Government to unveil $250m loans and grants package to restart paused arts industry

The Morrison government will today reveal a $250m support package for an arts industry struggling to cope with the havoc COVID-19 has wreaked upon the sector.

The package is inclusive of $90m in grants, that will range from $75,000 to $2m, and concessional loans to fund new productions. It’s an attempt to stimulate an industry that has been badly damaged by the social distancing practices and cancellations resulting from the pandemic.

Screen Australia will be responsible for a $50m fund to finance local productions that have been forced to shut down. The likes of The Block, The Bachelor, Holey Moley, and Survivor have all been paused. Ten’s Neighbours resumed filming at the end of April after a four-week break, Big Brother had to temporarily pause production after a crew member was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and The Amazing Race is on the hunt for talent after confirming this month that a domestic version of the show is still on the cards.

In terms of live sport, the NRL and AFL are back – but still dealing with COVID-19 dramas that have cancelled games – and the Tokyo Olympics is postponed until next year.

All up, more than 119 productions – approximately $500m worth of content – have been cancelled or suspended, according to Screen Producers Australia. The body welcomed the $50m package, thanking Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher and the government for “their support of our sector”.

“The fund will assist to secure much-needed capital to the hundreds of small businesses which make up the independent production sector so that we can start the cameras rolling again and return thousands of workers back to work across the broad range of jobs that our industry creates,” said chief executive Matthew Deaner.

“The benefits of this package will extend far beyond the personnel on a physical set, with flow-on effects to related industries such as tourism and hospitality, and the boost to Australia’s export potential, playing an important part in the nation’s economic recovery. Moreover, the Australian public will no doubt celebrate the return of homegrown stories to our screens.”

In contrast to Screen Producers Australia’s praise, the industry’s union said the Job Maker package ignores thousands of arts workers “who have been without work for months and need immediate income support” and are still excluded by the Job Keeper program.

Minister Fletcher (left) with Prime Minister Scott Morrison

“While any form of assistance is welcome, this package is another slap in the face for the thousands of arts and entertainment workers who are not eligible for the Job Keeper income subsidy scheme,” said Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance CEO Paul Murphy.

“The grants and loans will help arts organisations begin to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, but there is absolutely no relief for freelance and casual workers who have lost their jobs and suffered significant reductions in income.

“The biggest help the federal government could provide right now for workers in the sector is to change the eligibility rules for Job Keeper so arts and entertainment workers can claim the income subsidy.”

Last month, the union demanded proof for a government claim that Job Keeper and Job Seeker will boost the arts industry by between $4bn and $10bn, accusing Minister Fletcher of pulling the figure “out of thin air”. In response, a spokesperson told Mumbrella a two-year report formed the basis of calculations related to programs only introduced this year. A request for clarification received no response.

The government has, however, suspended content quotas for the rest of the year to ease some pressures facing TV networks, and said it will accelerate a decision about the future extent of these quotas, and whether they should also bind the likes of Netflix, Stan and Disney+.

Earlier this month, Netflix donated $1m to a COVID-19 film and TV emergency relief fund. Workers in the sector – including assistants, coordinators, technicians and operators, and many of whom are paid hourly as casuals, and work on a project-to-project basis – can apply for $1,000 grants.


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