It’s time the government stopped neglecting Australia’s music industry

David Le’aupepe of Gang of Youths performing on stage during the 2017 Aria awards

David Le’aupepe of Gang of Youths performing on stage during the 2017 Aria awards. Labor’s new music policy includes more support for some of Aria’s mentoring activities. Photograph: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images for ARIA

The Australian music industry has been ignored by successive federal governments. Unlike the film industry, where tax concessions are offered for the development of product, the music industry has struggled over two decades. With the invention of the MP3 and Fanning and Parker’s Napster, the industry fell on its arse as the fight against piracy was waged. Artists lost revenue from the oldest and most lucrative right, the right of reproduction, when revenue from sales disappeared as peer-to-peer networks ballooned. Anti-protectionist cults swelled, and people who never considered copyright before were suddenly experts. For them, information should be free to use.

The music industry sent many of our wisest to Canberra to entreat governments to pass legislation to impede piracy and maintain protections. But there was no economic relief, and the industry staggered on: condemning piracy, fighting in the courts and establishing the streaming services. Organisations were founded inside and by the industry to advocate and mentor.

The Labor party’s music policy, announced on Friday, acknowledges the work that these small organisations have done to support and mentor artists and music workers. It’s exciting to see that the party is following the music community and recognises where it can provide funding effectively.

Outcome-focused, reliable and collaborative, the Australian Association of Artists Managers, for instance, struggled on with meagre funds providing mentorship to young aspiring managers. Sounds Australia opened pathways for bands to play at international festivals, while the Live Music Office advocated for better policy, regulation and strategy to increase live music opportunities. Labor’s new policy finally gives the Association of Artists Managers the recognition it deserves. There is a dearth of managers in Australia – it’s the hardest job outside of crew. The promised $250,000 would allow them to establish mentorship programs, and this is what they are so good at: developing the next line of managers. A new Sounds Australia with the Live Music Office will receive support to develop live music opportunities in venues and festivals here and overseas.

The two music industry charities that would receive increased support under the policy, existing for just over 20 years, are Nordoff Robbins, providing music therapy and community music programs, and Support Act, which provides crisis relief in the payment of bills and a 24/7 mental health phone line for musicians and music workers. Both charities are promised substantial funds. Support Act has grown only because of the music industry support, funding provided by the collection societies, labels, publishers, promoters, individual artists and the music community. Finally, some recognition for the enormous contribution that both charities deliver.

Lindy Morrison (left) with Brisbane band the Go-Betweens.
‘While industry consultation is a positive gesture, it’s not enough’: Lindy Morrison (left) with Brisbane band the Go-Betweens. Photograph: Emi Music/PR IMAGE

The collection societies Apra and PPCA provide grants to many organisations to keep them afloat. Apra’s list of supported organisations is long, the impact huge, and Labor’s promise to provide $7.6m towards Apra’s SongMakers program for young people will enable more songwriters and producers to work in schools creating and recording original songs. The recording grants partnership with PPCA will be doubled, so more grants can be given to diverse and talented musicians across all genres to record. More new music can only be a good thing: this year, for example, PPCA in partnership with the Australia Council provided recording grants to artists as diverse as Alex the Astronaut, jazz composer Sandy Evans, and chamber music composer Lachlan Shipworth.

While Labor’s policy doesn’t tackle yet the appalling lack of music education in public schools, the promised $5m to build practice rooms (which they call music hubs) in community centres and schools is innovative and helpful. Rehearsal rooms are expensive and this promise is a good start. So is the promised support to extend Aria’s award to a music teacher of excellence. The winning teacher is then mentored with an established songwriter – an increase in funding means the program can be extended to awards for teachers in primary, secondary, remote and community schools.

Still, schools are crying out for musical instruments and music teachers. Not all students can afford to buy musical instruments, which can, in some cases, cost thousands of dollars. Buying musical instruments aids the retail side of the music industry, as well as providing new skills and tools for students.

Finally the Labor policy promises to consult with the industry on any copyright reforms. While this is a positive gesture, it’s not enough – the industry needs assurances on these issues. The fight to obtain revenue for use never ceases, as does our vigilance in maintaining protection through legislation.

Good policy provides public benefit. The music industry contributes $6bn to our economy each year, provides a massive amount of jobs and keeps the story of our lives and culture alive. Labor’s music policy provides public benefit, and so it is good policy.

Lindy Morrison is the drummer of Australian rock group the Go-Betweens. She is also the artist director of PPCA and the national welfare coordinator of Support Act

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