Mon, 26 Jul 2021 - 17:19
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Transcript: ABC News Breakfast - Sustainability Funding for the arts

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, you might recall on Friday we spoke to Opera Australia’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini about the postponement of the Phantom of the Opera in both Melbourne and Sydney due to the COVID crisis. He was absolutely devastated. Now Opera Australia has been thrown a lifeline by the Federal Government. It will get $4 million in support from the Government’s Arts Sustainability Fund. To talk more about that, we’re joined now by the Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher from Canberra now. Minister, good morning to you.




PAUL FLETCHER: Good morning, Michael.




MICHAEL ROWLAND: How will this money help Opera Australia?




PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the intention of the Sustainability Fund, which we established last year, is that it’s to support systemically important arts companies to get through this particular – through the pandemic and through the challenges it’s created. So, we’ve committed to a payment of $4 million now out of that $35 million fund. The whole purpose of it is that Opera Australia, of course, is a very significant arts company. It is the largest individual arts company supported through the Australian Council – the joint Australian and State Government funding mechanisms for arts companies – employs over 400 people, has very specialised skills from costume and set-making to, of course, all of the key musical skills. And if Opera Australia were not to survive the pandemic, it would be very bad not just for Opera Australia and for opera-lovers, but also for the broader arts ecosystem. And that’s the intention behind the Sustainability Fund. We supported a significant number of arts companies through the Sustainability Fund: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Theatre Company, the Wheeler Centre, Belvoir and a range of others. And the whole intention of this $35 million Sustainability Fund, of which $4 million today is now going to Opera Australia, is to be there to support our significant companies to get through the pandemic because they’re so key to our overall arts ecosystem.




MICHAEL ROWLAND: And we do know – I mean, you well know the arts sector has been hit particularly hard by COVID and continues to be hit hard. One of the industry bodies, Live Performance Australia, is going to come back to you asking for more money fearing that COVID, particularly in Sydney could have an impact until Easter next year. Now, we know the Government has offered all sorts of assistance to the arts sector more generally, but given the severity of this crisis facing Sydney in particular, will the Government consider more help?




PAUL FLETCHER: Well, our priority is getting the money out the door that we’ve committed. So, we’ve committed, to date, some $430 million in COVID‑related support for the arts sector. That certainly includes the Sustainability Fund that I mentioned before. It includes our $90 million of loan funding. When we announced that, there was some skepticism, but I can let you know that to date there’s been 12 loans advanced, some $23 million, so that is having its intended effect. It also includes our RISE Fund, Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand. That’s designed to help arts companies, organisations, promoters, festivals put shows on, recognising that they’ve chewed through a lot of their capital and are just surviving. We originally committed that at $75 million. That money is already all out the door. We added another $125 million in the Budget. To date, we’ve now expended a cumulative total of $100 million. We will be making more announcements within the next a couple of weeks about the next round of funding, and so already 240 productions or events around Australia have been supported by that. So, look, yes, we’re absolutely focused on providing additional support both in Sydney and around the nation as we back our performers and our creative sector to get through this difficult time.




MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Now, you’re also a senior Cabinet Minister. I want to these calls to reinstate JobKeeper, calls coming from amongst others the New South Wales Liberal Government. This is a very severe challenge facing the people of New South Wales, facing the workers of Sydney in particular. Is the Federal Government considering bringing back JobKeeper?




PAUL FLETCHER: Well, of course, what we’re doing is working closely with New South Wales Government and as well as being a Cabinet Minister I’m a Sydney MP, so, like everybody in Sydney, and, of course, everybody around Australia, we’re concerned about this and wanting to see us get through this. Now, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, with the COVID disaster payment, which is available to people in Sydney or people elsewhere in Australia in a Commonwealth‑declared hotspot, that’s set at the level that JobKeeper was at when the scheme finished, but the benefit of the way we’re doing it now is that we can deliver these payments through Services Australia, an efficient national system, and we can turn it on as needed when a hotspot is declared and we can also bring it to an end when it’s no longer needed. And so, as the Prime Minister has explained, we think this is delivering the benefits that JobKeeper was delivering but in a more appropriate way in the circumstances in –.




MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. But the benefit of JobKeeper was that workers were tied to those businesses so when, for argument’s sake, Sydney comes out of this, those workers are still tethered to those companies. The current system doesn’t do that. So, there’s no way the Government will consider bringing back JobKeeper?




PAUL FLETCHER: But of course, at the same time, when we developed JobKeeper, we weren’t sure what the future held. What we now know is that we are – so we’re seeing obviously a specific lockdown in Sydney and other cities although the signs have been good in terms of those, but what we also know is that we’ve got a clear path out with the vaccine and there are over 11.1 million shots now administered. A couple of days over 180,000 last week, over 100,000, I believe, on Saturday. So, we’re very focused on the path out through driving the vaccine rollout as hard as we can. I certainly welcome the advice from ATAGI over the weekend that anybody in Sydney down to the age of 18 should consider getting the AstraZeneca vaccine of which we know there is ample supply. So, we’re tackling this on a whole range of fronts, working closely with the New South Wales Government and, of course, as the Commonwealth Government we’re working with State Governments all around the country, backing Australians but get through the pandemic and come out the other side.




MICHAEL ROWLAND: Paul Fletcher, thanks for your time.




PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks again.