Australian Music Industry Identity Stephen White Spells Out The State Of Play For The Prime Minister -
Stephen White

Stephen White (photo from Facebook)

Australian Music Industry Identity Stephen White Spells Out The State Of Play For The Prime Minister

by on January 28, 2022

in News,Noise Pro

Respected Australian music industry identity Stephen White, who for the past 45 years has been a driving force of the Australian music industry, is fed up with the Federal Government’s disdain for the music industry and has spelt out his case in a magnificently worded letter to the Prime Minister and Federal Members.

Stephen White currently manages Andrew Farriss, Lee Kernaghan and The Wolfe Brothers. In his 20s he was touring the world with Little River Band.

As Stephen points out, while this tight fisted government has done very little to support the needs of the music industry during the Covid pandemic, it has gone out of its way to grease up to corporate billionaires like Gerry Harvey with multi-million dollar hand-outs through Jobkeeper.

Another major beneficiary of the governments pissing expedition was IDP Education. It received $4 million in JobKeeper and gave, as Stephen White says, CEO Andrew Barkla a $600,000 bonus. Barkla was one of the highest paid executives in Australia last year earning a reported $37 million.

Here is Stephen White’s letter to the Prime Minister:

An Open Letter To: 26th January 2022
Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce
All members of the Australian Parliament
All State Premiers and Opposition Party Leaders
All State Deputy Premiers
All State Government Ministers and Shadow Ministers
Chief Ministers of NT & ACT

To the National, State and Territory leaders of our beloved country, Australia,

2022 will be my 48th year as a full time professional member of the Australian Entertainment Industry. During that time I have waved the Australian Flag high and proud as I worked with some of our greatest music talents on home soil and in some cases all around the world.

I remember walking out on to the stage in 1978 at the Dallas Cotton Bowl in Texas in front of 80,000 people and with all the gusto, passion and pride I could muster releasing the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome from Melbourne Australia….Little River Band” and there was a roar from the crowd unlike anything I had ever heard or physically experienced before.

I remember tears of pride welling in my eyes and thinking to myself “here we are on the other side of the planet and we are representing our country on the world stage performing with Fleetwood Mac, Santana, The Eagles. This was 1978 and I was a 23 year old kid from Merrylands in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Life could not have been better.

I was so proud to be an Australian and wherever we travelled around the world people everywhere had a huge soft spot for what to many was the mystical land down under and the care free, easy going Aussies. Everybody wanted to know about us and our country. Australians could do no wrong in the eyes of our international brothers and sisters.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? – more on this question at another time. Today’s letter is topic specific to the Government to request the assistance that is urgently required for the survival of the live entertainment industry in Australia.

Prime Minister, our industry is drowning and you and all of the other leaders are turning your back on us. Every segment of our industry from artist Managers, Promoters, Booking Agents, Publicists, Technical Crew, Tour Managers, Production Managers, the Artists, the service industries that supply us with rental trucks and cars, sound systems, lighting rigs, projection equipment, rehearsal studios, loaders who help unload the trucks into the venues every day, merchandise sellers and suppliers, travel agents, accommodation providers, airlines, backline equipment hire companies and the manufacturers of all the above equipment used in our industry are all in deep, really deep trouble.

I must also recognise and point out that the same need for help also applies to all small business that can’t earn enough money to keep the doors open caused purely by the rules and limitations enforced by State Governments with no intervention from Canberra.

These rolling decisions of lockdowns and border closures have crippled us. We are hurting, we are demoralised, we are suffering – while those public servants who bring down the hammer on us by imposing these orders are all still getting their wages every week.

The mental health of a very high number of our brothers and sisters is in steep decline. After two years we have run out of our own financial resources. Some had no resources to draw upon to begin with as they live basically week to week – but they have always got by, until now. We are concerned about which week will be the week we can’t pay rent let alone how to pay the regular overheads and bills that do not stop coming in. We have families depending on us!

Those of us who own our own business have staff who rely on their wages to survive. Last week I had to let go a senior staff member simply because the week before we received cancellations of shows for January and February worth over $300k in turnover. These shows were the light at the end of the tunnel for us – and it has been a very long tunnel of border closures and outbreaks. These shows were going to pay the bills, wages and rent. That amount of business vanishing into thin air is like a full force kick with steel capped boots into a man’s groin area. It stops you in your tracks and you fall into a ball on the ground screaming in pain.

And as of today I have nearly all of my March dates also postponed as well. Weren’t we supposed to be in the clear when we reach 90% vaxed? Is it in fact now getting worse with about 95% of the people vaxed? Seriously, WTF is going on Prime Minister?

I know if this is having such a massive impact on my every waking hour and having such a negative mental and physical effect on me, even with all my experience being a seasoned veteran of what is a very difficult and risk filled business at the best of times, then I have no doubt it is having the same effect, and probably even worse, on many others in the industry.

Our lives are driven and funded by providing entertainment to live audiences, which in turn provides wages for hundreds of thousands of people every week around Australia.

