MEAA claims that COVID-19 arts stimulus package was miscalculated

The estimated subsidy figures were based on inaccurate data

New emails obtained under a Freedom of Information request by MEAA have revealed the government’s promised COVID-19 arts stimulus package was overstated.

In April, Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher wrote an op-ed to The Guardian pledging $4-10billion of support via the JobKeeper and JobSeeker wage subsidy programs to the “600,000 people who work in the [arts] sector”.

However, according to MEAA, numerous emails were sent to Fletcher’s office warning that the figures he produced were incorrect – including both the estimated numbers of workers in the sector and the promised subsidy package.

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As reported by The Age, Fletcher’s office was repeatedly told the arts sector employed 57,477 workers, rather than 600,000. Additionally, the $4-10billion figure generated was based upon 800,000 workers in “the creative and cultural sector”, which includes the fashion, design and broadcasting industries.

An email sent by a bureaucrat admitted “there is no sufficiently detailed data/modelling to estimate the overall $ value of the JobKeeper payment”. The same bureaucrat also expressed their concern that the lack of accurate data “could give the Minister incorrect figures”.

MEAA Chief Executive Paul Murphy said Fletcher had been “misleading the arts and entertainment community from day one”.

“The real level of support to arts and entertainment workers is just a fraction of the $4 billion to $10 billion he has been claiming,” Murphy said in a statement.

“Not only did Mr Fletcher’s office pressure senior public servants to provide unrealistic and misleading data, but there were methodological errors across the board that led to heroic assumptions about JobKeeper. The Minister’s public statements give ‘back of the envelope’ calculations a bad name. He repeatedly used inflated figures about the scope of the arts sector and he based his estimates on guesswork that he was cautioned against using without further due diligence.”

Most of the emails provided to the MEAA were heavily redacted. A spokesperson told The Age that it was “incredibly frustrating”, and was probably intended “to save the minister from further embarrassment”.

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Fletcher is no longer using these figures, instead referring to the government’s “$100million per month” into the arts sector via JobKeeper and other programs.

MEAA originally launched Freedom of Information applications in late May, due to concerns regarding the figures pledged by Fletcher. The arts union opined the estimate was based on a two-year-old working paper that analysed employment in the arts sector between 2008-2009 and 2016-2017.

The requests followed the $60billion miscalculation of JobKeeper expenditure revealed in the same month.

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