Live music industry must address workplace harm

Published on Mon 21 November 2022 12:57pm

Live music can be wild. Live music can push buttons and boundaries. It’s okay if the noise is a little bit dangerous. It’s great sometimes if the lyrics and the performance are on the edge or over the top. But it is 100 per cent not okay when the live music environment is an environment in which violence, sexual assault, harassment, or anything that is fundamentally exploitative and non-consensual occurs. Those behaviours are not okay anywhere.

Mr Wilson (12:57pm) – I’m very glad to speak to this motion. I thank the member for Macquarie, the government’s Special Envoy for the Arts, for bringing it forward. Can I say at the outset that, without question, live music is one of the best things. We can argue about whether storytelling or music is likely to have been humankind’s first collective cultural experience—for all we know, it was quite possibly both at the same time. Through live music we join into something bigger than ourselves. We tell and hear stories. We experience the amplification of joy and pain. We remember and we celebrate. Sometimes we might shake our fists and dance for change. Sometimes we mourn. Without question, making, hearing and dancing to music together is one of the great heartthrobs that animate our experience of creativity and community.

Because it represents such a magical, primal, essential human experience, we should expect it to be a ubiquitous and frequent part of our lives. On that basis, it absolutely has to be a welcoming, safe, inclusive experience for all involved, starting with musicians and other workers in industry, and for everyone who goes along to support their work and to revel in their noise. Unfortunately, we know that isn’t always the case. The Raising Their Voices report showed that 55 per cent of the nearly 1,300 survey participants had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment and 72 per cent of women had suffered that kind of unacceptable treatment. In addition, 76 per cent of survey participants reported having experienced bullying at some point in their musical career. This independent report has shone a light on the prevalence of conduct like this in the music industry, and it has to stop.

Live music can be wild. Live music can push buttons and boundaries. It’s okay if the noise is a little bit dangerous. It’s great sometimes if the lyrics and the performance are on the edge or over the top. But it is 100 per cent not okay when the live music environment is an environment in which violence, sexual assault, harassment, or anything that is fundamentally exploitative and non-consensual occurs. Those behaviours are not okay anywhere. We know in Australia that we have work to do to eliminate that kind of conduct in almost every area of life, but it has been, unfortunately, common and widespread in the music industry and that needs to stop. As Jaguar Jonze has noted, the Raising Their Voices report took a lot of sacrifice and energy from survivors, and it must be the beginning of serious remedial work. Jonze has said:

We now require commitment to change and action. I hope that with the report, the industry leaders will commit and implement the recommendations to begin the process of creating safe arts workplaces.’

I’m lucky to have grown up surrounded by music. Both my parents are musical, and my brother is a musician. My dad chaired the board of a not-for-profit live music venue: the Fly by Night Club in Fremantle. Freo has long featured a range of distinctive and evolving music venues, but Freo has had its share of unacceptable behaviour and poor venue management of such behaviour, including in the last couple of years. Sadly, for women, whether they’re musicians or fans of musicians, it’s the case that a concert crowd is an environment in which they can almost be guaranteed to experience unwanted and inappropriate attention. That needs to change, and it needs to change through the behaviour of men. Men need to change. There needs to be a cultural and behavioural shift with no tolerance of the crap that has been endemic in some of these situations. All of us can be part of that change by having a good hard look at ourselves, by not looking the other way when it comes to the behaviour of people we know and by showing a bit of courage as a bystander to call out or report bad behaviour when it happens around us.

The prospect of live music performed or enjoyed should never be tainted by the anticipation of harassment or bullying. There is much to be done to ensure that Australian songwriters and performers are properly valued and supported in their vital work, starting with safe workplaces. I call on people around Australia, in my community and in communities all around the country, as summer begins, to reflect on the fact that musicians are among those worst affected by the COVID pandemic and that, in some jurisdictions the live music scene has only recovered to 50 per cent of its pre-COVID state. Let’s do something about that. We can do something about that by getting out and supporting the Australian live music scene as summer arrives—which I think is happening in Fremantle today, but I’m not so sure about the east coast! A critical part of that work within the industry, within venues, within some of the bands and, certainly, within the crowds is to make sure that our ability to be energised by the primal goodness of live music is not limited, diluted or ruined by stupid, ugly, unacceptable behaviour.

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