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News October 8, 2020

A fresh glimmer of hope for NSW live music venues at COVID inquiry

A fresh glimmer of hope for NSW live music venues at COVID inquiry

The live music sector is amping up its campaign for the NSW Government to follow the lead of Victoria and Queensland and provide proper funding to keep live music venues alive.

Save Our Stages NSW, an alliance of 60 venues, is urging more fans and the industry to add their signatures to its petition for immediate regulatory and financial assistance.

So far 25,000 have joined but organisers said many more autographs are needed in a desperate bid to incentivise politicians to act promptly upon it. The petition closes on Monday (October 12).

The association has already warned about the possibility that 85% of NSW live music venues could otherwise go dark within six months.

Venue operators have had two further pieces of bad news in recent weeks.

The September 25 announcement by the state government about expanding capacities of entertainment venues to 50% was met with great relief as they could earn more.

But it became clear that many slipped through the cracks.

Mark Gerber, CEO and founder of Oxford Arts Factory, told TMN that it’s great to see government amending the capacities restriction for a staged return, but the clock is ticking.

“The 50% capacity rulings that were announced were for theatres, cinemas and concert halls and do not specifically apply to music venues.

“From the wording currently included in the health order, many venues are not eligible.

“Music venues need support to survive, and being excluded from this latest announcement designed to support creative businesses, is a bit of a blow and only further compounds the urgent need for a stimulate package for music venues.”

Like many venues, the 500-capacity Oxford Arts Factory is only operating on 15% capacity. This does not, said Gerber, help with ongoing operational costs and overheads.

The impact of the Federal Government’s winding back of JobKeeper – before axing it in autumn – is also something music venues are concerned about coming to terms with.

“JobKeeper has been instrumental in keeping Oxford Arts Factory and other venues operating, or at least keeping our heads above,” Gerber said.

“Without JobKeeper, Oxford Arts Factory would not have been able to trade or administer its business during the last six months.”

More uncertainty was to come this week.

During a parliamentary inquiry into the NSW Government’s response to the pandemic, two government ministers gave different answers as to whether venues would get the upgraded 50%.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello, and Liquor and Gaming NSW, confirmed that a venue’s eligibility was dependent on the type of license it holds.

When pressed by shadow minister for music and the night-time economy, John Graham, of “any prospect of hope” for financial assistance, the minister deferred to the November Budget.

However, he would not say whether the Budget would indeed include any assistance for venues.

“These venues asked for help. It was a welcome intervention but because of the interaction with licensing the new measures totally missed the mark,” Graham said.

“Almost all of our most iconic Sydney music venues are being prevented from reopening or increasing capacity.”

But in the second session of questioning, Health Minister Brad Hazzard committed to government discussion on the issue and to look into whether the measures can be amended.


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