“Australian culture will change forever”: Tony Burke MP talks coronavirus’ impact on the Australian music industry

"We haven't had a moment like this in the last 100 years"

Federal Labor Shadow Arts Minister Tony Burke said “Australian culture will change forever” if the government does not include the arts in a second coronavirus stimulus package in an interview with NME Australia today (March 20).

“If the unthinkable were to happen and the government didn’t come up with the money, Australian culture will change forever. We haven’t had a moment like this in the last 100 years. Everything’s at stake. Every company is at stake. The future is at stake,” Mr Burke said.

“The Australian government needs to get the next four days right.”

Read More: Here’s how to help the Australian music scene during the coronavirus pandemic

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Mr Burke did not provide an exact figure as to how much he believed the government should allocate to the arts, but pointed to ILostMyGig Australia, the site used to track the income lost to event cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and bushfires. He was briefed by the website’s organisers and industry figures this morning, who have amassed a tally of over $250 million in lost income at the time of writing.

“No one knows [how much is needed]. We are watching a massive industry being closed down not because of a downturn, but because of a decision of a government,” Mr Burke told NME Australia.

Mr Burke claimed the government made the decision to ban public gatherings without “there being any plan for the exact industry that’s being shut down because it relies on people gathering”.

“It’s beyond comprehension,” he said.

Read More: Which Australia festivals and concerts have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

Mr Burke said he had not been directly consulted by Federal LNP Arts Minister Paul Fletcher on any plans to assist the arts industry, due to a top-down government policy of not involving the opposition in industry forums.

“For reasons I don’t understand, the government has chosen to not involve the opposition in any of their discussions. We get briefings on the health concerns, but the government has made a decision… that at the different forums for making these decisions, we won’t be at the table,” Mr Burke said.

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NME Australia has reached out to Mr Fletcher’s office for comment and will update this story if and when we receive a response.

Last night, a communique was issued after arts ministers around the country held a teleconference to discuss the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the arts and cultural sector. No action was announced, and they agreed to “reconvene to discuss further cash flow issues and grant arrangements”.

See the communique below, via The Age‘s Arts editor Nick Miller:

“I’m really worried. The first stimulus package offered nothing for most of the people affected. I hope it’s not too much longer before they announce it,” Mr Burke said.

The first stimulus package announced by the government on March 12 focused on lower income Australians, offering a one-off $750 payment for social security, veteran and other income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. It also gave small and medium-sized businesses up to $25,000 to cover the costs of employee wages and salaries. The second stimulus package, yet to be detailed, will reportedly include relief for sole traders, per Canberra Times.

“This is an industry that always says ‘Yes, we’ll perform for free’ when other Australians are in crisis,” Mr Burke said. “This the moment where they’re facing a crisis and the rest of Australia has to either stand with them or turn their backs.”

The minister commended music crisis charity Support Act’s fundraising, but said “only government can step in and provide what’s needed”. Mr Burke also repeated his calls to streaming services to centre Australian content.

“The users [of streaming services] work through an interface. Netflix Australia is in charge of whether Australian content is on the first menu. Spotify is in charge of what comes up on all their curated lists,” he said.

“Right now, Australian music needs them to make sure the royalties from Australian music stay here.”

However, Burke said he did not believe streaming services should change their royalties model in the wake of the crisis.

“I don’t think people mind the royalties being based on what people are listening to,” he said.

An online petition has been set up urging Spotify to triple its royalty payments amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

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