Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher defends arts stimulus package against criticism in op-ed

Fletcher pointed to JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments, despite eligibility concerns

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has defended the government’s $27million arts sector stimulus response to the coronavirus pandemic by pointing to the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs in a new op-ed.

Writing for Guardian Australia, Fletcher said the “government has deliberately structured a range of support arrangements which responds to this variety of employment arrangements”.

“For those with more fluid or flexible employment or business arrangements, JobSeeker is available for at least six months, at a rate which is around double the national median per person income for arts-related activity, and around 70 per cent of median artist income (from all sources),” he wrote.

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He also said that “while theatres or concert halls are unlikely to be part of the early stages of reopening, options to manage social distancing in galleries and museums may be more feasible”.

Fletcher was heavily criticised by opposition arts minister Tony Burke over the government’s $27million arts stimulus package, passed last month.

In a press release at the time of its passing, Burke said that the “Morrison Government clearly does not understand the scale of the crisis facing Australia’s arts and entertainment sector”.

“While every extra dollar of support is welcome, the government’s $27million funding package does not even come close to what’s needed to save this industry from decimation.”

Freelance art workers have also pointed out many in the industry are not eligible for JobKeeper, because they do not operate through an Australian Business Number (ABN) and/or they were not employed casually for over 12 months. Fletcher did not address those concerns in his op-ed.

The government’s stimulus package included $10million for mental health charity Support Act. In March, Support Act launched an emergency appeal in the hopes of raising $20million but, as a representative told NME Australia, the target had been reduced to $5million after the government announced relief.

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Burke told NME Australia last month that he had not been consulted by Fletcher on plans to assist the arts industry.

“For reasons I don’t understand, the government has chosen to not involve the opposition in any of their discussions,” he said. “We get briefings on the health concerns, but the government has made a decision… that at the different forums for making these decisions, we won’t be at the table.”

In that same interview with NME Australia, Burke praised Support Act’s fundraising efforts, but also said “only government can step in and provide what’s needed”.

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