The continued and ongoing neglect of the arts and entertainment sectors by the Morrison government since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted by Josh Frydenberg’s reading of the 2020-21 budget on Tuesday night – and proponents of those sectors continue their cries of blue murder over the situation.
In fact, Sarah Hanson-Young, who holds the arts portfolio for the Greens, and Paul Murphy, chief executive of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) have individually and jointly assailed the federal treasurer in largely ignoring those sectors.
“The arts and entertainment industry was one of the first to be hit by social distancing restrictions, it has suffered enormously throughout the lockdown and will be one of the last to recover,” Hanson-Young said.
“Yet the Treasurer didn’t even utter the word ‘art’ [Tuesday] night. Clearly the $112 billion per year arts and entertainment industry does not matter to the Morrison Government,” she added.
And Murphy even feels that in addition to the arts and communications sectors being ignored in the budget, the future of public interest journalism also remains under threat by extension.
“The money that has been allocated to help the arts and entertainment sector recover from COVID-19 is inadequate and poorly targeted,” Murphy said.
“Arts and entertainment workers, already shaken by widespread ineligibility for JobKeeper payments, should be aghast that they have again been by-passed by a big-spending budget that provides no roadmap for the sector’s restoration.
“It is disappointing that the government has made no commitment tonight to support journalism by extending its Public Interest Newsgathering fund beyond the current financial year and make it a recurrent fund. At a time when journalism is under even greater pressure from reduced revenue caused by COVID, this support is sorely needed,” added Murphy.
In a budget reading which was dominated by announcements and intentions of tax cuts to benefit small- and medium-sized businesses, Hanson-Young emphasised that fiscal investment would serve as a key to help the arts and entertainment sectors to rebound.
“Tax cuts for an industry with the second highest loss of payroll jobs is completely meaningless,” said Hanson-Young.
“Investing in creative arts would create more jobs than tax cuts ever will,” added Hanson-Young, who cited a pair of examples in the National Library of Australia and the Australia Council, who will each be decimated by the government’s inattention to their cultural contributions or upcoming needs.
“The Budget paints a picture of giving millions to national cultural institutions yet in reality, funding to organisations like the National Library of Australia is cut significantly over the forward estimates,” said Hanson-Young.
“The Australia Council, which is historically underfunded, gets a token $1.4 million which will barely keep it operating, let alone hit the pockets of artists and creatives,” added Hanson-Young.
Paul Fletcher, who holds dual portfolios for the government in communications and the arts, insists that those areas are being supported, via prior announcements mentioned ahead of Tuesday night’s budgets.
Previously, Fletcher had announced:
- $33 million to Screen Australia, for the production of local content
- $5 million to the Australian Associated Press to ensure its ongoing survival
- the enhancement of free-to-air access in regional, remote and dead-spot communities, with no fixed costs mentioned
- $4.5 billion to upgrade the NBN with current technology
- and $22.9 million in support of Australia’s varied cultural institutions
However, Murphy said that the government’s levels of commitment exists as both lacking and insufficient.
“The package of measures for the screen industry announced last week and included in tonight’s Budget represent a missed opportunity to help the sector rebuild and contribute to the economic recovery,” said Murphy.
“MEAA acknowledges the additional funding for Screen Australia, but notes that this simply restores what was cut from the organisation’s budget from 2013-14.
“There is also no further clarity about how and when the $35 million set aside for federally-funded cultural organisations will be distributed through the Australia Council,” added Murphy.
Moreover, Hanson-Young, in citing that a vast majority of the nation’s workers in the arts and entertainment sectors were not included in the government’s JobKeeper subsidy upon announcement or in its expansion, stresses that the government could spark an economic renaissance if it funded these sectors properly.
“Arts and entertainment workers were largely excluded from JobKeeper and are facing $40 a day on JobSeeker,” said Hanson-Young.
“The arts and entertainment industry is vital to our economic recovery. Not only are other industries like tourism, hospitality and accommodation all going to benefit from its revival, but the sector is primed for stimulus.
“The industry can go in early and hard and put money into the pockets of workers who are in great need of an income and are going to spend what they earn,” she added.
Murphy furthermore emphasised that the lack of relief to the woes of the nation’s public broadcasters from $783 million of budget cuts since 2014 were not going by unnoticed.
“There was no extra funding in tonight’s budget for our public broadcasters, despite the extraordinary job they have done in keeping the nation informed throughout a year defined by devastating bushfires and the pandemic,” said Murphy.
“It is hard to see how the ABC can carry on without making further, damaging cuts to its workforce and the services it offers,” he added.
As a result of these cuts, and bypassing the state that the arts and entertainment sectors are in as a result of the pandemic, a potential exists for these sectors to feel the pinch for years to come.
“The Morrison Government has failed the arts and entertainment industry and now a generation of artists will be lost on their watch,” said Hanson-Young.
Also by William Olson:
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