Tue, 09 Jun 2020 - 09:51
Viewed 224 times

Op-Ed: JobKeeper may not be a masterpiece but it’s keeping arts in the frame

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Australia’s arts sector very hard — venues are closed, perform­ances have been cancelled and revenue has collapsed to near zero.

The Morrison government’s JobKeeper program is providing critical support.

Be it the Melbourne Theatre Company, the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Australian Ballet, plenty of arts organisations have called JobKeeper a lifesaver.

JobKeeper has been designed to be flexible, and targeted to those working in the most affected businesses, which have had a revenue fall of 30 per cent or more, or 15 per cent for not-for-profits. Sadly, a great many businesses in the arts sector have met that requirement.

We expect the 200 largest Australia Council-funded arts organisations will receive more than $95m under JobKeeper. Opera Australia is estimated to have 473 employees eligible for JobKeeper; the Australian Ballet 238; Sydney Symphony Orchestra 153; Queensland Ballet 144; and the MTC 116.

But it is not just large organisations that are being supported — smaller businesses and sole traders can receive JobKeeper, too, as long as they have an Australian Business Number and can demonstrate a 30 per cent revenue reduction.

The Bureau of Communications and Arts Research, which valued the arts sector at $112bn, also found that more than 90 per cent of people in the sector had employment arrangements that meant they could receive JobKeeper. Of those, 23 per cent are sole traders, with an Australian Company Number or ABN; 56.5 per cent are permanent employees; and 11 per cent are longer-term casuals.

We now also have Treasury’s numbers from the first month’s JobKeeper payments, and they show what a big impact JobKeeper is having in the arts sector.

There are more than 600,000 people working in the cultural and creative sectors, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and of those 40,000 are in the “creative and performing arts subdivision” — which includes acting, literature, sculpture, and work in live performance venues. More than 25,000 people in this group received a JobKeeper payment in April, with total payments of $76.1m. In other words, nearly two in three people who work in creative and performing arts have received a JobKeeper payment.

Creative and performing arts jobs make up 0.3 per cent of all jobs in the economy — but their share of JobKeeper recipients was three times as large, at 0.9 per cent. That the arts sector is overrepresented among JobKeeper recipients is hardly surprising. It is affected more than most — and so, rightly, it is being supported more than most. There is no basis for the urban myth that somehow the arts sector has been dudded by JobKeeper.

Nor is it true that the arts sector is uniquely disadvantaged because of heavy use of casual employees. Only 3 per cent of casual workers are from the arts and recreation services sector, compared with 20 per cent from accommodation and food services and 15 per cent from retail.

It is true that casuals who have been with an employer for less than 12 months do not attract JobKeeper. But, importantly, we have put in place a safety net by nearly doubling JobSeeker. As well, being on JobSeeker makes you eligible for other payments.

Our other measures are also flowing into the arts sector — such as cashflow support, which has been worth more than $23m to the businesses in the creative and performing arts group to date.

The Morrison government values the arts sector for its economic, social and cultural contribution to Australia. We value its workers — including the artists, roadies, lighting technicians, administration staff and countless others. If so much of the arts sector has to be shut down because of the pandemic, it is good that our support arrangements are reaching so many people and businesses in the sector.

But far better, as we all know, is getting the arts sector going again — so people in the sector can get back to work.

As Scott Morrison has said, the government’s focus to date has been on JobKeeper and JobSeeker, the “broad strokes” to sustain the economy through this pandemic — but now we can turn our attention to more targeted measures for heavily affected sectors, including arts, entertainment and film.

That’s our aim — effective support during the shutdown and getting the arts sector back to work once the shutdown can end.

Paul Fletcher is federal Arts Minister.

Originally published in The Australian, 9 June 2020.