News

Australia’s Live Biz In Shock as Ban on Mass Gatherings Threatens ‘Collapse’

James D. Morgan/Getty Image

The Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Ovation of the Seas returns to the harbour after a seven day cruise that went nowhere after the ship was refused entry into New Zealand on March 18, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

BRISBANE - Australia’s live industry is on the “brink of collapse” without immediate financial intervention from the federal government, with thousands of professionals already out of work amidst the escalating health crisis.

That’s the harsh reality for Australia’s $4 billion live entertainment space, according to the sector’s trade body, which is calling on government to provide an emergency financial safety net.

As the COVID-19 crisis shakes stock markets and changes the everyday lives of billions, Evelyn Richardson, CEO of Live Performance Australia, which counts 400-plus members, participated in an industry-wide teleconference with Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

On Tuesday morning (March 17), Richardson put forward the live industry’s troubling case, and urged leaders to make available $850 million from its multi-billion-dollar bailout and stimulus package.

Australia’s concerts space is in a state of shock, as the introduction of a strict new set of government directives spells an end to large-scale events for the immediate future.

Organized mass gatherings of 500 or more were banned across the country from Monday (March 16), with state and territory governments applying fines and even jail time to anyone who breaks those rules. That means concert promoters.

Even without those restrictions, a tough new quarantine policy on foreign nationals entering Australia’s borders means the live industry will be starved of international content for weeks or months ahead.

Confusion reigns right now. We’re "holding on for the ride because nobody knows what the f--- to do,” one Brisbane-based music industry professional told Billboard on Tuesday.

Realistically,” explains Richardson, “we’re looking at a three-six month closure period at least before any recovery phase. In this scenario we will have not just thousands of people out of work but major companies going under along with a decimated small to medium sector. The industry also needs to ensure our service providers can survive so that when we reactivate we have capacity to get moving as quickly as we can.”

Within hours of the government’s strict new measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, Byron Bay Bluesfest announced it would cancel its April 2020 event, and July’s Splendour in the Grass is to be moved back three months, to October. The Melbourne International Jazz Festival was scrapped early Wednesday.

“It's tough out there,” notes Jaddan Comerford, CEO and founder of Melbourne-based UNIFIED Music Group. "As an independent company with over 60 full-time salaries around the world we are right up against it. We are lucky we have a diversified business but some revenue streams will stop for the moment."

It's about to get tougher. On Wednesday, the prime minister Scott Morrison tightened the already-strict rules around public gatherings and travel. From now on, non-essential indoor gatherings are capped at no more than 100 people, with some exceptions. The pre-existing ban on any more than 500 people gathering at a single outdoor site remains in place.

The nation's leader also warned Australians not to leave the country. "We haven't seen this sort of thing in Australia since the end of the First World War," he remarked during an outdoor press conference at Parliament House.

LPA has called on Canberra to provide clarity, guidance and budget support over the duration of this financial year for all those businesses and individuals impacted by event and venue closures.

“Cash flow is our biggest problem,” notes Richardson, and “government needs to act quickly to put in place emergency measures to ensure we survive.”