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Unique support needed for a unique sector

  • 27 April 2020
There is one industry that was shut down almost instantly with the introduction of lockdown measures and has received a lot less attention than it deserves in the stimulus discourse. Yet, it never ceases to be part of our lives. I refer to the arts and entertainment industry, spanning from stage, to film and television, to literature.

The Federal government announced $27 million in targeted relief for the arts sector in the most recent stimulus package, including support for regional and Indigenous arts organisations, as well as Support Act, which delivers crisis relief to artists. This is a small slice of the $850 million support package proposed by Live Arts Australia.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed that as of 30 March, only 47 per cent of arts and recreational services businesses were in operation, a snapshot which does not cover the many not-for-profit organisations in the sector. Arts and entertainment are invariably linked to accommodation and food services, which were operating at 69 per cent.

The live performance industry alone had a $2.2 billion turnover last year, not including pubs and clubs. Broader stimulus measures so far for those left without work include a JobSeeker (formerly Newstart allowance) payment boost of $550 per fortnight as well as the newly established JobKeeper program. Unfortunately, the latter does not cater for the unique nature of the industry.

One of the prerequisites of JobKeeper is that an employee has been employed casually for at least twelve months continuously or in the case of sole traders, that they are actively engaged in the operation of a business. The case for sole traders, however, does not apply to not-for-profit organisations. Many arts festivals and organisations are therefore excluded. Arts workers ranging from performers to backstage crew to front-of-house staff may work the duration of a particular festival in any given year over consecutive years, therefore not meeting the continuous employment test either.

In a recent webinar from The Australia Institute, Chief Economist Richard Denniss pointed out ‘There’s 193,000 people employed in the creative arts industry in Australia. To put that into perspective, there’s less than 50,000 people working in coalmining.’ Denniss also raised that Australia has spent 200 billion dollars in stimulus measures so far. ‘One per cent of that would be two billion dollars. Does the arts and entertainment industry deserve one per cent of it? Maybe it deserves two per cent which would