24 August 2020
I'd like to thank the member for Boothby for her motion today, which recognises the economic and cultural value of the arts industry. It is high time that we shift the paradigm of what art means in Australia. It is an economic powerhouse: a creative and performing arts industry that contributes $112 billion to our economy each year—over six per cent of our GDP. In my electorate of Lilley, we have a vibrant and lively arts and entertainment community, who have been hit really hard by the COVID pandemic. Thankfully under the guidance of our Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queenslanders for the most part are now able to get back out and enjoy live shows with moderated formats and visit art galleries on the weekend to support our local artists and entertainers. I'm particularly excited to announce that Netflix is premiering a movie in September called Romance on the Menu which was shot in my electorate in Shorncliffe pre-COVID.
But we cannot underestimate the toll that the last six months has taken on the industry. Within one media conference banning public and private gatherings, 92,000 Queenslanders who work directly or indirectly in the creative and performing arts industry watched at least six months of work go up in smoke. Northside festivals in Lilley like the Zillmere, Einbunpin and Sandgate Youth festivals were all cancelled. Local galleries like Artrageous in Sandgate had to close their doors for public viewings, and theatre productions were put on hold, including shows produced by Stafford Heights youth theatre company Harvest Rain. The shutdown meant that countless hours of preparation, production costs, ticket sales and marketing expenses were effectively flushed down the drain. Speaking with local artists and entertainers, the message they asked me to send to the government in Canberra was clear: 'We need help and we need it now.'
The Morrison government's initial response to the industry-wide crisis was to take no action, claiming that JobKeeper was more than enough support. That wasn't true. But if you wanted to design a system which was a boundary to creative arts, JobKeeper would be it. Work in the arts and entertainment industry is transient. People receive lumpy, sporadic income. A small number of creative artists work for one employer over 12 months as casual workers. While a theatre company's admin staff and their agents might be eligible, the creative artists they hire to put on a show are not. In fact the program was so ill-fitting for the arts industry that the Sydney Theatre Company was eligible for JobKeeper but the Queensland Theatre Company was excluded.
In April the Morrison government rolled out a $27 million arts package which could best be described as a weak flimsy bandaid with virtually no adhesive—$27 million for an industry that contributes $112 billion to our economy each year does not even touch the sides of the loss that they have suffered. Shortly after the announcement, I had a Zoom meeting with a dozen local artists, entertainers and art business owners, and not one of them stood to benefit from the fresh announcement.
It is clear that the Morrison government also knew that the package wasn't good enough, because 154 days after Labor first called for a real package that would actually help local artists, small artists, the Morrison government finally announced a suite of grants and loan programs. I welcome it, because I know what proper funding will mean for so many local artists and entertainers who do qualify. But I cannot stress enough how important it is to get this money out the door as soon as possible to keep our performing arts and entertainment industry going, because the doors don't just swing open once the funds arrive. Art takes time and money to create. It's not a matter of putting on a play that weekend, airing a new show or opening a new exhibition or gallery within days of the money finally coming through; it takes months of planning, prep and practice.
Applications for some of the RISE Fund and the Arts Sustainability Fund don't open for another week, which is a full 67 days after they were first announced. As one local artist it put to me a month after the package was announced: 'It is enormously frustrating and hard to plan for the future when we still don't even know if we will be eligible for the support. It is just madness that they would leave us hanging for 100 days and then, once announced, leave us with absolute radio silence since the announcement of that support.'
On behalf of northside artists and entertainers, I rise again today to urge the Morrison government to get the ball rolling on the arts package funding as quickly as possible so that those people can get back to doing the work that they love.