Labor: government’s $250m support package for arts sector great for businesses, but workers miss out

By Shannon Jenkins

June 26, 2020


Australia’s cultural and creative sector will receive $250 million in “targeted” support, as part of the federal government’s latest stimulus package.

The government on Thursday announced a range of new grant and loan programs would roll out over the next 12 months to different parts of the sector.

It comes a week after education minister Dan Tehan announced the government would be more than doubling the cost of Arts degrees while decreasing the cost of various other degrees, including agriculture and teaching, to create “job-ready graduates”.

Arts minister Paul Fletcher said the new package would support more than 600,000 Australians in the cultural and creative sectors, whose work contributes $112 billion to the economy. A Creative Economy Taskforce would be established to implement the programs, with the help of the Australia Council.

The package would deliver:

  • $90 million in concessional loans to help businesses fund new productions and events. The loans program would complement the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund and would be delivered through commercial banks.
  • $75 million in competitive grant funding in 2020-21 through the RISE Fund. The program would provide capital to help production and event businesses to put on new festivals, concerts, tours and events as social distancing restrictions ease, including through innovative operating and digital delivery models. Grants range from $75,000 to $2 million.
  • $50 million for a Temporary Interruption Fund to support local film and television producers to start filming again. This would be administered by Screen Australia.
  • $35 million to support Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organisations facing threats to their viability due to COVID-19, covering a range of fields including theatre, dance, circus, and music. The government would partner with the Australia Council to deliver this funding.

The guidelines for the grant and loan programs would be released in the coming weeks, along with the membership of the taskforce.

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette has welcomed the package and the opportunity to join the taskforce.

“An investment in the arts is a smart investment in recovery; creativity-led productivity fuels our economy and our social fabric,” he said.

“Arts and culture are major drivers for tourism, both domestic and international. They boost the hospitality sector. They underpin the vitality of our cities and regions, and the perception of Australia internationally.”

The Australia Council has also been working with the government to develop guidelines for the arts and entertainment sector to protect its workers and the public.

The national cabinet on Friday would discuss a timetable for the entertainment industry to reopen their businesses.

Arts shadow minister Tony Burke on Thursday told reporters that while some businesses in the sector would “benefit significantly” from the package, there were still a few problems — one being that $90 million has been allocated to loans.

“There are many businesses that are in no position at all to be able to take on additional debt,” he said.

“There are many businesses where a debt model doesn’t even work for the nature of their business. So we will work with industry to work through the details on how that $90 million dollars will actually work.”

The package would also be difficult to access for people in the visual arts sector, and for venues in the performing arts sector, he said.

Noting that restrictions in some parts of the country would be in place for some time, Burke called on the government to extend JobKeeper to arts and entertainment workers.

“When Anthony Albanese and I spoke at the Enmore Theatre, one of the people who was with us doesn’t stand in the spotlight, but holds a spotlight. His name’s Scott. He told us that day that he’s worked in the industry for 35 years, he’s been a casual for 34 years. Ineligible for JobKeeper even though his whole career has been as a lighting technician in that industry,” he said.

“If the arts and entertainment sectors are going to have an optimistic kick-off again as restrictions start to decrease, it’s going to be critical that they have a workforce still available to them and there is no piece more obviously missing from what was announced today than the fact that while there is welcome support for businesses, there is no support for workers.”

In an interview on Sky, Burke noted that road crew were in a similar boat, as they often worked from event to event as short-term casuals, freelancers, or on short-term contracts — with a different employer each time.

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