Monday Q&A: The ‘touring tax’ endangering our music festivals

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The Department of Immigration and Border Protections has announced that they are uncapping visa prices for large touring parties coming to Australia, and fees for incoming bands will increase by 600%. Buzzfeed reported that this will result in festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Laneway having to pay almost $50,000 more to their entertainers to cover this price increase. This could mean ticket prices increasing, or more drastically, some festivals folding or bands skipping Australia on international tours. MQU Labor and The Macquarie University Liberal Club fight for their right to party.

Satyajeet Marar, Member of the Macq Liberal Club

The recent changes to the touring visa system for foreign performers are designed to cut red tape by moving the process online. In theory, this should foster the live music scene in Australia by cutting through the bureaucracy concert organisers face when bringing in acts from overseas. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case since the costs for the new system are being recouped by hiking up visa fees and scrapping the group touring discount previously relied upon by organisers of festivals and other events bringing in multiple performers.

This is a huge problem. The festival scene is the heartbeat of live music in Australia today. Festivals bring in a large number of acts and provide an economically feasible way to see many of the acts you love at a single event – with heightened visa fees, come heightened ticket prices. Festivals also provide a great way for new acts to be discovered and this is something we desperately need in Australia where local acts gain exposure by performing on the same stage as big international ones. Festivals also provide opportunity for individual acts to run ‘side-shows’, fostering the live music scene as a whole and allowing you to see bands who might otherwise not consider making the considerable jump across the pond.

But it isn’t just concert goers and musicians who will be hurt by the changes. The Australian performing Arts industry includes performers as well as backstage crews, security detail, lighting and sound guys, tech wizards.. the unsung heroes. When touring costs more, these are the battlers who lose work and with some of the developed world’s least friendly laws applying to live music in cities, it is a hit they don’t need.

On the plus side, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The changes actually benefit those bringing out smaller bands/individual acts to Australia for periods less than three months since a nomination fee previously paid by promoters will be scrapped. But when it comes to the harm caused by hurting the festival scene – a scene already suffering from heavy-handed, cost-imposing regulations about drug and security policy, this benefit doesn’t provide a lot of comfort.

In recent years, festivals including Soundwave and Stereosonic have folded as they are no longer economically viable. The Macq Liberal Club believes that the government’s priority should be reducing costs and red tape for organisers rather than increasing them.

The Turnbull government has rightly made technology and innovation one of its top priorities and this reform may be well intended. But as lovers of freedom, pragmatism, business efficacy and extremely dank bass drops, the Macq Liberal Club disagrees with the government’s decision. Changes to technology and processes are meant to make it easier, not harder for local and international industry to operate in Australia and for our consumers to enjoy the finer things in life such as heavy riffs and guitar solos. In this regard, the visa fee hike for touring acts falls flat.

Lizzie Green, President of MQU Labor

A few weeks ago, the Liberal Government announced that there would be changes made to the visa fees for entertainers, particularly targeting musicians and bands.

This proposal will see a rise in visa fees of up to 600%. These potentially means that the fee will be passed on to the fans, or artists won’t come at all to our country, which will be a huge shame.

Music promotors across the country are extremely upset with this move by the government, which will affect so many tours and annual festivals. Michael Chugg, a veteran in the music industry, has said that he’s never seen a government like this who just doesn’t care for the industry, nor will listen to the concerns – he has said, along with many other promoters, that the government has ignored requests to meet with them.

Live Performance Australia – the body that represents Australian live performers – has called on the Department of Immigration, led by Minister Dutton, to overturn the increased fee, claiming that it will “stop the tours”.

They raise the concern that it will reduce job opportunities for Aussie workers in the performance industry, will be higher ticket prices if performers still decide to come down under, and it will hurt the local hospitality and tourism industries, especially in regional communities.

“This is a massive money grab by the government, which is being introduced under the guise of a new online visa processing system that is supposed to cut red tape and streamline visa approvals,” LPA Chief Executive, Evelyn Richardson stated.

Labor Senator Murray Watts, during Senate Supplementary Budget Estimates last week, labelled the change as a “fun tax”, and pointed out that festivals such as Bluesfest, Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival wouldn’t be able to afford to bring out high profile artists like Neil Young, Patti Smith and Santana.

Australia’s music industry is flourishing with fantastic artists currently, but when you see how they started their career – who they supported on tours or who they were discovered by – having international artists on our shores can greatly improve their chances of making the big time, and in some cases, continue to make the music they love.

This will also affect venues who won’t be able to book the high profile tours to keep them above ground. And where will the young bands go to play if these venues are shut down? We will see an industry fall apart in front of us if we don’t support it.

Beyond the cost to the promoters and ticket buyers, and keeping in mind the reduction to a minimal application fee in New Zealand, the fear is of a ripple effect through the industry. LPA’s Richardson warned,“Tours don’t have to come here. They can go to Asia or they can go to New Zealand.”

“Jobs and Growth” may be the mantra of the Liberal Party, but does it not apply to the live music industry?

This change is just another sign that the Liberals don’t care about the Arts in Australia and are more interested in making a buck than helping an industry.