$66 billion package will support the arts but does it go far enough?

The Federal Government has thrown the sector a lifeline, but more needs to be done if the cultural industries are to survive.
$66 billion package will support the arts but does it go far enough? Money for the arts but will it be enough to save smaller companies. Image Shutterstock.
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Richard Watts

Sunday 22 March, 2020

Casuals and sole traders in the creatives industries whose incomes have been disrupted by the widespread chaos caused by COVID-19 will benefit from new measures announced by the Federal Government on Sunday.

The $66 billion package includes the temporary waiver of the asset test and waiting periods for the Jobseeker allowance, while the allowance itself has been effectively doubled through the addition of a new $550 per fortnight coronavirus supplement.

The coronavirus supplement will be paid to both new and existing Jobseeker recipients for the next six months. Visit the Department of Social Security’s website for details.

Sunday’s announcement also included measures to support a range of arts organisations such as theatre companies, Aboriginal art centres, small performance venues and not-for-profits, who are eligible for payments of up to $100,000, with a minimum payment of $20,000.

These payments will provide cash flow support to help eligible businesses and not-for-profits – including creative and cultural businesses – stay operating and retain staff.

A loan guarantee scheme will also support small to medium-sized businesses. There are no charges for accessing the scheme, and it will be repayment-free for six months.

The maximum loan is $250,000, for a term of up to three years. Creative and cultural businesses are eligible to apply. More details can be found at the Treasury’s website.

SUPPORTING THE CULTURAL SECTOR

‘The cultural and creative sector plays a vital part in our economy, contributing $112 billion – just over 6% to our Gross Domestic Product every year. Over 800,000 people work in cultural and creative occupations,’ said Minister for the Arts Paul Fletcher in a statement.

‘By acting now, the Government is helping businesses to remain solvent, protecting jobs and Australia’s rich creative and cultural sector during these difficult circumstances.’

Read: Casuals on the front line as coronavirus cancellations spread

In addition to the measures designed to support individuals and organisations, both the Australia Council and the Office for the Arts have been given discretion under Commonwealth Grant Rules to provide reporting and other grant condition relief to organisations with existing Australian Government funding arrangements.

This relief includes:

  • Removing requirements on meeting audience KPIs
  • Bringing forward payments
  • Delaying or removing reporting requirements
  • Varying the purposes and outcomes of funding
  • Extending timelines for projects
  • Allowing organisations to use money provided for a deliverable to be repurposed to pay essential bills such as wages, rent or utilities.

Organisations are encouraged to speak with their program officer about options that can provide flexible support during these difficult times. More information is available at the Office for the Arts.

ANOTHER $650M REQUIRED TO AVERT DISASTER

While welcoming the economic stimulus package announced today, peak body Live Performance Australia (LPA) said more action was urgently required to support the sector.

‘We expect that people and businesses who operate in our industry, including our large casual workforce and sole traders, will be able to access some of the help that has been announced today, including faster access to income support payments,’ said LPA Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson.

‘However, many of our performing arts companies and businesses have seen their entire revenue evaporate overnight. The small business package measures announced today, while welcome, will not make a material difference to 80% of our companies … whose entire revenue has fallen off a cliff. Without immediate support, they won’t survive,’ she said.

‘Without a targeted, immediate and substantial support package, there will be no bridge to recovery for these companies and they will die. We are on the front and back ends of this crisis, and without immediate and substantial support for under-capitalised commercial and Not-For-Profit companies, we won’t have an industry in the next few months.’

Richardson said the sector urgently needs an additional $650 million in targeted support measures within the next few days.

‘Today Australia’s live performance peak body and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) stand united in calling for a clear commitment from government that it will provide an emergency industry package this week. Otherwise, this will be the death knell for Australia’s world class live performance industry,’ she said.

SUPPORT WORKSHOPS

From Tuesday 24 March, the Office for the Arts and Australia Council will begin a weekly COVID-19 support workshop with 16 peak arts bodies.

This week, representatives from the COVID-19 Business Liaison Unit, the Australian Banking Association and the Department of Social Services will provide information on support available for creative and cultural organisations and their people.

Creative and cultural organisations wishing to raise concerns or seeking further information can get in touch with the Office for Arts by emailing COVID-19@arts.gov.au. A dedicated 1800 number will be released in coming days.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts