And thus, shrouded by doom of Shakespearean proportions the curtain goes down on the Australian arts sector.
Not through any fault or mismanagement of its own, but a cursed virus has cast a pox on all of our stages and screens.
It’s tempting to write in theatrical flourish, to write metaphorically of tragedy of Greek proportions, but any Hollywood scriptwriter would tell you: “This ain’t the time or the place.”
This is a time for sober realisation, and more importantly for action.
The whole economy is under pressure.
The newly formed National Cabinet has been likened to a War Cabinet. Ably led by PM Scott Morrison, it has already delivered confidence throughout Australia thanks to its strong and considered decisions.
It has been a time to put down the swords and work together for the arts sector, every other sector and the health of the nation.
This is not a time for heroes and villains. This is a time for teamwork. Even that irony is heartbreaking now that we’ve seen all of our other ‘teams’ shutdown also. Our scarves and beanies mothballed for a season which had a beginning but may not realise a middle or an end.
Like most Australians I love the arts and I love my sport and I miss them terribly, but my area of expertise is in the economy, so I’m in the team which is trying to guide us through this so we come through restored on the other side.
I work in the other great theater of life, the Parliament. Politics is commonly referred to as show business for ugly people.
In my political life I am less concerned about the ‘show’ and more focused on the ‘business’.
I’m about doing the social good which comes with the job. Especially now. To the best of my ability
There is support available to the cultural and creative sector under the Jobkeeper payment scheme in which the government is investing $130 billion.
As Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said: “This will keep Australian workers connected with their employer and provide hope and more certainty during these difficult and challenging times.” Covid-19 is having unprecedented effects on our artists, arts workers and the entire sector.
We have put measures in place to protect jobs, support individuals and hand a lifeline to organisations during this challenging period.
I fully support the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher when he says: “An arts organisation’s most important asset is its people – actors, musicians, singers, dancers, stage crew, front of house workers including ushers and security guards and box office staff, roadies and many others.”
The Jobkeeper payment provides organisations with $1500 a fortnight, per eligible employee, for six months. It will support many arts organisations to keep their people on the books while normal operations are suspended – ready to bounce back quickly when theatres, live music venues, museums and cultural institutions reopen their doors.
As the Parliament comes together this week in Canberra, it is my hope that the scheme can be as competitively neutral and fair as possible.
More than 600,000 Australians are employed in the cultural and creative sector. Preliminary modelling by the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research shows that total support to the sector could be in the billions, depending on how many organisations are eligible and choose to take it up, and how many eligible employees they have.
Most organisations in the arts sector are expected to meet the eligibility requirement of revenue having fallen by 30 per cent or more, given that performances have been suspended and venues closed.
Modelling by the Australia Council estimates that the Jobkeeper payment will make available in excess of $100 million of additional funding for arts organisations funded under the National Partnership Agreement or that receive Four Year Funding.
Minister Fletcher has been in close contact with the cultural and creative sector leaders who have shared the challenges faced by many across the sector.
He has acknowledged their passionate advocacy. He has pledged that with the Office for the Arts and the Australia Council he will continue to work together with the sector while these measures are implemented.
The Jobkeeper Payment commences immediately, will be backdated to 1 March and the first payment will be received by employers in the first week of May.
Eligible employers include arts organisations structured as companies, partnerships, trusts, sole traders, not-for-profits and charities. Eligible employees include full time, part time, casuals employed for more than 12 months and the self employed.
On another front, I have argued strongly that Australians should be able to access their superannuation.
Super is the nest egg for a rainy day, and for many in the arts economy that rainy day is today. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has now allowed financially distressed superannuants to withdraw $10,000 this financial year, and another $10,000 after June.
I fully agree with him when he says: “Government spending can only go so far. Australians need to be able to access their money during these extraordinary times, when doing so will help cushion the blow for so many families doing it tough.”
Super is the workers’ money so don’t hesitate to contact your super fund after 20 April when the early access scheme commences. If you have any problems accessing any of our new schemes, please get in touch with me at [email protected].
In the meantime I urge you all to observe social distancing measures. Please stay home unless it’s for essentials.
We can and will beat this, but it will obviously take some time before we call “lights, camera, action.”
The show must go on.
-Senator Andrew Bragg