House debates

Wednesday, 26 May 2021


Travelling Shows

7:40 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | | Hansard source

I address my remarks tonight to the travelling show men and women who spend their lives travelling around Australia bringing fun and entertainment to our rural and regional towns and, of course, to our big-city shows. Many of these travelling showmen, who might be listening now, driving their rights from one venue to another are small businesses, family owned. They're unique and a celebrated part of Australia's cultural fabric. Many have been passed down through a family name for up to six generations. The workers in our carnival industry are the salt of the earth. They're a close-knit community whilst vying for business in a tightly held industry.

Every year there are at least 580 agricultural shows run across Australia. The travelling showpeople employ at least 4,000 people nationwide and they keep Australians entertained. It's an industry that helps pump a billion dollars into Australia's economy every year, including a hundred million dollars into rural and regional communities. Whether or not it's one of the big coveted shows like the Royal Melbourne Show in my electorate, the Ekka in Brisbane and the Royal Easter Show in Sydney or the smaller agricultural shows in rural and regional Australia, this industry has kept Australians entertained for a century and more.

I'm very privileged to be a life member of the Travelling Showmen's Guild, and in the last year I have been speaking regularly to travelling showmen's guilds, including the Victorian Showmen's Guild and the Showmen's Guild of Australasia, as they coped with the terrible pandemic. As the pandemic first swept through Australia our travelling shows, rodeos and circuses, like so many businesses in hospitality and entertainment, came to a grinding halt. Due to restrictions on mass gatherings and event cancellations, this sector was incredibly hard hit by the impacts of coronavirus. There were shows, rodeos and circuses cancelled, and operators were forced to shut down as rents crippled them. The Victorian Showmen's Guild have informed me that the industry was ineligible to apply initially for many state and federal grants, despite sharing many characteristics of the successful recipients, because they travelled between state borders. This has not only seen an entire industry put at risk but put hardworking men's and women's livelihoods on the chopping block. They have been at risk of falling through the policy and legislative cracks of federation.

I have been fortunate to be able to reach out to colleagues on both sides of politics at the federal and state level to find a solution. Tonight I acknowledge the federal minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, who has answered the call on one issue. It's fantastic to see him announce $4.3 million allocated to the travelling industry in the recent federal budget. This funding is going to provide rent relief at agricultural shows so that show men and women are able to provide the entertainment and have their rides present at all of these events without having to pay rent for the next 12 months, we hope. All too often in politics it is rare to find bipartisan solutions, but David and I were able to achieve this by listening to the industry. It's a great result, but the industry still needs us.

There is a new problem looming for show men and women in Australia, a new obstacle that will prevent the show being kept on the road. There is market failure in the public liability insurance area. Australia's last two insurers offering public liability insurance for the industry have departed the local market. It means our show operators cannot get the $20 million of public liability insurance to open and operate rides at our shows. For everyday Australians, for city Australians and country Australians, for the children and young people who love the entertainment that these rides provide it means no rides and no more show bags. They need insurance to keep the punters safe. But if there is no public liability insurance, due to market failure, it will be the death knell of this industry. There will be no more rollercoaster rides, but it's more than that. It's people's livelihoods and the investments they have made.

There is something we can do. I had the opportunity to speak to Justine Sinclair, the remarkable CEO of the Victorian Showmen's Guild; Marjorie Chant, who is on the board, and Les 'Chippa' Chant, her son; Elwin Bell, who is the president; Jade Evans; and many others. They've told me that the insurance that they have, the public liability policies, are up or soon to be and they just want to set up a mutual. Along with AALARA, which looks after the rides and entertainment industry more generally, including our Luna Parks, we could create a mutual. It would only require an interest-free loan and a small grant to set it up. When there's market failure, I say to the government: this is a great opportunity for us to fill it.

I'm optimistic that the government is listening to this. This is not a matter where there should be great rancour. We can, I think, fulfil this market failure and make sure that we can find the gap. This crisis can be averted, and I encourage the government—who I know are looking carefully at this—to keep our travelling show men and women on the road, so the show can go on.