Arts sector reps speak at Senate committee: “We can’t operate at reduced capacity. It’s simply not financially viable”

While the government assistance was commended, gaps in the measures were brought up

The government’s JobKeeper program and $250million arts sector package, as well as a trans-Tasman touring circuit, were all points of discussion at a Senate COVID-19 committee meeting yesterday (June 30), which heard from various industry representatives.

In one session, National Visual Arts Association executive director Esther Anatolitis and Regional Arts NSW chief executive Elizabeth Rogers brought up the limitations of JobSeeker and JobKeeper when considering how artists receive income. While the JobSeeker program was an option for those ineligible for JobKeeper, Anatolitis said some artists could be bumped off JobSeeker if they were to suddenly receive a one-off payment.

“When you are an artist who is on unemployment benefits, the moment you receive, maybe, a payment for a work that you sold last year or perhaps one of those small but wonderful grants from the Australia Council… it is counted as income, and so you lose your Centrelink payment, even though it may not be income at all; it may be to buy materials; it may be for crating and freighting; it may be to employ someone else,” she explained.

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Rogers highlighted the issue of “music that’s been recorded and suddenly somebody wants to pick it up for an ad or you get a royalty from who knows where, when they’re publicly broadcasting something”.

“An artist might suddenly have income that’s flown in from work they could have done even a decade ago, and that impacts them in this particular stage. With the COVID close-down, it is extremely difficult for musicians to get any sort of a gig. It’s right across all the arts sector.”

Later in the afternoon, the heads of the Live Performance Association, ARIA and the Australian Festivals Association covered more ground on how the music industry was dealing with the pandemic.

When asked by Labor senator Murray Watt whether there were any gaps in the Federal Government’s $250million sector relief package, announced last week, LPA’s Evelyn Richardson said the package, while welcome, only focuses on a 12-month timeframe.

“We will need more ongoing support over the next two years to rebuild and fully recover,” she told the committee.

“In the coming weeks we’ll continue to work closely with government on the implementation of these initiatives to make sure they deliver support to those that need it, and we’ll also be keeping a very close eye on how the industry fares in the coming months.”

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Live Performance Australia had initially proposed a $345million package to the government for consideration. Richardson said their first priority was to reopen venues as “we can’t operate at reduced capacity. It’s simply not financially viable”.

ARIA’s Dan Rosen also floated the idea of a trans-Tasman touring circuit, allowing musicians to travel between Australia and New Zealand, stimulating both country’s creative economies.

“We’re certainly very supportive of it, if we could get that up and running, particularly for local and international talent, to be able to create a touring circuit of Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“It would be our summertime… certainly we’d like to be spending more time at the beach than in the snow, and it’s a good opportunity for us to market that.”

Last week, the long-awaited support package for the arts and entertainment sector was announced, which included $75million in grants to support concerts, tours and festivals. While it was welcomed by industry bodies such as APRA and ARIA, other groups such as the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said it did not provide immediate income relief for those who have lost work.

“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,” MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said in a statement.

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