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Festival fund may help fight COVID blues



Bluesfest is 2021’s first example of the seismic losses associated with a snap cancellation – what does the Festival State need to do to guard our events and jobs?

During the darkest moments of the past year, there were times where we thought that feeling blue was the only thing we had left.

Here we are 13 months into the pandemic and COVID just took away our BLUES.

As if last week’s COVID lockdown in Brisbane was not enough to give us another reality check, the migration of the virus across the border into Byron Bay causing the cancellation of the highly anticipated Bluesfest now has us asking to “Reconsider Baby”.

After a long hiatus of events and festivals across the nation, I was excited to hear that the Bluesfest was due to happen in northern NSW.

I was hoping that we would soon see music festivals return in equal capacity within our own state.

But with a single positive COVID case in the area this was enough to cancel the show, with Live Performance Australia reporting the festival had sustained a $10m loss due to the last-minute cancellation.

Now obviously the festival owners took a risk planning such an event during a global pandemic, but that is what business owners do every day – they take risks, provide jobs and fuel the economy.

South Australia is known for being the Festival State and our state government has taken ownership of this tagline by encouraging the events industry to thrive over the years, so Business SA’s recent call for an Events, Arts & Live Performance de-risk fund should be welcomed.

In a recent submission to the government ahead of next year’s State Budget, Business SA has recommended a safety net be established so that in the event of a future lockdown, or the return of restrictions, the events sector won’t be “Tore Down”.

One of the key risks in planning any event is the cost of snap lockdowns, particularly if artists, crew or staff are required to enter hotel quarantine at a cost of up to $3000 per adult, while needing to be paid a concurrent wage.

Should events be cancelled entirely, promoters can be on the hook for a whole range of costs from marketing to key personnel salaries, venue and equipment hire, and so on.

WA and Tasmania have already introduced similar schemes, so the Festival State is surely not too far behind, is it?

Events contribute $392m to the SA economy every year and while the many businesses and organisations operating in this sector are not necessarily as broadly visible as, for example, the hospitality and travel sectors, the value they bring to the Festival State cannot be underestimated.

SA needs a strong events, arts and live-performance sector to aid our continued recovery from the broader economic impacts of the pandemic, and the state government should consider targeted financial backing to assist businesses and other organisations in this sector.

Bluesfest was the first example in the events industry of seismic losses associated with a snap cancellation in 2021.

Their misfortune should be an example of what SA can do to further reinforce the meaning behind the Festival State, where, through thick and thin, our government has their back and allows this industry to both thrive and survive.

Martin Haese is chief executive of Business SA

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