Greens leader calls for $1bn in funding for arts and creative industries if they are to survive the coronavirus outbreak

Adam Bandt, the leader of the Greens party and MP for Melbourne, has said the arts and creative industries will need $1bn in funding if they are to survive the struggles placed upon them by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Bandt’s words come after Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, held a roundtable for cultural and creative sector bodies to discuss plans for their survival as more live entertainment is cancelled and the sector is threatened by precautions to stymie the virus’ spread.

Following the roundtable, Fletcher said it was clear the organisations are under threat and that a number of suggestions had come to light.

“It is clear that COVID-19 presents significant issues for our arts organisations – and like all Australians, they are showing great community spirit in calmly and efficiently dealing with the circumstances they are facing in the near-term so we can come through this challenging period,” Fletcher said.

“The information I obtained today from this roundtable will feed into whole of Government planning on COVID-19 responses.”

Those measures haven’t been revealed yet, but the Greens have unveiled a $1bn ‘Saving Creative Australia’ package which Bandt says would save the industry.

“The coronavirus is smashing our economy and the PM’s measly stimulus package has left too many people behind, including the 600,000 Australians employed in the creative and arts sector,” said Bandt.

“These forgotten workers contribute $112bn to our economy and should be given the attention they deserve by the PM and any stimulus package.

“The Greens’ ‘Saving Creative Australia’ package would deliver a $1bn package to keep the lights on across the sector and guarantee work for artists and creatives. This is essential for those suffering from mass gig and event cancellations who can’t simply switch off their expenses.

“We’re also backing the two-thirds of artists and creatives who are casuals or freelancers and therefore have no access to paid leave. They must be given easy access to the social safety net and together with everyone on Newstart, this should be at a higher rate of an additional $95 a week so they can survive.

“This investment will give this sector, which other industries like tourism and hospitality rely on, a fighting chance of survival.”

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has said a package should focus on keeping entertainment and performance workers employed and not force them into the social security system.

The union supports Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s calls for entertainment companies to keep workers employed. The assistance should be targeted so companies are able to do that, said MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy.

“We are seeing an escalation of well-deserved uncertainty and anxiety moving through the sectors we represent,” said Murphy.

“The union is confronting exponential growth in contact from members who are being stood-down or will soon face this prospect.

“MEAA does not expect that keeping workers (employees and regular contractors) is the responsibility of entertainment and media companies alone. As the weeks pass, some organisations may simply run out of funds to keep doing the right thing.

“That is why we reiterate our call for urgent assistance from state and federal government to sustain payments to workers and companies incapacitated by COVID-19. Federal and state governments should, in the first instance, bring forward about $160m in funding for major, medium and small scale arts organisations. Well over 10,000 people are employed or engaged by these organisations.

“Our governments should take the easy, concrete step of assuring arts organisations supported by government funding that they will receive business as usual funding irrespective of whether the virus causes cancellations,” Murphy said.

The union has already called for the government to bring forward its $160m in funding for arts organisations, saying it’s the only way the sector will survive the threat. The current concern of the union is that Minister Fletcher doesn’t understand how urgent the threat on jobs is for workers in the creative sector.

The words of Fletcher following the roundtable did not accurately capture the gravity of the situation, said Murphy.

“MEAA joins with Live Performance Australia in calling for certainty and funding for our sector. The funding should be for up to six months,” he said.

“One key gesture would be bringing forward the $130m that should be flowing to the major performing arts companies over the next twelve months. This funding can equate to 25% or more of an organisation’s core funding. It is the lifeblood that enables viable operations.”

Live Performance Australia executive director Evelyn Richardson has gone further, calling for an $850m stimulus package for the sector. She said closures are currently looking to be four to six months in length and that the industry would “hit the wall”.

Gatherings over 500 people have been banned, as have gatherings of more than 100 people in an enclosed space, effectively cancelling a number of live events and venues. Many festivals and events have been postponed, some indefinitely, alongside major cultural events like Vivid and Eurovision. Production has also ceased across much of the film and TV industry. Operators have already registered around $100m in losses.

A number of performers have spoken out about the situation, with singer/ songwriter Alex Lahey writing an open letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews saying she will currently be unable to make a living for the rest of the calendar year.

The MEAA, Live Performance Australia and other bodies are calling for a quick response from the government given the severity of the situation.

“This is no time for a ‘wait and see’ approach. We know what is coming and what its impact will be. It’s time for the federal and state governments to act and allay fears,” Murphy said.


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