Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government

5:03 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

At the start of this pandemic, as many Australians across the country watched daily press conferences, each time the number went up about the restrictions that will be put in place I know that many Australians' stomachs just sank—particularly our arts and entertainment workers, who knew that, with every new restriction announced and increased, their jobs would be some of the first to go and some of the last to come back. I know this because when those announcements were being made I was sitting next to an arts worker: my wife. As the ghost lights were switched on in theatres across the country, this government ghosted arts workers.

In Far North Queensland, we have a vibrant arts community and this is backed up by a strong line-up of Indigenous performers from the Cape and the Torres Strait Islands and other regions across outback Queensland. Every year several arts and dance festivals are held, including the Cairns international arts festival, which has had to go online this year. It is incredibly disappointing, I know, for many of those performers and workers that the income that they get from the events that were due to be held won't be coming in this year. But it is even more devastating that those workers were not included in the government's plans to support people through JobKeeper.

There might be some people in here that think that regional Queenslanders don't care about the arts, but I know that that's not true, because they talk to me everywhere I go in regional Queensland about the arts industry. I know this because I was in regional Queensland, in Stanthorpe, when the government axed the arts department. I was in Stanthorpe because they were facing a water crisis. I was pleased to find out, apart from the fact that they were talking about water security, that one of the things that they were very concerned about was this government's record on the arts.

Arts and entertainment workers are among millions excluded from the government's JobKeeper program. The structure of JobKeeper was designed in a way to exclude performers employed in the arts and entertainment sector, and it is having real-life consequences. These workers, who often make ends meet from gig to gig, have been forced to deal with the complete shutdown of their industry on their own. We know that, in many parts of regional Queensland and other regional areas across the country, arts and entertainment workers are actually employed by local councils, and local councils' workers were also excluded from JobKeeper. But, in another cruel blow, many arts and entertainment workers fund the jobs that they love so much by picking up casual hospitality jobs from time to time. Those jobs were also excluded from JobKeeper, unless they had worked for their employer for more than 12 months.

These heartless exclusions really cut deep, and that's because it hurts when you feel like you're not worth government support even though you do a valuable job. Arts and entertainment workers do the jobs that they do because they love their work. Their creativity is tied up in their identity, and I know that it would be absolutely devastating for them to not be able to do that work right now. They understand the reasons why and the restrictions that are in place and they want to get back to work as soon as those restrictions are lifted. But, throughout this period, they've been doing that on their own.

Of course, the government won't even acknowledge that there is a problem, even though they have been whispering now for a little while about a specific rescue package for the arts sector. If the government is going to raise expectations for these workers, it is better to deliver genuine support for workers. There is an official parliamentary petition calling on the Morrison government to support arts and entertainment workers through the coronavirus crisis, and it has passed more than 30,000 signatures this week. This incredible support makes this one of the most successful parliamentary petitions in recent years, with three weeks yet to run. The response is yet more evidence that this is an industry in crisis, crying out for help from this government, and it is an industry supported by our community.

We have called for a comprehensive industry support package, including support for workers themselves, many of whom have been shut out of the government's JobKeeper wage subsidy. At the start of June, the government gave those workers a glimmer of hope, as I said, by suggesting that there would be a rescue package on the way, but now, two weeks later, there's still nothing, and these workers are desperately waiting for that assistance. Why did the government raise expectations just to let these people down once again? The Palaszczuk Labor government has delivered $42.5 million for the arts industry, and that includes $22.5 million announced yesterday. That funding will focus on stabilising local art companies and see that jobs for artists and arts workers are protected.

We know that arts workers are resilient. The show must and will go on. As I said at the beginning of my speech, many ghost lights were lit in theatres all across the country during this time. I thought I'd share some words from Ange Sullivan, who is Head of Lighting at the Sydney Opera House. She said that ghost lights have two main functions. There's a practical reason, to make sure that, if anyone goes into the theatre, they can see where they're going and they don't fall off the front of the stage, but there's another romantic idea about ghost lights, that:

Every theatre has at least one ghost, and when they come out at night we don't want them bumping into scenery or disturbing props.

It is a romantic notion, using ghost lights during this time, but it's also desperately, desperately sad, because arts workers feel so alone at the moment. Ange went on to say:

We decided that the entire House needed something to look forward to. A beacon, if you like. It's about us saying, 'We haven't gone forever, we're coming back and we're going to leave the lights on to show you that.'

Every arts worker will remember that this government ghosted them when it mattered. Every arts worker in this country will remember the amount of times that they asked for help and they were not listened to. Arts workers are really, really struggling, not only because they have lost their jobs, but because they can't do what they love to do right now. So I'm calling on the Morrison government to deliver that rescue package and to help these arts workers in the future. (Time expired)


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