Government unveils $250m arts rescue package, with $50m for screen production

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. 

The Federal Government announced its anticipated arts rescue package today, rolling out a suite of measures totalling $250 million, including a $50 million fund for screen production to be administered by Screen Australia.

The package follows months of ongoing lobbying from the sector for targeted assistance. An estimated 120 screen productions were impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns, with more than 30,000 jobs affected.

The $50 million ‘Temporary Interruption Fund’ will be designed to support screen producers to secure finance and start filming again, with the government noting that production restart has been delayed by a lack of insurance coverage.

The measure has been praised by Screen Producers Australia (SPA), with the organisation arguing it would provide much needed capital for the independent production sector to restart.

“The benefits of this package will extend far beyond the personnel on a physical set, with flow on effects to related industries such as tourism and hospitality, and the boost to Australia’s export potential, playing an important part in the nation’s economic recovery. Moreover, the Australian public will no doubt celebrate the return of homegrown stories to our screens,” said SPA CEO Matthew Deaner.

“Combined with the release of the screen industry’s COVID-Safe Guidelines late last month, this fund, part of the Government’s JobMaker plan to support Australia’s valuable creative economy, assists to return our industry to a steady footing to help kick start production and return to the delivery of high quality Australian stories for audiences domestically and abroad.”

Deaner singled out praise for See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman and CJZ’s Nick Murray, who put forward a detailed submission to government with regards to underwriting insurance risk, for their work in highlighting the issues the industry has faced.

Among the other relief measures announced today by the government are $90 million in concessional loans to help creative businesses fund new productions and events; $75 million in competitive grant funding to help production and event businesses put on festivals, tours and events; and $35 million for Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organisations, to be delivered through the Australia Council.

The government will also establish a ministerial taskforce to implement the overall package. The grants and loan programs will be rolled out over the next 12 months.

“We are backing over 600,000 Australians in the cultural and creative sectors whose work contributes $112 billion to our economy. These sectors have been hit hard during the pandemic, and the government’s investment will play an important role in the nation’s economic recovery,” said Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher.

“We are injecting $100 million per month into the arts sector through the JobKeeper program and cash flow assistance, delivering an important lifeline for many businesses, but as social distancing restrictions ease, our plan supports businesses getting back on their feet and getting people back in jobs.”

However the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has argued the government has not gone far enough to assist arts and screen workers impacted by the crisis, many of whom have fallen through the cracks of JobKeeper due to the contractual nature of project work.

The union noted it still will take some months before money flows and productions can recommence, and that income support or changes to the JobKeeper eligibility remain necessary.

“While any form of assistance is welcome, this package is another slap in the face for the thousands of arts and entertainment workers who are not eligible for the JobKeeper income subsidy scheme,” said CEO Paul Murphy.

“The grants and loans will help arts organisations begin to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, but there is absolutely no relief for freelance and casual workers who have lost their jobs and suffered significant reductions in income.

“These workers are the backbone of the industry. It is essential to provide capital injections and financing and investment incentives to the bodies that provide employment in the industry, but there is no point in doing that if you don’t have a workforce.

“The stark reality is that we are in danger of losing a generation of creative professionals in this country without an adequate income support scheme.”

Similarly, the Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG) said while the package was a welcome reprieve, it failed to address the needs of freelance and writers, directors, producers, cast and crew impacted by production shutdowns.

President Shane Brennan said: ‘Our industry employs thousands of skilled people across different crafts and trades, many of whom have been grappling with the impacts of production shutdowns for months without any form of financial assistance. It is imperative that the Federal Government not allow these individuals to be lost to our industry at a time when Australians are enjoying more content than ever before.’