March 21 2021

By Joyce DiMascio

I have been writing lots of stories and talking to many people over the months of the pandemic. But the story of my interview with Simon Thewlis, Victorian event producer and one of the founders of the Save Victorian Events campaign, is one of the most difficult.

He’s forthright and articulate and so deeply concerned for the future of so many individuals and businesses in events.

For the past eight months, Mr Thewlis (below right) has been campaigning for government support for all parts of the events industry. He says that suppliers and contractors don’t only work in business events but across the whole events industry.

They are the supply chain that help to make festivals and events, meetings and conferences, exhibitions and major events come to life. They are the contractors and casuals, the caterers and staging companies that support the whole live events scene.

I spoke with him after the March 11 Federal Government announcement of National Economic Recovery Plan.

That plan was presented as “tourism and aviation’s flight path to recovery” in the joint media release of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer.

As we now know that package included taxpayer funded airfare discounts for regional Australia, a loan scheme for small and medium sized businesses and an extension and other changes to the Business Events Grants Program being overseen by Austrade.

In recent days, it has also emerged that 7,000 international airline staff will receive an income subsidy of $500 per week. Recognition that aviation industry workers need an income, but salt in the wound for the events industry.

Despite the lack of targeted assistance to replace JobKeeper for the events industry and no specific support from the Victorian Government, Simon Thewlis may be down but he’s not defeated.

His message to the industry is that it’s now time to regroup and come up with a better strategy.

“This campaign is not all over, it’s a big setback, but it’s not over. There’s too much at stake to let it be over,” he says. “We need everyone in the industry working together.”

“If we get organised and use the resource we have, we can achieve things, we can make a difference,” he says.

Last Thursday, a group of events industry operators mounted a highly visible activity outside the Victorian Parliament to draw further attention to the plight of the Victorian industry.

They targeted both Houses of Parliament and have now escalated the campaigning as there is too much at stake, he says.

Mr Thewlis believes peak industry bodies could be more inclusive and transparent about their work.

Of major concern is that despite getting a hearing from both Federal and State and senior government officials, there appears to be very little understanding of the events industry.

“The events industry is not recognised as an industry,” he says.

The Save Victorian Events campaigners put most of their effort into Victorian Government advocacy and this was supported by the findings of their major survey which produced evidence of the impending catastrophic impact that would result from the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Despite all the campaigning undertaken so far, Simon Thewlis believes there should be more collaboration between all parts of the industry.

It’s time for a joined-up association resourced to do the much-needed advocacy work for the whole industry, he believes. Or at the very least in the short-term, the peak bodies should be doing more to engage the grass roots of the industry.