JobKeeper expiry date a ‘grave concern’ if restrictions still in place, live entertainment sector says

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Two out of every three jobs in the live entertainment sector have been lost this year, according to a new report, prompting calls for greater government assistance.

Live events, from music to comedy to sport, have been hobbled by capacity restrictions imposed on venues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The preliminary findings of a report by consulting firm EY found that while live entertainment supported 112,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in 2019, that number was forecast to fall to 43,000 for 2020 if restrictions continued until December.

Economic output from the sector has fallen 65 per cent this year, with no guarantee of improvement in 2021 if large crowd gatherings remain difficult and international borders closed.

The report was commissioned by the Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF), which includes major music promoters TEG, Live Nation and Frontier, as well as the heads of various stadiums and the Australian Festivals Association.

The job losses reflect not just artists but the many people who surround events, from production and venue staff to hotel workers.

“I don’t think people understand the diversity and the reach” of the sector, said Geoff Jones, CEO of TEG.

He said a lot of smaller businesses were integral to the staging of larger events, and their possible demise — if more support was not offered — would make any restart to the $36 billion industry difficult.

JobKeeper ‘can’t be turned off for every industry’

The industry wants the Federal Government to extend the JobKeeper program for its workers beyond the March end point.

“The Federal and state governments are doing the best they can,” Mr Jones said.

But he said that “you can’t turn the tap off for every industry” at the same time, arguing that by its nature the live event industry would be one of the last parts of the economy to return to normal.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last week defended the end date for the scheme, conceding the Government could not save every business.

LEIF chair James Sutherland said JobKeeper had been a “lifeline” but the prospect of its ending in March “is of grave concern to all industry operators”.

The industry is also asking the government for a moratorium on GST on ticket prices, so that money could be used to cover the cost of making events COVID-safe.

It wants a Government-backed fund to offset the difficulty of securing event insurance and an expansion of the Federal Government’s RISE grant program for arts businesses.

That program was part of a $250 million arts support package announced in June that also included a sustainability fund for Government-funded arts organisations at threat of insolvency.

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and The Arts Paul Fletcher did not respond directly to the industry’s requests on Wednesday, but in a statement said an additional $800 million had been provided to the arts sector since the pandemic began, as well as $336 million in JobKeeper payments.

“The RISE and the Sustainability Funds will provide vital support for artists and art workers who have been impacted by COVID-19, and are the outcome of widespread consultation with the industry,” the Minister said.

There have been 60 applications for RISE grants, which range from $75,000 to $2 million, since the scheme opened on August 31. The first applications are being assessed this month.

Half of the $800 million in emergency funding is a location incentive to attract large international film productions.

The situation is particularly dire in Victoria

The Australian Venues Association’s Maz Salt, who runs a nightclub in Melbourne, said the grants were welcome but did not do enough to address the industry’s problems.

He said many smaller operators in Victoria were going into debt or drawing on personal investment to stay afloat and that any losses would devastate Melbourne’s music scene, considered one of the world’s best.

“Venues that have been closed since March have not had any benefit accruing from JobKeeper other than tying an employee to the company,” he said.

“An industry expansion and support fund is urgently needed beyond March next year.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the party would press the Government on the issue at Senate Estimates hearings next week.

“The PM can’t keep turning a blind eye,” she said in a statement.

“It’s time he reached a bit deeper into his Government’s pockets and pulled out proper support for the arts and entertainment industry.”

By music and pop culture reporter Paul Donoughue (Original ABC Article)

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