Australia’s arts and entertainment industry will receive an additional $135m in the next federal budget to ease the pain in one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.
But of the federal government’s earlier $250m rescue package for the sector, budgeted for the 2020/2021 financial year, three-quarters is yet to be spent. $50m of that has been quarantined for insurance for the film industry, which is yet to make a claim; and an additional $85m – around a third of the full budget – is yet to be distributed.
On Thursday, the arts minister, Paul Fletcher, pledged an additional $125m to the restart investment to sustain and expand (Rise) fund and a second $10m grant for Support Act, which provides crisis support to those working in the live music sector.
The announcement came as a welcome development to the country’s arts and cultural organisations, where as many as two-thirds of workers are believed to still be relying on the jobkeeper wage subsidy.
The arts and entertainment industry peak body, Live Performance Australia (LPA), said that with jobkeeper ending in three days, the $15b music and live entertainment industry was still facing a significant gap in revenue for the next two quarters due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions such as venue capacity limits, border uncertainties and barriers to international acts entering Australia.
“Extending the scope of the Rise program will provide a targeted and temporary measure for the sector to retain its core skills base as it prepares for full reactivation in Q4 onwards,” LPA’s chief executive, Evelyn Richardson, said.
“We look forward to working with the government to get this money out the door as quickly as possible.”
The Morrison government’s capacity to deliver relief to the arts sector in a timely fashion came under criticism on Wednesday, after a Senate estimates hearing revealed that just $65.4m had so far been distributed from the original $250m arts rescue package announce last June.
The shortfall in spending prompted Labor’s arts spokesman, Tony Burke, to accuse the prime minister of “caring more about the photo-op than the follow up”.
He dismissed suggestions from Sky News that the underspend could be due to organisations simply not applying for grants.
“[Now we have] another announcement. Well it only works at all if the money is delivered,” Burke said.
Both Labor and the Greens are calling for jobkeeper to be extended for employees in the arts and entertainment sectors.
“The announcement from the Morrison government today makes it clear that this latest funding won’t reach the pockets of our artists and creatives for some time yet,” the Greens’ arts spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said.
“One in five workers in the arts and entertainment industry is on jobkeeper, which will be cut off on Sunday – that will mean job losses within days.”
Following the revelations in Senate estimates, a spokesman for the arts minister told the Guardian the entire $75m Rise portion of the $250m would be fully spent by 30 June 2021.
“Payments are made when they are needed for successful projects,” he said.
Three months out from the end of the 2020/2021 financial year, within which the government budgeted the $250m, close to $185m still has not been spent. Of that, $50m may never be spent, earmarked as insurance for the film industry.
None of the 41 film and television projects currently covered under the Temporary Interruption Fund insurance scheme have had to make a claim due to disruptions from Covid-19, Fletcher’s office confirmed to the Guardian on Wednesday.
The remaining $200m consists of a $75m Rise fund designed to get productions and events back up and running, a $35m sustainability fund to ensure the ongoing financial viability of arts organisations, and a $90m show-starter loan scheme.
It is from this $200m pot of money that less than a third remains either unallocated or undistributed.
Fletcher’s office confirmed on Wednesday that only $13m of the $35m sustainability fund to prevent companies from going under has gone out, almost a year to the day from when theatres, museums and galleries were ordered to close their doors due to Covid-19.
So far just eight companies have been approved in the bailout, with the lion’s share going to four organisations: NIDA ($3.75m), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra ($3m), Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art ($2m) and the Brandenburg Orchestra ($1.14m).