Arts minister was lobbied for federal event insurance scheme in December but there was “no appetite” for it, new report says

The new 'Guardian' report comes as multiple music festivals across the country announce postponements or cancellations due to COVID-19 restrictions

Australia’s arts minister, Paul Fletcher, was lobbied for a federal event insurance scheme in December but showed “no appetite” for one, the chief executive of Live Performance Australia (LPA) is quoted as saying in a new report.

The news comes amid a fresh slew of event cancellations due to COVID-19 case spikes and coronavirus restrictions – in the past week alone, the 2022 UNIFY Gathering, Sydney’s King Street Carnival, the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the inaugural Uncaged festival were all postponed, while Adelaide’s Full Tilt and the Grapevine Gathering were both cancelled altogether.

The restrictions range from a ban on punters singing and dancing at venues and music festivals in NSW, to a 25 per cent capacity limit in South Australian indoor venues and 50 per cent for outdoor venues, to mandatory COVID-safe plans for events with large capacities in WA and Victoria.

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In a story published by The Guardian today (January 12), LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson said that the organisation had met Fletcher in December to lobby for a federal event insurance scheme for the live music industry, only to find that there was “no appetite” for it. NME has reached out to Fletcher’s office for comment.

Richardson added that it was “disappointing” that for the most part, the Australian federal government has refused to implement a national support scheme for the live events industry, appearing to leave that up to individual state governments: Victoria announced an interruption insurance scheme for music festivals in November, with NSW following suit that same month.

“Omicron has played out worse than anyone expected,” Richardson said. “We appreciate the support we’ve had, but the government needs to step up and introduce a national scheme. Yes the states have a role, but it has been very disappointing that the federal government hasn’t led and pulled the states together and worked with them.

“We have people that haven’t been able to work for two years. Before Omicron, workers could get daily PCR tests to keep working, now they can’t even get rapid antigen tests. We’ve fallen into an abyss… the notion that it is all over and that we’ll ride through this, but that is not the reality we’re living in right now. We need support until things settle down.”

Support Act CEO Clive Miller echoed Richardson’s statement, telling The Guardian that “the mood is pretty desperate”. He continued: “The summer was shaping up to be an opportunity for people to return to work but it’s all come to a crashing halt once again, and that puts enormous pressure on the artists, on crew, on promoters. So many of them are also testing positive, it’s happening at a much higher rate than ever before.

“When you put it all together – the cancellations, the postponements, the new restrictions, the case rate, the low consumer confidence – it is a perfect storm on steroids.”

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Since Support Act received a $40million boost in funding from the federal government, it has issued 15,000 individual crisis grants to roadies and crew, The Guardian reported. In addition to the federal support it’s received, the non-profit organisation has also established its own COVID-19 Emergency Appeal.

Calls for a federal event insurance scheme have been made consistently throughout the course of the pandemic. When the 2021 edition of the Byron Bay Bluesfest was cancelled a day out, several music bodies – including LPA and APRA AMCOS – used the incident to voice their support for a government-backed initiative that would help live events recoup their costs after eleventh-hour cancellations.

Bluesfest director Peter Noble had called for such a policy last January, saying that a business interruption insurance policy for live events would “incentivise event presenters to put on events and be protected in not going to the wall, should an outbreak of [COVID-19] shut down their businesses at short notice and protect artists, crew and Suppliers [to] get paid should that occur”.

Last August, a host of industry bodies – comprising LPA, APRA AMCOS, ARIA, PPCA, the Live Entertainment Industry Forum and the Australian Festival Association – issued a statement to the federal government requesting the introduction of insurance policies similar to those implemented in the UK. It followed a separate call made by LPA in December of 2020.

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