ADVOCACY UPDATE – MAY 2020

Industry Roundtable – OFTA and AusCo
TNA participates in a fortnightly roundtable hosted by the Office for the Arts (DITRDC) and the Australia Council for the Arts, with 17 other national arts peak bodies. While one hour offers limited time for discussion, it provides a valuable open line of communication between the sector and OFTA and AusCo. An invited guest provides specific relevant information, for example from Treasury (to brief us on JobKeeper), from Services Australia (which runs Centrelink, on JobSeeker), from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (on the Jobs Hub). The peak bodies have around 2-3 minutes to give an update on impact for their sector of COVID-19 shutdowns, and both AusCo and OFTA give updates on their work. We are encouraged to send feedback and specific questions to them after meetings.

It is useful and sobering to hear how other sectors are being impacted – for example the literature/publishing sector isn’t as badly hit as performing arts, but they do still have big losses because of cancellation of book fairs. First Nations communities are deeply concerned about the devastation that remote communities will face, and of the loss of cultural knowledge if they lose elders to COVID-19. Artists with disabilities are facing multiple layers of disadvantage, for example with the rush to get information or application forms out there, much of it isn’t accessible.

The Office for the Arts has a page with a summary of the various government responses for the arts: https://www.arts.gov.au/covid-19-update. It is heartening that it states “The effects of COVID-19 on cultural and creative activity continue to be considered as part of the national response.”

We are pleased that the Australia Council and the Office are working closely together to navigate a shared way forward for the arts.

TNA uses this forum to advocate for the specific needs of the small to medium and independent sectors – for example on the specific problems for the arts with JobKeeper, with cash flow problems, and with the devastation wreaked by the closures on the arts ecology. Recent meetings have begun to look at how companies and artists might start to recover, but we are also making it clear that there will be no return to ‘normal’ and indeed we should use the crisis to identify how the inequalities in the arts might be addressed.

Labor and Greens
TNA has also been in regular contact with Labor and Greens – in particular with the offices of Tony Burke and Senator Sarah Hanson Young respectively.  Both parties are keen to help with the arts advocacy to ensure that our sector isn’t unfairly disadvantaged. You can access updates from them here:
https://www.tonyburke.com.au/artssignupform
https://sarah-hanson-young.greensmps.org.au/portfolios/arts

Arts Stimulus Package – JobKeeper isn’t enough.
TNA continues to join with our colleagues at other peak bodies to call for an arts rescue package. There is no doubt that JobKeeper will provide a vital lifeline for many arts organisations and employees, but we are very concerned about the assumption that all independent artists are either unemployed (and can survive on Jobseeker), or they are a sole-trader with consistent, 12 month, comparable income and can therefore access JobKeeper. We know this isn’t the case for hundreds of independents. We also believe that it needs to be extended – September will not see most arts organisations open again, so we think that JobKeeper should be extended by 3-6 months.

There is also a significant number of arts organisations that are ineligible because they are a department of local or state government, even if they are arms-length. This also means they are ineligible for most of the response grants offered. Some of these organisations and venues will not survive.

We are also aware that only 500,000 of the 900,000 businesses that had indicated interest have actually registered – because of the uncertainty of getting JobKeeper, some businesses have chosen not to apply at all. We know there are arts organisations in that group.

TNA continues to convey our concerns directly to the government and through the media.

Contact us if you have specific case studies to feed into the media or to government.

The Australia Council and state arts agencies
The outcome of the Australia Council’s four year funding assessment process was as devastating as TNA’s modelling predicted, with only 95 companies funded – 29 less than the current round and 50 less than the previous cycle. TNA commends the Australia Council for working up to the very last minute to seek additional support – stymied by the timing of COVID-19 – and for putting in place a one-year life-line to companies losing out on four years of funding. With the shutdown of the sector, we know this will mean permanent closures for some. TNA will continue to convey the impact that 25% fewer funded organisations will have on the sector.

TNA has been consulted by both the Australia Council and Creative Victoria as they have developed their response grants – ensuring that where possible the grants are non-outcome based and as admin-light as possible. We are also advocating for allowance that existing grant contracts can be radically re-framed so that funding for an outcome that is no longer possible can be spent on wages instead.

Of note is that the Australia Council is undertaking detailed modelling of the impact of the closures on its funded organisations, and is sharing this work with the state agencies. They have assured TNA that they will also be sharing the aggregate outcomes with the sector in due course.

TNA has written to all Arts/Cultural State Ministers to outline the concerns for our sector, and to seek their support in calling for federal Arts Minister Fletcher to announce a separate arts rescue package.