My name is Simon Thewlis. I’ve proudly been a member of the event industry in Victoria for 39 years – including 30 years as a business owner.
I’ve produced a vast range of events from major public events, music events, charity and community events through to high end business events. And have worked across nearly every part of Victoria’s event industry.
Today, I’m here representing Save Victorian Events. The main group that has been representing the people and businesses that work in the event industry throughout this crisis.
I’ll quickly introduce the others, as they would be too modest doing it themselves. They are both well known around the world as being amongst the very best in their fields.
Tiny Good is a rigger. He and his company Showtech are renown around the world – from the aerial rigging at the Athens Olympics to the Melbourne Commonwealth Games with the flying tram and far beyond. He can share the experience of being a business owner in the midst of this crisis.
Howard Freeman has been tour manager and production manager of acts from Sherbert and AC/DC through to the Big Day Out. And has toured a lot of the world’s top music acts around Australia. He’s here today as chair of CrewCare. An organisation that supports crew who are doing it tough. He can talk about crew, what they have gone through. And why you should be in awe of them.
We only have an hour to cover a huge, complex and generally misunderstood industry that most of you know little about. We do need to get more real event people in front of you.
Victoria has long been viewed as Australia’s event state. Melbourne has traditionally been viewed as a global event capital. Events are integral to Victoria’s identity. But most importantly, events are integral to what makes living in Victoria great.
Victoria’s Event Industry is a large, well established industry that organises more than 120,000 events a year that are worth more than $12 billion in terms of direct spend, and employs over 70,000 people.
While there is much emphasis on the small number of really big events, its actually the hundred plus thousand other events that make the greatest contribution to life in Victoria and contribute most in terms of employment and economic activity.
Victoria’s event industry is best defined as the people and businesses involved in the professional creation and management of special events in (and this is very important) and from Victoria.
The events include:
Business Events such as product launches, conferences, exhibitions, brand activations
Public and Community Events – from the simplest community events up to St Kilda Festival
Charity dinners, galas, fundraising walks, etc… The many music festivals, the Fashion Festival Fun runs and triathlons. And that is just a few.
The businesses include event organisers, suppliers, freelancers and contractors, venues and caterers. It is a vast army of incredibly talented, skilled and experienced people.
The vast majority of the economic activity and employment is by small businesses.
Importantly, a lot of event industry businesses export their products, services and events around Australia and overseas.
But it is important to understand what events are about. What they do.
For a community event it can be to build the sense of community, to connect people, to enable greater social cohesion, or just to raise the spirits of the community.
Business events will be about bringing people together to inform them, to build teams, to change the culture of the organisation, to embrace innovation and new technologies.
For a not-for-profit it can be to promote their cause, to educate their members, to raise funds for their work.
Music festivals bring people together to share experiences they’ll often remember for the rest of their lives.
Some events are about marketing and tourism. The Grand Prix is an example of an event held to bringing people to Victoria.
But in most cases tourism is a benefit from the event but not the event’s primary purpose.
Events make an extraordinary contribution to life in Victoria and touch the lives of most Victorians on a regular basis.
But there is a lot of confusion about our industry. We do overlap with some other sectors but we are very distinct from them.
We certainly overlap with the arts with festivals and the like. And similarly with sport with some of the major sporting events and the activities and activations at them.
Some events do help drive tourism – but a lot actually don’t. The event industry is not the tourism industry. We have a completely different purpose, operational model, economic model and supply chain.
Again, many event industry suppliers export their services to other states and overseas – like Norwest providing the audio for the Tokyo Olympics.
Most event companies organise events in other states but a lot of the economic benefit and employment from them still happening in Victoria.
Sadly, much of what the event industry does has been dumbed down to hotel room nights and trips to the penguins. And at government level, we do seem to have been kidnapped by the tourism folk and vested interests.
These three sectors – arts, tourism and sport – have received over $2 billion in state government support, while the event industry remains empty handed and struggling.
Save Victorian Events began back in July with nine of us. All small business people with decades of experience at the front line. Between us we know most of the event industry.
We were deeply concerned that our industry was being decimated and the government was doing nothing.
We were watching all our friends and colleagues really struggling. With many losing everything.
So we got to work organising – which is what we do for a living.
