House debates

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Constituency Statements

COVID-19: Arts

4:06 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

It has been a very difficult year for all Australians, but it has been a particularly difficult year for some groups—those in nursing homes, students—and we've spoken about them over the course of this week. One group that we haven't spoken about this week are people working in the arts community. For artists and cultural workers, it has been a year of closed doors, of empty theatres, and of cancelled tours, with little support or recognition from their government. I'm not sure that people actually grasp how large this industry is. Arts and culture employs more than 650,000 Australians, which is about six per cent of our national workforce. That's a larger workforce than construction, agriculture and coalmining combined. I know that arts organisations have been doing everything they can to survive. They are very used to making do. As you would expect, they've been as innovative and creative as they can possibly be. I've seen it in my electorate. Gondwana Choirs, one of the world's finest children's choirs, has developed new online classes for the lockdown, delivering 102 weekly courses to more than 500 people across Australia. Belvoir theatre has organised fundraisers for its artists to keep them in work, putting 22 artists on staff and offering over 100 one-off gigs. The Belvoir theatre is soon to reopen, but, with social distancing, their ability to fit as many people as usual into the theatre will be much compromised.

These are amazing initiatives, but they can only go so far without government help. JobKeeper wage subsidies weren't built for the irregular schedules of arts workers, and they weren't adjusted to fit them either. Most of these people work project to project. They work for a few weeks, and, when that performance ends, they move onto the next project. It took this government more than 100 days to finally announce a package of support for the arts sector, and it's now been more than 50 days since that announcement. Not a single dollar of that money has yet been spent. That's desperately needed support that has not yet been spent.

This is a pattern we've seen again and again from this Prime Minister. We saw it, sadly, tragically, with bushfire relief. We saw it with the so-called HomeBuilder program. We're now seeing it with arts support—big announcement; no follow-through. Always there for the photo op; never there for the follow-through. Arts workers can't pay their bills with the Prime Minister's words. If we want to help save one of Australia's largest industries, we need much more than promises.