Already under financial pressure due to COVID-19 restrictions, live music venues say they are now being squeezed by high insurance premiums.
The Basement owner Lance Fox says he’s been hit with a 400 per cent increase in premiums for insurance under his lease.
“The underwriter I had used for six years flat out refused to underwrite us, even though we had no claims or any issues with them,” Mr Fox said.
“We have had to chase around the limited number of underwriters that do the work and we only found one who would underwrite us, so we were only able to get one quote.”
Mr Fox said few insurers were willing to offer public liability policies because of the level of risk.
However, he claimed the liability history from Canberran live music venues showed they posed considerably lower risk compared to other night time operations. Despite this, small to medium businesses are placed in the same category as clubs and bars for insurance purposes.
Mr Fox said he has not lodged a claim for more than six years.
He describes The Basement as a place that takes pride in creating a professional setting for musicians and a safe space for anyone from metalheads to PhD researchers.
“We can have 700 people here to see an Aussie rock show and have no violence, and we do that regularly,” he said.
“These last five, six years we have had no instances of liability claims. You can see how our sexual harassment policy works here and people embrace it, they just do, that’s a Canberra thing.”
Music ACT Director, Daniel Ballantyne said additional pressure from rising insurance premiums were not unique to Canberra but were an issue of national importance. He will be raising the matter with the Australian Music Industry Network.
“Insurance and brokers are not responding to the reality, which is the fact that the insurance industry is enjoying a considerable increase in profits without any significant change to risk,” Mr Ballantyne said.
“Meanwhile, if you present to an insurer to renew insurance in the live entertainment industry you are facing 400 per cent increases in premiums.”
As well as rising premiums, the live music community is fighting a long battle over noise restrictions.
Current regulations have caused considerable stress on night-time venues across Canberra for years, which prompted protests in 2019 and a proposal for an entertainment precinct in the ACT.
The Federal Government launched the Live Music Australia program this month which will provide $20 million of funding over four years to support entertainment venues.
While the ACT Government has also worked to save small businesses during the pandemic, Mr Ballantyne said live music venues were already fighting to stay afloat.
“There is a whole variety of impacts on live music venues, but we need to be clear: live music venues were struggling before COVID. COVID has just added another layer of difficulty and at the moment everybody is in survival mode.”
Mr Ballantyne said current planning and sound regulations don’t protect Canberra’s music scene and thwart opportunities for young people to start viable businesses.
The growing number of residential development approvals in the city and lack of progress on the ACT Government’s 2019 Entertainment Action Plan has also been heavily criticised by MusicACT.
“We [Music ACT] will be advocating something along the lines of direct funding assistance to live music venues so that they don’t go away as a consequence of the COVID virus,” Mr Ballantyne said.