This week, Australia’s finance minister Mathias Cormann told ABC radio he didn’t “accept [the] proposition” workers in the arts and entertainment industry were missing out on wage subsidies through the government’s Jobkeeper program.
If they’re not receiving JobKeeper, he said: that must mean they can’t demonstrate they’ve had relevant falls in their revenue. […] To the extent [artists are] sole traders […] if their revenue drops on the same basis as any other Australian in similar circumstances in another industry, of course, they would be able to participate.
Prior to lockdown, the creative arts contributed an estimated A$14.7 billion to Gross Domestic Product and employed 193,600 people. The arts also create work of immense value to society in and of itself.
But how exactly are artists employed, and are they eligible for JobKeeper and JobSeeker? The answer is complicated.
Some artists and arts workers are eligible for JobKeeper and JobSeeker, while others are not.
Where these workers invoice for their work, they operate as sole traders, setting up an Australian Business Number (ABN) and running their business as an individual. In this, the finance minister is correct in lumping sole trading artists in with any other Australian sole traders.
However, many artists and arts workers do not operate as sole traders and do not issue invoices using an ABN. They are instead employed on contracts for periods under 12 months. This includes actors at major theatre companies, people in the film industry, and administrators moving from festival to festival. If these workers weren’t on contracts when JobKeeper began – or if companies weren’t able to forward JobKeeper payments and so let go of staff – they are ineligible.
Many Australian artists have portfolio careers. They do core creative work, arts-related work, and non-arts related work often on the same day and often on a casual basis. This is why many in the sector are hurting: they don’t qualify for JobSeeker because their work is a mix of short-term contracts across jobs and across sectors. While their overall income may have fallen by more than 30%, the income earned on their ABN may not have fallen enough to be eligible.
35% of Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance members surveyed were ineligible for JobKeeper. The union is requesting proof from the Morrison government that its JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs will boost the arts industries by $4-$10 billion, as claimed by arts minister Paul Fletcher.
Not only was the minister’s $4-10 billion estimates based on a working paper published two years ago, but it has also emerged in the past week that the Treasury’s forecast for JobKeeper spending was out by $60 billion. This estimate of boosting the arts was relative to JobKeeper pumping $130 billion into the economy, not $70 billion.
The arts are a public good. Artistic creativity is beneficial in and of itself. While it is difficult to define how far is “enough” when it comes to something as open-ended as artistic creativity, international comparisons can be used as reference points.