Festivals & Venues April 21, 2020

Melbourne’s live music venues set for survival debate in parliament

Melbourne’s live music venues set for survival debate in parliament
The Bendigo Hotel in Collingwood

Melbourne venue operators will put their case to parliament on Thursday for financial survival.

Senator Fiona Patten of the Reason Party will table a Change.org petition that was set up when the city’s music spaces went into lockdown in March.

It was written by Guy Palermo, owner of 300-capacity venue The Bendigo Hotel in Collingwood.

Signatories were Dave Barrett, owner of high profile Laundry Bar, Bad Decisions and Georges, and John D’Alessandro, owner of The Evelyn and Workers Club.

It called for was funding to help with upcoming expenses, including a government-backed 0% interest rate draw down loans, with repayments to start when businesses open again.

It wanted a break from all fees, licenses and permits, and a pause on utility debt notices and disconnections.

The petition also asked for help in finding alternative uses for venues during the lockdown, ticketing companies to provide relief and liquor suppliers to defer payments and buyback stock.

Some demands, like a 12-month pause on liquor licensing fees (ranging from $7,000 to $20,000) and deals with landlords have already been granted.

The petition also emphasised how the survival of venues has a flow-on impact on the .

“If we close, it has a domino effect on staff, musicians, bookers, organisers, suppliers and their workers, food venues and other business that surround the venue, GST and liquor tax revenue, tourism and Melbourne’s international reputation as the music capital of the world and most liveable city.”

A number of venue owners and bookers told TMN they are also apprehensive that property developers will use this time to swoop down on vulnerable pubs and turn them into apartment blocks.

In recent weeks, at least three Melbourne venues have been put on the market.

The petition’s original target was 10,000 signatures but now has over 11,600, with the target upped to 15,000.

Palermo told TMN the organisers hoped the new target could be reached by the time the petition is tabled.

“The more signatures we get by that time the stronger position we’ll be in,” he said.

By Palermo’s estimate, $50 million “will make sure every venue has a chance of reopening in six months time.”

The six month period is significant. With the fear that winter may bring a second wave of COVID-19 infections, authorities emphasised that any businesses that reopen shortly will not include pubs and music venues.

Australian National University professor Peter Collignon told the Sydney Morning Herald that pubs would remain shut throughout winter, adding, “Unfortunately I don’t think until September this year at the earliest.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday: “I want to make it clear though that the notion that pubs are opening any time soon, restaurants, bars, cafes – I don’t think that will be… the risks will be far greater.”

What happens on Thursday in parliament affects 553 venues in Melbourne and 197 in regional Victoria.

They create over 42,000 jobs and contribute $1.7 billion to the Victorian economy.

Melbourne live sector expects that the re-openings will be staggered, and will start with smaller venues.

There’s a silver lining in all this. International names are not expected to be touring at least until this time next year, which means that when venues open, they’ll initially focus 100% on Australian acts.

Palermo is delighted. “I think that’s fantastic! How many Australian bands do we have overseas at any one time? They’ll be here. It’ll be a great time for them to showcase and get back to their roots where they started, and give back to the people who have been deprived for six months.”

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