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Amusement ride operators stage show-stopping strike as insurance-crisis talks break down

ABC Business logoABC Business 14/05/2022 By Arianna Levy and Indiana Hansen
Old-fashioned rides like the dodgem cars are still very popular at travelling carnivals. (ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian) © Provided by ABC Business Old-fashioned rides like the dodgem cars are still very popular at travelling carnivals. (ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Amusement rides are one of the biggest drawcards at regional shows, but ride owners say their future is in doubt due to escalating insurance costs.

Operators have held a 15-minute ride strike at shows across regional New South Wales and Queensland to highlight the issue.

Following a ride stop last weekend at the Hawkesbury Show, Australia's largest regional show, organisers said they hoped to raise awareness of the "public liability crisis" the industry is facing.

Amusement Services Australia director Amanda McPherson said the rising cost of insurance had brought the industry to a "standstill".

"The premiums have soared through the roof, our own business was halted for 18 months because we couldn't obtain cover," Ms McPherson said.

"Coincidentally around the same time as the pandemic, all the suppliers of public liability just withdrew from the market, we were hit with a double whammy."

To operate on Crown land, public liability cover is a legal requirement for amusement ride owners to ensure the safety of participants.

'A kick in the guts'

On the eve of an election, talks with the federal government and peak industry bodies broke down last week.

A solution recommended by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman was dismissed.

Australian Amusement, Leisure and Recreation Association (AALARA) president Shane McGrath said it felt like a "kick in the guts" for the industry.

"We were advised the support would come if we followed the process, and yet it wasn't included in the recent budget and last week we received an official rejection of our solution," he said.

A proposed Discretionary Mutual Fund to offer insurance-like protection to operators was dismissed by the federal government.

In a statement to Radio National Breakfast earlier this week, a spokesperson for Assistant Treasury Michael Sukkar said the government was "considering the recommendations of the Small Business Ombudsman on the most appropriate mechanism to support the industry".

"Our insurance costs have gone up by an astronomical 300 per cent in just 12 months which is totally unmanageable for our members," Mr McGrath said.

"The government will effectively kill the fun for everyone if they don't step up."

Showmen's Guild of Australasia delegate David Allan said the 300 per cent increase was not viable for a lot of ride operators. 

"We don't want to annoy people, they've paid good money to come in here, it's just 15 minutes to make people aware of our plight," he said at the Coffs Harbour Show on Saturday morning, ahead of the ride stop.

"We should be applauded … the ones that are here are paying through the teeth for the insurance."

The future of country shows

Coffs Harbour is one of nine regional shows across NSW and Queensland that took part in the walk-off.

Show society president Christopher Pearson said many operators had been significantly impacted by the insurance hikes over the past two years.

"The protest isn't going to impact showgoers as much as the fee increases," he said.

"There are two rides on the Coffs Harbour showground alone that are just sitting there unable to operate because they can't find the appropriate $20 million insurance."

With a rich 200-year history and more than 500 regional shows across the nation, the rides have become part of Australian culture.

"According to our calculations we inject about $1.3 million into the local economy, but on the back of the pandemic, natural disasters and now insurance woes, country shows may not be around for much longer," Mr Pearson said.

Other shows that participated in the walk-off were Bingara, Bourke, Orange, Yeoval, Gympie, Ipswich, Charleville and Brookfield shows.

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