposes restrictions on the number of members in a busking group. Individual buskers must play a certain distance from one another, and there are limits on noise amplification devices.
Buskers cannot sell or advertise certain products but can sell DVDs and CDs relating to their performance. Buskers cannot charge for their performance and cannot obstruct pedestrian access or perform in front of prominent city buildings, such as Parliament House or Town Hall.
If a busker’s performance contains offensive language or movement, this may contravene summary offences legislation. The NSW Court of Appeal defined in R v Smith  that offensive is anything displeasing, annoying or insulting. The accepted test for offensive language is whether a reasonable person might respond with hurt, anger, disgust or outrage. A busker needs to consider whether their performance could provoke these feelings in reasonable people. For instance, in 2013, Manly police stopped and threatened to incarcerate two street performers during their act, Gender Fractions. The buskers had permission from Manly Council to perform their act, but police responded to complaints from the general public about the performers’ “nude” costumes with fake genitals.
Please contact Armstrong Legal on 1300 038 223 if you have any questions about the legality of busking in Australia.