Artists chase money from failed Peats Ridge festival

JOHN BUTLER often uses his music to campaign for peace, protecting the environment and political causes. But he will be fighting at a meeting of creditors next week for the rights of performers, production vendors and backstage staff to be paid money owed to them after the collapse of the Peats Ridge festival.

The John Butler Trio is owed $95,579.50 following the collapse of the Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts and Music Festival, according to the liquidator appointed by the company that ran the axed festival.

''JBT is in the process of trying to recoup unpaid monies along with many other performers and contractors for their performance at Peats Ridge,'' the band's manager, Philip Stevens, said.

The band is the second-largest creditor among more than 200 performers, production vendors and suppliers owed $1.27 million by Peats Ridge Pty Ltd, the company that ran the festival, which was held from December 29 to January 1 at Glenworth Valley, north of Sydney.

In his report to creditors, the liquidator Andrew Spring, a partner at the insolvency firm Jirsch Sutherland, revealed the company had just $140,000 in assets. The sole director and secretary of Peats Ridge Pty Ltd is Matt Grant. On January 18, Mr Grant announced the festival had not covered costs and would be wound up.

In a statement on the festival website, Mr Grant claimed he had been open and transparent about the festival's financial woes. But the union representing performers and production crew said it was unacceptable Mr Grant had not budgeted for employment costs as a priority.

The festival owes $21,656 to the Australian Taxation Office for unpaid superannuation to employees, according to the list of creditors provided by Mr Grant.

A debt of $14,850 is owed to the Australasian Performing Right Association, which represents unpaid royalties to performers.

Mr Spring said he would investigate whether Mr Grant's company was operating while insolvent, which is an offence under companies law. He will also investigate what has happened to the proceeds of ticket sales from the 2012 festival.

Mr Spring's report reveals that Mr Grant has been the director of four companies that have collapsed since August 2011.

Given this history and the likelihood that creditors would receive less than half the money owed to them, Mr Spring said he would be notifying the Australian Securities and Investments Commission about the debacle.

This is cold comfort to Julian Hartley, whose beverage catering company Sorted Events Pty Ltd is owed $283,762.76.

Mr Hartley said Mr Grant told him he had withdrawn at least $190,000 from a joint bank account on the advice of the liquidator. Mr Hartley said this money had been taken without his permission and was not with the liquidator.

''If I thought for one minute he could do what he did, I wouldn't have set [the joint bank account] up,'' Mr Hartley said.

Asked if he believed Mr Grant would repay the debt owed to his company, Mr Hartley said: ''Not in a million years.''

Mr Hartley said Mr Grant had threatened him with defamation proceedings over the dispute.

Mr Hartley's claims are disputed by Mr Grant, who also said the proceeds of ticket sales had been used to pay staff, with the remaining funds given to the liquidator.

Mr Grant said nothing untoward had happened; the festival had just not sold enough tickets.

''I find it interesting that the union is taking the stance it's taking as the best potential outcome for creditors and performers would be based around preserving the value of the goodwill of the festival, not attacking it,'' he said. ''It makes me question whether the union has another agenda at play here.''

Other creditors listed in the liquidator's report include Elastic Entertainment ($49,477), Billions Australia ($45,650), NSW Police ($19,632), the New Zealand band the Black Seeds ($11,500) and Fairfax Media, the publisher of the Herald ($50).

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