Arts industry to receive $250 million lifeline

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher. The government has announced a $250 million stimulus package for the arts and entertainment industry. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher. The government has announced a $250 million stimulus package for the arts and entertainment industry. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Australia's struggling arts industry will get a $250 million lifeline, as part of the Morrison government's next tranche of JobMaker funding.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce on Thursday a series of grants and loans that will be rolled out to the commercial arts and entertainment sector over the next year, to help the industry rebuild after COVID-19.

The sector was one of the first to feel the impacts of coronavirus restrictions and will be one of the the last to "come out of hibernation" as restrictions ease, Mr Morrison said.

The package includes $75 million in seed funding for production companies to put on new festivals, concerts, tours and events as social distancing restrictions ease. Grants between $75,000 and $2 million will be available.

There will also be $90 million worth of "Show Starter" concessional loans available, to help fund new productions and events. The loans will complement the grants scheme, and will be offered through commercial banks but underwritten by the Commonwealth.

Screen Australia will get $50 million for a Temporary Interruption Fund, that will help local film and television producers to secure finance and start filming again. Production has largely been halted as insurers have refused to provide coverage for COVID-19.

The Australia Council will receive an extra $35 million to dole out to theatre, dance, circus, and music companies at risk of going under because of the virus.

The government will also set up a creative economy taskforce made up of government and Australia Council representatives to oversee the strategy for the sector.

"These measures will support a broad range of jobs from performers, artists and roadies, to front of house staff and many who work behind the scenes, while assisting related parts of the broader economy, such as tourism and hospitality," Mr Morrison said.

"This package is as much about supporting the tradies who build stage sets or computer specialists who create the latest special effects, as it is about supporting actors and performers in major productions."

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The package is part of the federal government's JobMaker plan, to pull the country out of the coronavirus downturn.

It follows the announcement of the HomeBuilder scheme, a $688 million grants program to encourage people to build or renovate their homes in order to maintain a pipeline of construction work.

One in four people employed in the arts and recreation industry have lost their job since the coronavirus restrictions came into force three months ago.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in April showed 47 per cent of businesses in the arts industry had stopped trading due to coronavirus, making it the worst hit sector.

The sector had pleaded for an $850 million rescue package in March, amid fears bans on non-essential gatherings could remain in force for six months.

Many in the industry are casual and rely on short term contracts, so have been excluded from the federal government's JobKeeper wage subsidy.

"The longest I've ever had a contract play out is probably about six months at the very greatest," Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance member Nadine Garner told a Senate committee on Tuesday.

"We just don't have long-term contracts that leave a 12-month footprint on a payroll, therefore exposing the most vulnerable, once again, to no support network."

However Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said the government was injecting $100 million a month into the arts sector through JobKeeper and its cash flow assistance program for businesses.

The announcement comes less than 10 days out from the Eden-Monaro byelection.

An Australia Institute survey of 643 residents in the ultra-marginal electorate showed almost 58 per cent either supported or strongly supported a government package for the arts and entertainment industry.

There are nearly 1000 people employed in the arts and entertainment sector in the electorate of Eden-Monaro - more than in the electorate of Richmond on the NSW north coast, which includes the artistic hub of Byron Bay.

This story Arts industry to receive $250 million lifeline first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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