We quickly had close to two thousand people and businesses from right across Victoria’s event industry actively involved with our campaign. Writing emails, contacting their MPs – including you, doing surveys, and finally having their voice heard.
We have been the main source of information for the event industry about what’s happening at government level and the main source of information from the front line of the event industry back to government.
We have ended up setting the agenda about the event industry at both state and federal level.
Doing all this while struggling to keep our own small businesses alive. We have no funding, no staff, no ties with government organisations.
Being a very modern industry, we have taken a very modern approach to this. As an example, largest online group for Victoria’s event industry has 5,500 members.
Our industry has never had a peak body. You will hear it suggest otherwise later today but this is just complete nonsense for some pretty obvious reasons.
Our group has spent nine months at the frontline. Listening to all the real stories from event friends and colleagues every week.
We are still the only group to have done extensive surveys of our industry. Reading the detailed survey comments from 700 of our colleagues was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do.
We have shared quite a few of these comments with the Inquiry.
We have spent a truly extraordinary amount of time trying to deal with government over the last nine months. It has been awful.
There have been countless roundtables where we were talked at or talked down to by people with no real knowledge of our industry. Often treating us like idiots. For so long, nothing happened.
At one large roundtable in mid November, on asking why the event industry had received no financial support, the deputy secretary simple said that “the event industry hasn’t received any financial support because the event industry is not an industry”.
On asking soon after why there were still no published guidelines for business events we were told that business events aren’t really a type of events. Business events are worth over $10 billion.
Despite being one of the very hardest hit industries, it took us eight months – so until February – to get a meeting to talk about financial support. It was only for 30 minutes and nothing has happened since.
In stark contrast, we’ve spent a couple of hours with the most senior people in federal Treasury talking about our industry.
While DJPR has a Tourism, Events and Visitor Economy Research Unit, they have no data about events.
There has still never been a meeting between the event industry and the Department of Health. Even though we have decades of experience in complex risk management. Hence we still have largely unworkable restrictions, guidelines and approval processes.
There has been a complete unwillingness to just sit down work though stuff together to get good outcomes. As event people we know this is always the best and easiest way to get stuff done.
The last 13 months have been horrific for the event industry.
Over 100,000 events worth more than $10 billion have been lost. Most event businesses have lost the majority of their income. 74% of full time jobs are no longer there. With JobKeeper gone 40% of companies are likely to have to close and a further 43% will need to let their staff go. The 69% of the highly skilled freelancers we all rely on will need to leave the industry.
But these are real people and families not numbers.
Events are starting again. But it is really slow. For many types of events – maybe 10% of events are back. But there are still many of us who haven’t done an event since March 13 2020.
And now we are going into the quiet winter period. So how can many businesses survive until later in the year when events start happening again properly.
A huge number of events are not happening because people can’t get insurance against cancellation due to lockdowns and the like. It is stopping all kinds of events small and large.
The simple answer is unless there is massive change, a lot of people and businesses just won’t survive.
We will lose a lot of Victoria’s event capability. And a large number of great people and businesses. Things we can’t get back again.
We certainty can’t be the event state or a global event city. We are event people so we are practical people.
As an industry we do know what is needed. Our plan is very simple. And it starts with fixing the underlying problems.
1. We need the event industry to be recognised as a real industry. As an important industry to Victoria, and to Victoria’s future.
2. We need the real contributions that our events make to Victoria to be finally to understood and valued by government. And, we need the extraordinary skills, talents and resources of the event industry to be valued – as they should be getting used during this crisis.
3. We need a dedicated government agency – Events Victoria – to be set up to support, develop and promote Victoria’s event industry. Including, as an export industry. An agency that has people who understand the event industry and are committed to working with us and supporting us.
4. We need some real financial support for the event companies, event suppliers and the freelancers and contractors so they can survive until later in the year when events start picking up again properly.
5. We need Covid cancel insurance to be underwritten by government so many events can start happening again.
The document we have submitted goes into vastly more detail. Please take the time to read it.
Victoria’s event industry can have a great future.
Our event industry can continue to make a huge contribution to life in Victoria. And, coming through a pandemic, events have never been more needed and more valuable.
Victoria’s event industry is a vast number of people and businesses who have worked their whole lives and put everything into creating great events.
People who have made an extraordinary contribution to Victoria.
They deserve much better than this.