Over the last 2 years the lockdowns, border closures and reduced venue capacities have effectively shut us down. We are at the end of our tether Prime Minister. Enough is enough and the continued blatant lack of attention being shown to our industry shall never be forgotten. You must act now and give assistance before we all go under or lose the support of hundreds of thousands of Australians.

I am talking about the workers and the smaller businesses in the sector. We all rely on turnover. We are all feeling so helpless and unable to support long serving and loyal staff and sub-contractors like our road crew members. The crews are the backbone of the live entertainment industry. Many have been working on their respective craft for up to 30 years. They are all self-employed and have had almost no work for the last 2 years.

How the Government can’t see the unique situation the small business people in the live entertainment industry are in and not recognise that we are all in deep trouble and that our sector is arguably the worst hit of all by this Pandemic is beyond me.

So the question is what do we do?

The answer Prime Minister is that you take the time with some of your best people and sit with a few people from my industry who are actually in the position of about to go down with our respective boats – not ships. The folks who have ships are doing ok.

Let’s be clear here. Let’s be specific. I am not talking about the entire entertainment industry. We all have many colleagues and friends who work in the corporate arena. The multi-national recording and publishing companies who, by the way, are enjoying their best profits and growth that they have seen in many years throughout the last 2 years. The employees of these corporations have been able to work from home and still get their pay put into their bank accounts every week through the Pandemic. This a good thing – we want them to stay afloat and be ready to work with us when things return to normal. My point is that they do not need the assistance I am asking for here.

The same applies for the Corporate and Major Promoters, some of whom are multi-national, and some local, who have deep ties with financial investors with seemingly unlimited funds who are based in other countries. These companies do not need a hand. They can manage.

I have read about corporate music industry management, industry bodies and committees going to Canberra to lobby the Government for assistance for the industry. This is all good and very much appreciated but you have to also talk to the small business owners in the sector, the folks who are looking at their lives crumbling under the pressure of being unable to get through this time of forced unemployment, a time that is stripping us of our dignity.

I know you have tried some programs to help the entertainment industry like the RISE Grants and these have put millions of dollars into the industry, and it is appreciated. It has given many people a few pay days. Some people had days of welcomed work providing their specific services to the projects that won a grant. Others received pay days that were mini lottery wins. Overall, it was a good thing in general.

It was a great initiative on one level but you are missing what needs to be done for the working people who are struggling.

It would be interesting to have independent reports done on every grant given from the RISE Grant Program and see what the outcome was from the use of the money given.

Having said that, there were many worthy projects that the money went to but the exercise did not solve the problems the smaller players are facing. Those problems are actually being able to survive in these times – and I mean literally survive.
So the answer to the question at hand is you need to come up with another JobKeeper style program for the small business companies and self-employed contractors that legitimately need help within the live entertainment industry.

I have to say that the JobKeeper Program really helped us over the period it was paid at the top rate. The wages got paid and we were able to pay the bills from savings and the occasional income that was earned during some of those months. So thank you very much for that. But you got JobKeeper wrong in a few areas.

How is it possible that all of your many highly educated team leaders that include Harvard Business School graduates could not see that during JobKeeper you were paying billions of dollars out to companies who, because of the Pandemic, have never made so much profit – ever! Billions of dollars were wasted in situations like Harvey Norman and a plethora of other businesses who took JobKeeper from the tax payers and were, at the same time, making record profits. The ease at which many companies were paid more than their due by way of errors on their forms and also by way of manipulating figures is a catastrophe. An amazingly unquestioned and forgotten catastrophe that should have seen many heads roll. But hardly a word was spoken about it.

For example: IDP Education received $4 million in JobKeeper and gave CEO Andrew Barkla a $600,000 bonus. Last year he was Australia’s highest paid CEO, taking home $37 million.

The ATO and Treasury admit to a $60 billion bungle that saw them over count the amount of workers being paid because of mistakes on companies’ application forms. This reduced the scheme’s $130 billion price tag to just $70 billion.

$13 billion worth of JobKeeper payments went to Companies that increased sales and profits thanks to the Pandemic. This was between April and September 2021 – a 6 month period. This does not include the prior 12 months of which I can’t find any figures for payments that were paid to wealthy profitable companies that were making record profits thanks to Covid-19. The mathematical assumption is that up to $39 billion dollars was paid to companies who did not need it and were so profitable that their CEO’s were getting bonuses of up to a million dollars per year and some were bonused even more.

During this fiasco me and my colleagues in the live entertainment business were going broke. And with the recent Omnicom outbreak and associated rule changes it is even tougher times for us now. We have no way to make any money Prime Minister.
Our industry is always the first to step up when our country and our people are in trouble, whether it be fire, flood, drought or a unique disaster that falls on a community. We are always there to help raise money and raise the collective spirits of the affected communities.

This letter is purely about the support needed for citizens from a specific industry and any associated small businesses that are currently still unable to work and provide for their families because of rules that limit our capacity to operate. Our industry is the worst affected industry from Covid-19. It is an industry that is not able to survive due to no fault of its own. We are at the mercy of Government decisions whilst most other industries are getting back to work. Prime Minister this is an urgent call for help and it is time for action.

Stephen White
Stephen White Management / Stephen White Productions

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