22 November 2020
(Petition Debate, 19 November 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
This State's live music industry is one of the best in the world. We have some of the greatest artists, performers and venues, and the industry supports a social, cultural and economic ecosystem that makes us one of the most attractive places in which to live, work and visit. But the dedicated live music venues that underpin the industry face permanent closure from the COVID-19 pandemic and today I join nearly 30,000 New South Wales residents to call for urgent Government stimulus to save the State's stages.
The debate of this ePetition is a historic moment for the Legislative Assembly. It is the first of its kind to be debated. It took the Save Our Stages campaign just over 24 hours to reach 20,000 signature threshold, demonstrating the love people have for their live music venues. The Save Our Stages campaign identified 175 dedicated live music venues in this State that are at risk of closing. They range from small venues with audiences of fewer than 100 to large venues exceeding 1,000 patrons. They represent the State's geographic diversity and include venues like the Milton Theatre in Milton, Navigate Arts in Tanja, the Star Court Theatre in Lismore, The Studio Armidale, the Enmore Theatre in Enmore, The Concourse in Chatswood and the Oxford Art Factory in Darlinghurst in my electorate.
What these venues have in common is that they have little to no alternative source of income other than live music and performance. They cannot diversify to provide food or takeaway liquor. They have no pokies and those that are operating are doing so with significantly smaller audiences—as low as 20 per cent—to comply with COVID-19 safety measures. Some venues have been closed for over nine months. They have lost the international acts that guarantee sold-out shows. Uncertain State borders make interstate artists a further challenge. Meanwhile staff overheads remain high and new staff have had to be engaged to enforce physical distancing and increased cleansing. Rent is still due.
For an industry that operates on a very lean profit margin, venues have used up their capital reserves and are now accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. The inner-city venues in my electorate were already on the backfoot when the pandemic hit having suffered from over six years of crippling lockouts. Stimulus funding has focused on artists and not-for-profits, but there has been nothing for the spaces that support them. The al fresco renaissance cannot help stages. Venues now rely on JobKeeper to keep staff employed, but this will end in March. Those that I spoke to tell me they could permanently close before the end of the financial year.
If our dedicated live music venues close, it would severely undermine the State's live music industry, which is worth around $3.6 billion, employs about 12,000 workers and launches the careers of local musicians and performers. It would put the New South Wales Government's recently announced 24-hour Economy Strategy at risk.
Concert venues support other local businesses like restaurants, bars, taxis and rideshare, tourism and accommodation. A walk down Enmore Road before or after a show at the Enmore Theatre shows the input that concert patrons have to the local economy, which for that venue alone has been valued at $39 million. We cannot just replace closed venues. Hosting live music has significant commercial risks, high costs and no guarantees of profit. Existing venues have navigated the difficult business environment to establish a reputation to attract acts and patrons. Future entrepreneurs will be reluctant to invest and may not have the experience to succeed, especially in a slower economy with uncertain patron habits.
If Australia can continue to contain COVID-19 while international acts remain suspended, we have an opportunity to nurture the local music industry, and build up artists and shows for future export. That cannot happen without the support of stages, and stages cannot operate without financial support. Victoria and Queensland have issued support packages to keep dedicated live music venues open during this difficult time. Victoria's package injected $20 million into the live music industry. Similar initiatives have been implemented in Austin, Texas; Ireland; the United Kingdom; Canada; and Scotland. If New South Wales does not act, the live music industry will collapse and we will lose business to Victoria. We will reduce the chance of an economic recovery fuelled by increased domestic tourism and migration.
Dedicated live music venues in New South Wales need a $24.5 million injection of funds before the end of the year to stay open. That investment will ensure that New South Wales can continue to be a world leader in the arts and music with a thriving late-night economy into the future. I call on the Government to urgently implement a rescue package for venues that need support for live shows. I have been assured that Treasury is looking into this funding request. I commend the petition to the House.