Constituency Statement: Supporting the Arts During COVID-19

  • June 11, 2020

The arts, entertainment and creative sectors play a central role in our society and reflect who we are as individuals and as a nation. I am passionate about the role of the arts and am inspired by the creative talent that we have in our country. I see this across Sydney, undoubtedly the cultural capital of Australia, and very much in my own electorate as well.

Locally, I am very proud of the contribution being made by artists, performers and creators. The Lower North Shore is home to so many cultural organisations, from the Ensemble, Lane Cove, Hunters Hill and Willoughby theatre companies to our incredible musical performers, bands and orchestras, to the galleries and photographers and the many businesses in the screen industry. They are joined by hundreds of artists and performers who live in my electorate.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, 2020 has been an awful year for so many Australians. This is particularly so for virtually everyone involved in the arts and creative sectors. The coronavirus lockdowns decimated revenues overnight, putting many thousands of jobs in jeopardy. The cultural and creative sectors, in their broadest definition, contribute $112 billion to our nation’s economy and employ over 600,000 Australians. These range from actors, singers and musicians to those we describe as ‘behind the scenes’—the make-up artists, producers, directors, composers, sound engineers and administrators, to name but a few. While many arts organisations have very creatively sought to innovate and adapt to a world of isolation, nothing can diminish the fact that the arts and entertainment sectors have been amongst the hardest hit by COVID-19. The arts and creative sectors contribute in ways that can’t be quantified in dollar terms or numbers. They inspire, entertain and thrill, and they encourage us to think about the world around us. Their role in advancing and strengthening culture is truly immeasurable. For so many of us, there is a real longing for their return to our lives.

During the current crisis, support from governments at all levels has been vital to the sector. I know my colleague the Minister for the Arts has been working intensively with key arts organisations. At the federal level support has flowed from the JobKeeper and jobseeker programs, which have sustained so many arts organisations and those working in the sector. I know from talking to local arts organisations that JobKeeper has kept them in business. Nationally, I have seen the leaders of many of the major arts organisations, from The Australian Ballet to major galleries to theatre companies, make comments in similar terms.

JobKeeper has been a lifesaver. This is reflected in the numbers. Of the 40,000 people who work within the creative and performing arts as defined by the ABS, including those in acting, literature and sculpture and those who work in live performance venues, more than two-thirds received a JobKeeper payment in April, with total payments of $76.1 million in that month alone. In fact, according to the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research, more than 90 per cent of people in the sector had employment arrangements which meant they could receive JobKeeper if their revenue had been impacted by COVID-19. Of those, 23 per cent were sole traders, 56.5 per cent were permanent employees and 11 per cent were longer-term casuals. There are many in the arts and entertainment sectors who do work more casually and, if not registered as sole traders, may not be eligible for JobKeeper. In most cases those individuals have been able to receive the jobseeker payment, which, after allowances and taxes, is similar in quantum to the JobKeeper payment.

I therefore have been frustrated to hear claims from those opposite, repeated by some in the media, that the government has done nothing to support those in the arts and entertainment sectors. The facts tell a very different story. As we move forward, the sector has been outlining ideas and proposals for its recovery—how we can ensure that the sector emerges as the vibrant, exciting force it was before the world was turned upside down. I support those who have argued that the sector will need very specific and substantial support in the months ahead, and I have been regularly talking with the arts minister about these issues. Many arts organisations have high up-front costs and face long lead times in staging revenue-generating events. Their financial reserves have taken a battering as they work to survive. I am, therefore, pleased that the Prime Minister has made clear his intention to provide additional support for the arts, screen and entertainment sectors, and I look forward to the details of that package being released in the weeks ahead.

These and other measures will be just so important to restoring confidence and hope for a sector that really is the beating heart of all of our communities.