For most of us we turn to the arts in its various forms; music, literature, dance, digital media, the ABC … what’s left of it. In Australia, the Arts industry contributes more than $111 billion to the economy every year. But during the pandemic the industry continues to be completely disregarded when Government payments are being divvied out to this one and that one. The JobKeeper, for example is a great initiative which helps businesses to stay afloat. Employers get the subsidy which allows them to pay eligible employees $1 500 per fortnight. It involves a lot of money. $130 billion to be exact – to start with anyway. A tricky question on the loan application form caused the Treasurer and the Australian Taxation Office to muck up their sums by a mind-blowing $60 billion over-estimation. This news made many Aussies very happy. It didn’t mean much to me.
Gone. Just like that.
So what could the Government spend the $60 billion on that it doesn’t have. Some say put it in the bank, (I’m confused), extend Jobseeker (that’s the payment you get if you’re looking for work) to more causal workers and temporary Visa holders, give a bit to the aviation employees and the higher education employees. While this is all well and good there still is no mention of the Arts sector. Not a thought. Artists were the first out during the pandemic and will be the last back in. All those hours, days, months preparing for shows. Gone. Just like that. They can’t work from home and most don’t qualify for any ‘keeper’ payments. Yet there are no barriers to participation in the Arts. I can’t think of any other industry that is more inclusive than the Arts but at the same time more excluded by the Government.
Ah. But wait!
Finally the Government announced last week that a $250 million ‘rescue’ package of loans and grants is now available for the Arts industry. The Government is setting up a task force for a $250 million investment into the Arts industry but without consultation with people who are actually in the industry. Bizarre. This will go a tiny way helping the recovery of companies and organisations in the industry.
But what about all the freelancers?
There are over 600,000 employees in the arts, but only 25,000 qualified for Jobseeker payments. They still face the real prospect of months of unemployment without an income. Hardly any are entitled to Jobkeeper because their work is either casual or short-term contracts of less than twelve months. But here they are, providing concerts online, organising and encouraging participation in virtual choirs, providing online art classes, writing competitions, even virtual concerts to raise money for mental health and other worthy causes to help us all to get through this crisis. The only way we can thank them is to show our support when the curtain finally goes up again.