Thursday, 18 March 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Arts and Entertainment Industry
My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Minister Birmingham. For obvious reasons, cinemas have had to close throughout COVID-19. Most of them have had to rely on JobKeeper for the past year just to tread water. Even though most businesses are getting back to normal, because of the situation overseas, particularly in the US, where there are no blockbuster movies being released, making it difficult to attract patronage, is the government looking at a targeted package to support independent cinemas, and what support is being considered if this is the case?
I thank Senator Patrick for his question and for his interest in an important part of the Australian economy and an important part of the small business and medium business community across Australia. As everybody in this chamber appreciates, many Australians and many Australian businesses have experienced significant challenges in the past 12 months, and the cinema sector, in particular, has been one of those.
We are acutely aware of the fact that independent cinemas make up approximately 30 per cent of the cinema exhibition sector in Australia, and that they have been particularly impacted by COVID-19—especially, as you said Senator Patrick, by the absence of the usual blockbusters flowing through to them to help attract crowds back in, even as some of those restrictions have been lifted. It's hard to disaggregate the elements of support provided, but across the arts and entertainment sector some $730 million in assistance has been provided via JobKeeper. As the Senate is well aware, other payments have been made to small and medium-sized businesses. Other measures such as the loss carry back provisions will provide assistance to many cinemas as well.
We continue to work closely with all industry sectors to understand the particular circumstances that they find themselves in. We have acted in relation to travel agents, for example, by providing more than a quarter of a billion dollars of support there for a sector that was essentially shut down. We will keep our approach using the targeted, proportionate way we've indicated, and we will certainly continue to listen carefully to the independent cinema sector and to work with them over the weeks and months ahead.
Thank you, Minister. You will be aware that, of the 51 cinemas in South Australia, 41 of them are independent. I appreciate what you've said about paying JobKeeper, but JobKeeper is about to end. You are potentially putting people in a position where you've supported them throughout the past year with JobKeeper only to let them fall over a cliff at the end. Is there a package specifically for cinemas, and when will you announce it?
As I said, there have been a lot of different targeted measures that we have deployed during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those targeted measures launched last year have been for diverse sectors, including exhibiting zoos and aquariums, recognising the unique nature of their circumstances. Although JobKeeper provided—
Senator Ayres interjecting—
pardon the pun, Senator Ayres—
Thanks, Mr President. As I was saying, we have targeted assistance over and above JobKeeper and small-business payments and other economy-wide measures throughout the course of the pandemic. Some of them, such as those that I outlined, were at the height of the pandemic, if you like; others were more recently, through the course of this year—for example, in relation to the travel agency sector. As I said in relation to the primary question, we are acutely aware of the particular situation that independent cinemas find themselves in, and we continue to look very carefully at that sector and to engage very closely with it.
There are 10 days until JobKeeper finishes, and decisions are being made now. I'm aware of two cinemas in regional South Australia who have already made the decision to close, and there are others that are very close to it. Will the minister, as a South Australian senator and a minister of the government, undertake to contact them personally—I will provide details—to see exactly what they may need to get them through this difficult time?
Of course, Senator Patrick, I'm always happy to engage with small businesses and with constituents, and to work cooperatively with senators across this place to understand the particular needs that may be out there. As I indicated in my answer to your previous question, the government is very committed to working with the independent cinema sector to ensure its viability and to understand the unique circumstances it faces.
We have already launched various initiatives in relation to getting audiences back into cinemas. The 26 December initiative by Screen Australia, around the Our Summer of Cinema campaign, focused on and highlighted a number of Australian titles to try to help create and generate more interest in people returning to cinemas. Equally, we are supporting other parts of the arts sector in generating more Australian content, but also attracting more movie production here. We're very committed to working with those independent cinemas, and I'm happy to speak directly with them.