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COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on artists and entertainers - Senator Statement

The impact that COVID-19 has had on hundreds of thousands of artists and entertainers right across Australia is devastating. 

We know that this has been a tough time for all Australians. From having to stay away from loved ones and find new ways to celebrate birthdays and have coffee catch-ups, to those who have lost jobs and livelihoods, with no idea of what awaits them in the future, or those who have tragically lost a family member or friend due to the health crisis of COVID-19, we have all felt these impacts in one way or another.

There have been few things that have brought us together during these isolated times, but there has been one thing that we have all been able to turn to and take comfort from, and that's our arts and our entertainment industry. A good book, our favourite TV show or film, musicians doing gigs via social media, and virtual exhibitions have all offered us an outlet to both escape and come together.

This is not the first time, of course. We saw only recently, over summer, that it was artists and creatives that were there in the midst of the bushfire crisis and were the first to step up, help out and raise money at a much-needed time.

But there is no denying that this time around the people who work in these industries have been left behind by the government. There has been no targeted package for this sector like there has for others.

No matter how many times the government insists that JobKeeper is there to help them, the truth is that a large number of workers in these industries have fallen and are continuing to fall through the gaps, left with nothing.

ABS data has shown just how hard the arts and entertainment sector has been hit. Ninety-four per cent of arts and recreation businesses have been impacted. A huge 53 per cent of businesses have stopped operating entirely. Twenty-seven per cent of people in the arts and recreation sector have lost their jobs.

Of the one million Australians who have lost their jobs during this time, one-third have come from arts and recreation.

I want to make this very, very clear: we are at a very real risk of losing an entire generation of Australian artists and creative institutions if we don't do something now to help them. This neglect is now taking a serious toll on the already underfunded sector.

The numbers of artists, performers and businesses who have been completely stripped of their livelihoods is concerning. Just today the Woodford Folk Festival, Australia's biggest music and cultural festival, have shared their concerns that, if the event doesn't go ahead this year, it may be gone for good. This festival alone contributes over $20 million to its local economy each and every year. That's a lot of jobs. That's a lot of economic stimulus in that area.

There is an endless list of festivals and events that have been cancelled right across the country, including the Byron Bay Bluesfest and Dark Mofo in Tasmania. These cancellations affect so many, from the participating artists to the tech support and the crew, but it flows beyond that: it's the local tourism industry, the local hotels, the B&B owners, the restaurants and the other tourism businesses in those areas. The entire community feels a loss when festivals like this have to cancel and close down.

ABS data has shown us that arts, recreation, accommodation and food services have suffered the most from COVID-19. Sixty per cent of the jobs lost during COVID-19 thus far are in these sectors. These industries exist in an ecosystem, and one cannot live without the other. Without a healthy arts and entertainment sector, tourism and hospitality just suffer, and they continue to suffer greatly. We now risk entire organisations collapsing. Australian galleries have lost huge amounts of income, with regional galleries still reeling from the bushfires as well. This has been hit after hit after hit.

Contemporary art space Carriageworks in Sydney being forced into voluntary administration made the headlines in recent weeks. The list of severely wounded organisations and businesses grows. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is facing a $20 million hit to its revenue. That's a lot of jobs. After recently being knocked back for funding, the Restless Dance Theatre in Adelaide has now had to suffer through the stresses of COVID-19. Adelaide's iconic live music venue The Gov is also on the brink today of calling in liquidators. The owner recently stated that they just won't be able to survive in the coming months. These closures filter down to every artist, performer and employee.

I was contacted earlier this week by an Adelaide woman whose husband works in the film industry in Adelaide and is out of work, with no clear pathway. They have an 18-month-old child and a second kid on the way. But right now they have no idea how they are going to recover from this devastating blow and they've got no help from the government programs already announced.

Arts and entertainment contribute $112 billion to our economy, yet they have been left out in the cold. We need to ensure that there is enough support for a smooth recovery and the opportunity for economic stimulus. Arts and entertainment are such a huge part of our lives. We need them. Arts and entertainment help us to process what we're going through, to make sense of the world around us. We need our artists to be there at the end of this to help us heal. At the moment, they've been left out in the cold, left on their own, and there is no hope coming from the government. We will need them after this just as much as we've needed them during lockdown.

This is exactly why we need an economic stimulus package for the arts and entertainment industry. Earlier this week I announced a plan for a package to chart a pathway to recovery. The plan comprises three main elements. The first is an artist-in-residence program, a $300 million project that would see an artist in residence in every school and library across the country. This is about investing in the value of the next generation of artists as well as getting our artists and authors back to work. It would enable visual artists, authors and writers to engage their skills to help mentor Australia's young people and students. The project would be focused on job creation and community development, building an enhanced appreciation for our creative industries.

The second element of this package is the billion stories fund—$1 billion put into an Australian content fund to kickstart the Australian screen industry. Productions are job rich, including creative, scriptwriting, IT, lighting, sound engineers, crews, costumes, tradespeople, marketing, logistics—the list goes on. Making sure we can tell our Australian stories when we get through this crisis, when we get to the end, is going to be essential. It is vital for our cultural identity, but it's important for education and local jobs.

Finally, the third element that we need a stimulus package for is our live performance, live Australia. A $1 billion grant fund is needed to inject money into Australia's festival, music and live performance sector, which needs cash flow right now to recover and restart—investing in and creating incentives for the planning and delivery of events, live music and performance projects for metropolitan, suburban and regional communities. These projects are job rich and provide the economic kick that is so desperately needed for instant stimulus in the communities where they occur.

This package would not only put artists and creatives back to work but it would build on our cultural capital that is so at risk of falling over at the moment. We are going to need to restore our social fabric as we come out of this crisis. We need to create jobs for those who have been hardest hit and we need to create hope for the Australian community, with stories that reflect the Australian identity and show the value of really coming together.

We must do more for the Arts and Entertainment Industry 

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