“After being in Tocumwal for a decade, we have never seen these [river] the heights persist,” Strawberry Fields organizers wrote on their website, announcing the September 27 cancellation. “Critical access and entertainment areas are currently several meters under water, and expert advice suggests the situation could only get worse from here.
That same week, authorities issued warnings for communities along the Murray River, and the Australian Insurance Council asked residents to prepare properties for a third year of La Nina flooding. Since the cancellation, water levels have risen another 1.5 meters.
Ticket holders could receive a full refund less a processing fee, or postpone their ticket to 2023, when the event takes place in November to avoid the rainy season.
While bad weather can be an integral part of the Australian festival experience, some organizers can’t afford to risk a repeat of this year’s muddy Splendor in the Grass, when downpours caused havoc for organisers, artists and patrons. Some festival-goers waited in line for 15 hours and had to sleep in their cars overnight. Videos of a bayou for a campground went viral – and the event had to be canceled on day one.
Strawberry Fields pays the cancellation fees out of pocket. Insurance cover was not offered to them in time, despite talks with insurance brokers starting in July, much earlier than usual. Typically, Benney said, organizers start engaging with insurance companies six to eight weeks before the show.
“At the time there was 100% insurer support required to offer us a policy in early September, the site was already under minor flooding – rendering us ineligible to accept this cover,” Benney said. “We are no longer protected in the same way as we were in the past.”
Insurance issues are not unique to the live music industry. A KPMG study of the general insurance industry outlined the risks in April, saying the industry feared the “frequency and severity” of weather events could drive up premiums significantly, and even make some areas unsafe. insurable.
Amidst the reluctance to offer coverage from insurance companies is the problem of rising premiums, the amount of money an individual or business can pay for an insurance policy. According to the Australian Insurance Regulator, gross public and private insurance premiums increased by 7.5% between 2019 and 2020.
While Strawberry Fields said the issue for them wasn’t the cost of insurance, it’s partly why This That Festival has canceled its October and November dates in New South Wales and Queensland. . In a statement announcing full refunds to its ticket holders, the event said the cancellation was due to a “combination of issues…including rising insurance premiums and infrastructure costs, and the forecast extreme weather conditions”.
A spokesman for the Insurance Council of Australia said the market for liability insurance, which covers live music events (among other industries such as pubs and theme parks) had tightened over the of the last two years.
“There is no silver bullet to solve these problems, and solutions, where they exist, require a concerted effort between insurers, businesses and government,” they said.
Select Music chief executive Stephen Wade, who is also chairman of the Australian Live Music Business Council, echoes that sentiment. As an agent for some of the biggest names in Australian music, Wade is responsible for handling live bookings for artists such as Lime Cordiale, Rufus Du Sol and Baker Boy.
“This is a unique time for us where these weather conditions continue to wreak havoc on our industry,” Wade said. “There are events that draw 30,000 attendees, and the people promoting those shows are literally on their knees before the shows, hoping they won’t be absolutely crushed by the weather.”
The industry, says Wade, is caught between a rock and a hard place: the pressure on organizers to bear the burden of weather-related cancellations has become too great.
But the alternative could see organizers include weather cancellations in an event’s force majeure clause (the clause that releases both parties from contractual liability). While alleviating the risk for event organizers, the responsibility would fall on the artist to take out insurance to cover themselves in the event of cancellation.
“Insurance has become a very, very big issue for our industry,” he says.
“The people promoting these shows are literally on their knees before the shows, hoping they won’t be absolutely crushed by the weather.”
Stephen Wade, Managing Director of Select Music
There have been government initiatives to support the industry after it was decimated by the closures. Last month, the federal government announced the Live Performance Support Fund, designed to provide coverage between November and January 2023 for events affected by the national requirement to self-isolate after a positive COVID test. But given that mandatory isolation rules were scrapped by the national cabinet last month, the fund may have come a bit too late. The Greens are now calling on the federal government to expand that coverage for events canceled due to weather.
“Even before COVID we saw festivals canceled due to bushfires, and more recently due to flooding. When the pandemic is over, the climate crisis will still be here,” said Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
Wade says a concerted effort is needed from brokers, industry and government agencies to “steer us in the right direction.”
A spokesperson for the Department of the Arts said the decision to end periods of isolation meant events could be carried out in confidence without the need to access pandemic-related coverage, but added: ” The government will continue to support the arts, entertainment and culture sector, and announce the way forward in its historic National Cultural Policy by the end of this year.
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