Country shows fear of what the future could hold if insurance hikes force ride operators

The loudspeaker shouted that the bumper car ride was over and the music stopped.

Justin Gill, a fifth generation ride operator, or showman, exited the stand and walked away from the ride.

The day was not over but Mr Gill and all the other ride operators at the show in Charleville, South West Queensland were protesting and standing in solidarity over rapidly rising insurance costs.

“It’s just tough, a kick in the gut,” Mr Gill said.

“We are trying to get some help from the government, some support. »

For amusement ride operator Michael Brown, even managing to pay the insurance costs was not enough to install his Ferris wheel this year in Western Queensland.

“My Ferris wheel works normally there, but I can’t get the men to install it,” Mr Brown said.

A girl puts a bullet in the mouth of a show clown
Children missed some rides in Charleville due to operators’ inability to pay insurance costs.(ABC Western Qld: Melanie Groves)

The insurance hikes are just the latest in a series of blows for people who work on the national exhibition circuit.

Shows canceled due to COVID-19, then fuel hikes, vaccine mandates and staff shortages have all taken their toll on show operators, some of whom had already decided not to hit the circuit this year.

Those that have done so worry that they have to start passing the extra costs on to their customers.

But Mr Brown hoped that with government support the rides would not shut down completely.

“They will have no entertainment [at ag shows]. »

A solution?

Showmen’s Guild of Australasia [SGA] Chairman Aaron Pink said insurance costs have risen more than 300% in the past 12 months.

“At the moment, there is only one liability insurance provider that is ready to insure amusement rides and the entertainment industry, which is a foreign company,” he said.

Working with the Australian Amusement, Leisure and Recreation Association (AALARA), the SGO hopes to create a discretionary mutual fund that would provide self-insurance to operators.

    A food vendor holds a fried sausage dipped in red sauce    A food vendor holds a fried sausage dipped in red sauce
Phillip Zacchini worries about the future of the shows if a mutual fund isn’t set up.(ABC Western Qld: Melanie Groves)

Back to square one’

AALARA talked to the federal government about a $5 million loan to start the fund, but the money was nowhere to be found in the last budget.

“If a new pool is built in town, it gets help,” Gill said.

“To repair the performance grounds, they get government grants, [so] why can’t the fairground guild? »

The SGA said it was now back to square one after what it believed was a successful negotiation with the government.

“It’s a huge industry that employs over 7,000 people and contributes $1.4 billion to the economy each year, which will be wiped out if these insurance hikes aren’t addressed and support isn’t provided.” offered,” Mr. Pink said.

“We were told the support would come if we went through the process, and yet that was not included in the recent budget.

“And last week, we received an official refusal. »

A spokesman for Deputy Treasurer Michael Sukkar said the government was “considering recommendations from the Small Business Ombudsman on the most appropriate mechanism to support the industry”.

The end of the ride?

Cairns Show Association chairman Ian Allen said if the rides stopped coming it would hurt the town as well as the surrounding small communities.

Nearly 70,000 people passed through the doors of the Cairns show last year, which boasts the same number of rides as Brisbane’s Ekka.

“The Cairns community loves coming to the show because of the rides,” Mr Allen said.

A woman and her baby walk down a side alleyA woman and her baby walk down a side alley
The Charleville show had fewer rides available this year.(ABC Western Qld: Melanie Groves)

For Mr Gill, who has been traveling to Charleville in Queensland’s outback for shows for 48 years, said the love people have for shows was all the more evident after the COVID-19 cancellations. 19.

“We come back and people are lining up at the gates,” he said.

“They can’t wait to get a dagwood dog, or get in the bumper cars, they can’t wait.

“But the government will not help to keep [shows] To go. »

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