Monday, 9 November 2020
Communications and the Arts Committee
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts, I rise to make a statement on the results of a survey conducted as part of the inquiry into Australia's creative and cultural industries and institutions. As the Speaker and members would appreciate, the cultural and creative industries and the arts have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We thought a survey would highlight a lot of the issues a lot more quickly than the more in-depth inquiry will, and we were overwhelmed by the response to the survey launched by the inquiry.
The survey closed on 22 October and, at completion, 4,871 responses had been received from around the nation. It was the second-most participated-in survey ever undertaken by a House committee. Almost three-quarters of all respondents were middle-aged—it's all relative, I know, depending on one's age, but that means 35 years or older—and two-thirds of respondents were from Victoria, or almost 37 per cent; 31 per cent were from New South Wales. But they came from all over the nation. The majority of respondents were from metropolitan areas, and the majority were female—60 per cent. Fifty-six per cent of those who replied were actually involved in paid work in the arts and creative industries. Many of these had been long-term industry workers. Also a large slice of that—almost 50 per cent of respondents—worked in other areas, outside the arts, and education was the No. 1 area employing people in a second income stream.
All mediums were presented in the survey, from literature through to major cultural institutions—music, live entertainment, theatre, film, television, dance, comedy and video games, and circus had some representation. The digital creative space was also very active in their responses. Digital media is growing. It's not just video games but also video production, video on demand, streaming services. Everything is growing in the digital space. Many called for—surprisingly—greater financial support from various governments. Another common call was for greater recognition by the broader community of the importance of the arts in everyday life. During the pandemic the sector been particularly useful, because streaming of arts has kept people sane. It's allowed an outlet for people with creative talent to go online. But it doesn't replace regular business as usual. We note that the majority of survey respondents came from Victoria, which, unfortunately, has had the most stringent second-phase lockdown, exacerbating the problems they've all faced. Universally, pretty much everyone who responded to the survey had lost their incomes overnight. We know COVID affects everything, but there is a future, which is coming back rapidly.
The committee appreciates the time that all 4,800 people took to complete the survey. The results will inform the committee as we consider further submissions. The importance of this industry—and I say 'industry' because people don't look at the economic side of the creative and cultural sectors—is that it is a massive employer of people. Working in the creative arts has empowered many people who are without other career opportunities, whether in remote or very remote Australia. The Indigenous arts industry is empowering lots of communities in remote Australia. A lot of artists live regionally. They display in metropolitan centres. It is a huge economic driver and empowerer of economic independence, and that is something the inquiry is very much focused on. We are trying to sort out the conflict between various income streams. It is a space of such great interest, and that is reflected in the survey results. Because there was such a major response by the community—as I mentioned, 4,871 people—the committee, my co-members and the secretariat, were very keen to let all of them know, rather than waiting until the middle of 2021, when we should complete this inquiry. I commend this inquiry and the survey to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak and follow on from the committee chair. The Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts, of which I am deputy chair, launched this inquiry into Australia's creative and cultural industries and institutions, which aims to explore the economic and non-economic benefits and employment of the creative industry, how the arts promote social cohesion and wellbeing, the impact of COVID on the sector and how to support innovation in the sector through advances in technology.
Today's update, brought to the chamber by the committee chair, was triggered by the phenomenal response the committee received to the sector survey issued recently. Nearly 5,000 responses were received—the second-highest number of survey responses to a House inquiry. It also reflects the vigour and energy applied to the petition recently tabled by the member for Watson and shadow minister for the arts, which called for JobKeeper to be extended to arts and entertainment sector workers. The petition, driven by Chloe Dallimore and the MEAA, gained over 36,000 signatures and called on the government to deliver to the sector a tailored and properly targeted relief package to ensure its ongoing viability. From these two points, it's not hard to conclude a number of things—notably, that the arts and creative sectors of this nation are sending their strongest message about the pain they have felt this year as the pandemic affected our health and their jobs. Through this it's also clear that Australia's creative sector feels it has been cast adrift without meaningful, tangible government support, especially if you are a young member of our nation's creative community or a champion of artistic and creative endeavour in regional Australia.
Whilst the government might point to its announcement celebrating hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to assist the sector, the cold truth is that many organisations have yet to feel or experience any benefit. It's worth pointing out here that if there were ever a community that gets symbolism and gesture, it's this one. It's a tool of their trade. They can easily interpret how much this government truly values them when emergency support announced with flourish 130 days ago hasn't materialised. You can't pay the bills with empty promises and pockets packed with confetti. The last session of Senate estimates found no grants approved under the $75 million RISE Fund and the guidelines had not been settled for the $90 million concessional loans scheme.
This inquiry is not founded on partisan lines, and nor should it be. Labor members on the committee are simply not interested in politicking. We think the inquiry is a terrific opportunity to think practically in long-term ways to promote the growth of a sector that is vital not just to our economy but to our national identity. But the creative community in crisis would find it perplexing, almost offensive, for me to not acknowledge in my contribution the pain the community is experiencing or to register their justifiable demand for help they rightly deserve. Hopefully the findings of the inquiry will encourage the government to convert word to meaningful and sustainable deed.
As part of the inquiry, the survey that was conducted received nearly 5,000 responses. Half were received in the first two weeks. Sixty per cent of the respondents had been in the arts sector for a decade, with 80 per cent having been involved with the arts community for more than 10 years. Half the respondents had no other form of paid work outside the sector; they are completely and deeply committed to the sector and its fortunes. As the chair observed, the majority of responses were from women. Feedback in the survey by people in the sector included: 'The government did not see fit to recognise my freelance status as worthy of JobKeeper. I have lived on savings while only having seven days work in seven months. My view is that there is no future in the arts in Australia unless the government step up to the plate and support the industry.' With the committee beginning public inquiries at the end of the week, it is important, now more than ever, that the sector be given a voice and be heard by government.
I would also mention that one of the elements of this survey is to look at the impact of technology on the sector. In this place I have been an unabashed advocate for the embracing of technology to improve the way we live and work. When it comes to the creative community, some in the sector may have, with some justification, viewed my passionate advocacy as being sometimes narrow or allowing little wider consideration of technology's impact. I apply advocacy in equal measure in listening to and considering different views, and I genuinely believe technology and our firms within that sector see themselves as natural partners, not adversaries, in the creative community's efforts to grow. From my point of view, this is one aspect of the inquiry I particularly look forward to exploring. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this and the fact that the survey has been brought to the floor of the House so soon.