The Tote co-owner tells inquiry “failings of government” hurt Victorian live music industry

"The music industry has had to resort to holding that conversation in the media"

The co-owner of The Tote and Bar Open has told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry “process failings of government” have hurt the local live music industry’s recovery from Melbourne’s 111-day lockdown.

John Perring, one of the proprietors of the Melbourne venues, addressed the Legislative Council for Economy and Infrastructure Committee (LCEIC) inquiry into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism and events sectors this morning (May 19).

Perring said both of his establishments were running at “30 per cent of gig activity and revenues, compared to pre-COVID times”, with “ridiculous regulatory health constraints” in November 2020 stifling live music’s return in Melbourne.


“Lobbying ultimately removed these mandatory unworkable regulations after three weeks, but the situation could have been avoided through consultation,” Perring said.

“The delay meant gigs were not being planned during Christmas break… further injuring live music. Lobbying by Music Victoria and SOS [Save Our Scene] around the removal of the one person per two square metre rule for venues with spaces up to 400 square metres – that now comes into law on the 29th of May.

“Thankfully, government in each case listened to the industry, but in each case it unnecessarily brought live music venues to the brink.”

Perring claims the Live Music Roundtable, established to promote dialogue between overlapping regulatory bodies within the live music sector, had not met since before the pandemic. He said if it had, regulatory issues preventing live music from being staged “could have been avoided”.

“The result of this stasis has been the industry has had no opportunity for formal dialogue with government, the direct result being the music industry has had to resort to holding that conversation in the media,” Perring said.

NME reached out to Creative Victoria to confirm whether the roundtable had indeed not met during the pandemic, and if so, why.


In their respective submissions, Evelyn Richardson, head of Live Performance Australia, and the Australia Festival Association’s Julia Robinson said establishing a live music business interruption fund should be the “first priority” for the Victorian state government to assist the sector’s recovery.

“The investments [in planning live performance] are very large investments, particularly for music promoters or large musical theatre shows. Right now, you can’t underwrite for business interruption. Since November last year across Australia, every major show, every arts festival has been shut down across states,” Richardson said.

“That’s had an enormous financial cost to those producers…There’s a market failure that we think government could address.”

A business interruption fund to support live music’s recovery from the pandemic has been proposed multiple times since last year. Local film and TV production banked an additional $50.8million in the latest federal budget through the Temporary Interruption Fund, following the initial $50million last year to provide an economic safety net for financiers hesitant to fund productions during the pandemic, but live music is yet to have a similar scheme established.

Richardson also proposed more novel measures to stimulate the international touring circuit, including alternative quarantine measures for vaccinated international artists and essential worker status for touring parties.

“We’ve brought a lot of international creatives in for musical theatre and so on, but we’d like to see some of the protocols and framework for that change. We have international artists wanting to come in, they’re vaccinated, so they’re asking, why is there a 14 day quarantine period?” Richardson said.

AFA’s Robinson added that successful vaccine rollouts in the US and other countries allowing international touring elsewhere has “caused a drop in conversations about touring Australia….with international artists”.

Additional reporting by Alex Gallagher