New Mardi Gras has dismissed suggestions a $10 entry fee for this year’s season launch at the Sydney Opera House will exclude parts of the community from the traditionally free season opener.

After a report in last week’s Sydney Star Observer, New Mardi Gras has confirmed it will charge an entry fee for the 3 February event, which will be held on the Opera House steps. Launch was last staged there in 2002.

It was quite clear from the consultation we did [last November] that the majority of our membership were very heavily in favour of taking Launch back to the Opera House because it’s such a visible and iconic location and a really great way to kick off the Mardi Gras season, New Mardi Gras chair Marcus Bourget told the Star.

New Mardi Gras said it decided to charge for the event after launches in Hyde Park in 2004 and 2005 lost money.

We have to ensure that our events effectively pay for themselves -¦ so we have kept the entry fee to the minimum amount possible, ensuring that Launch is no longer a financial burden for the organisation, Bourget said.

Everyone attending Launch, including children, will have to buy a $10 ticket. We have to cover our costs. It’s a per head charge, Bourget said.

Revenue from Launch ticket sales will add to the $25,000 in extra funding New Mardi Gras has received this year from Tourism NSW.

Bourget rejected concerns the Launch entry levy would detract from the event’s inclusiveness.

I don’t agree that a $10 cover charge necessarily excludes anyone from the community. We have kept it to an absolute minimum to ensure that we have the widest range of access to our event.

Organisers are hoping between 4,500 and 5,000 people will attend this year’s Launch. Bourget would not be drawn on whether those numbers represented maximum capacity at the Launch site, which will be fenced off.

New Mardi Gras is encouraging punters to purchase Launch tickets in advance, but any remaining spots would be available on the door, Bourget said.

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore is scheduled to officially open the New Mardi Gras festival at the Opera House. Sydney hip-hop pair Sista She will host proceedings, with entertainment by the likes of DJ Sveta and singer Sarah McLeod, formerly of rock group The Superjesus.

The 2006 Launch will be fully licensed and open to all ages, with regular bar and identification requirements applying for alcohol sales.

New Mardi Gras could not immediately say if under-18s would have to be accompanied by an adult, as was the case at Launch last year.

Meantime, New Mardi Gras is in negotiations with community groups after last year’s controversy over HIV charity fundraising at Launch.

People Living With HIV/AIDS (NSW) was told it could not send bucket collectors to the event, despite Launch historically being its major annual fundraising opportunity. 

New Mardi Gras said it needed to raise money itself, but at the last minute changed its position and allowed PLWHA (NSW) to collect.

This week, Marcus Bourget said New Mardi Gras was working with a number of community organisations on the issue.

We will be looking at ways of facilitating community organisations to raise funds across all our events.

The New Mardi Gras Launch will be on Friday 3 February from 8pm. Tickets are due to go on sale on 16 January at The Froot Store in Newtown, Gold’s Gym in Surry Hills, the New Mardi Gras office in Petersham and Sax Fetish in Darlinghurst.

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