A Parliamentary inquiry

In August, Minister Paul Fletcher announced a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions.

You can have your say on the online survey or send in a written submission by Thursday 22 October 2020.

Submissions do not have a set format, but should be prepared solely for the inquiry and should not be published prior to being accepted by the Committee.

Check out these resources to help get you started:

Or feel free to copy, paste or adapt any the following from my published submission (below).

Parliamentary Enquiry submission (#25)

The impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 is the most debilitating disruption to cultural life that most Australians have ever experienced. Australia’s arts, cultural and creative industries were among the first and hardest-hit casualties of the current crisis.

Due to the mass cancellation of arts, cultural and creative industry activities:

  • The livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of artists, artsworkers and events industry professionals have been threatened.
  • Thousands of Small-to-Medium (S2M) organisations have been put at risk.
    • This is significant. These organisations attract bigger audiences than their better-funded counterparts (reaching 9.4 million people each year compared to the 3.3 million served by the majors). Funding them goes further – reaching more than double the audiences on less than half the funds. They lead the country in terms of programming, inclusion and access – engaging and representing with the full diversity of Australian stories and identities. And they employ or create opportunities for a vast community beyond their staff teams.
  • Countless workers and businesses in associated industries have been affected (such as events, audio visual services, hospitality and tourism).
  • And millions of Australians have lost access to the country’s social, creative and cultural life at a time when they need it most.

Our arts, cultural and creative industries have been put in peril – much of this both unnecessary and disproportionate when compared to the support offered to other sectors.

This risks Australia’s story, identity and culture, and how we record our history – including how we remember this moment in time.

Economy and employment

Arguably, Australia’s arts, cultural and creative industries were already at their most vulnerable before the impact of this year’s bushfires, four-year funding announcements from Australia Council for the Arts, and the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

However, hardly any of the Australian Government’s stimulus commitments thus far have addressed the sector, and none of the $160m committed by the Prime Minister in June has yet to be spent.

This is in spite of our sector making a stronger economic contribution to the Australian economy, on significantly less subsidy than many other industries.

  • The creative and cultural industries employ 645,000 Australians. The creative arts alone employ 194,000 people – four times the number employed by the coal mining industry.
  • Every $1 million in self-generated turnover creates nine jobs in the arts and entertainment industry. By comparison, only 1 job is created for every $1m generated in the construction sector, and only 0.36 jobs for every $1m spent on oil and gas.
  • Before COVID-19, creative industries jobs were increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the Australian economy.
  • Overall, the arts, cultural and creative industries contributed $63.5 billion to the Australian economy in 2016-17, as well as having positive impacts on tourism and hospitality.
  • Australia’s artists, artsworkers and events professionals lead the nation in many areas. Only a small fraction of us ever receive government support, and research shows that we return that investment many times over.

On a personal level, I am a member of the sector’s freelance ‘gig’ economy. Like many, this not only means that some of the work I rely on for my income has been cancelled due to COVID-19, but also that the nature of my ongoing work has irrevocably changed.

As a freelance consultant, I have one job (as a sole trader) but undertake multiple projects for multiple clients at any one time. After a brief period of shocked cancellations and stoppages in March, I am now busier than I have ever been before. However, that work is also more ad hoc, short term and uncertain than ever. And a sad indication of the shrinking state of the sector – in that organisations that can no longer afford former staff positions find it more affordable to outsource smaller pieces of work as required.

As a sector advocate and ally, my pro-bono support and charitable donations have increased at the same time as my earning potential has gone down, including allocating time to review grant applications for other artists and artsworkers whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19 and offering reduced fees and new payment options for organisations whose funding or circumstances have changed.

The recent cuts to the JobKeeper rate have also had a significant impact on my family and colleagues across the arts, cultural and events industries. Not to mention the tens of thousands of our sector’s casual workers who were not eligible for JobKeeper in the first place. JobKeeper continues to disadvantage the many artists and artsworkers whose professional practice is based on a range of short-term roles, leaving them with no other source of income support during this crisis.

The significance of the damage called for a holistic and comprehensive response to ensure the stability and sustainability of a sector that is one of Australia’s most important economic and cultural contributors. This did not occur.

Identity, community and society

With 98% of all Australians participating in the arts as artists, makers or audience members, strong and sustainable arts, cultural and creative industries are critical to Australia’s future.

The non-economic benefits of that participation include enhanced creativity and innovation, community cohesion, cultural understanding and appreciation, and life-long learning and education.

Participation in and connection to arts and culture have never been so important. Faced with an extraordinary level of disruption and loss, Australian communities need assistance to recover, heal and commemorate through coming together, share their stories, develop resilience for the future, and return the balance towards positive social cohesion and wellbeing.

According to Creative Recovery Network, “a growing body of evidence indicates that, particularly in times of community distress, the arts can provide great benefits to personal and community wellbeing, such as increased community cohesiveness, confidence and resilience, improved physical and mental health, reduced feelings of isolation, new personal and creative skills, strengthened connections to place, and a sense of shared optimism.”

This is mirrored in a report from the Australian Major Performing Arts Group from January 2020, which identified that: “The arts, with its deep engagement in the human experience, can make a significant contribution to how communities process unparalleled natural disasters, helping to understand their ‘story’ and to rebuild a sense of place and shared resilience. In the longer term, the arts also have the potential to support economic recovery through stimulating creativity and new ideas as well as tourism initiatives.”

Government cooperation and delivery

So far, the country’s States, Territories and capital cities have responded comprehensively to the priorities of the arts, cultural and creative industries, recognising the great value of our work to their cultural life, their experience economy, and their tourism – particularly important at a time when international travel is impossible.

More leadership is needed at a federal level to work with industry advice to create well-designed, long-term stimulus measures to avoid industry collapse and support it to rebuilt post COVID-19.

Australia needs to follow New Zealand’s example in protecting this vital cultural, economic, social and human resource.

Such stimulus should include:

  • Reversing the cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and extending the duration of the programs beyond 2020.
  • Extending JobKeeper to cover all sector employees (including short-term casual workers).
  • Reversing plans to increase fees for arts and humanities degrees, for which employment outcomes and earning prospects are recorded to be higher than those of science and maths graduates.
  • Reversing cuts to local content quotas for Australian drama, documentary and children’s television.
  • Radically reimagining arts governance, including setting diversity requirements (not just recommendations) for funded arts, cultural and creative organisations.
  • Permanently removing the Efficiency Dividend on Australia’s National Cultural Institutions and public broadcasters, which is compounding damage to national and state cultural organisations.
  • Doubling the Australia Council’s budget to ensure that Australia’s arts funding and advisory body is best placed to develop impactful programs that drive recovery.
  • Increasing investment in the S2M sector, over and above the continued expansion of the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework.
  • Increasing investment in the literary sector.
    • More Australians are reading, writing and attending literary events than ever before.
    • The recent National Arts Participation Survey from Australia Council for the Arts tells us that 72% of the population aged 15 years and over read for pleasure (an increase of 17% from 2016). Reading is the second most popular way that Australians engage with arts and culture. Participation in literary activities is growing faster than in either visual arts or music and the number of Australian writers continues to grow.
    • We need additional government-directed support in line with visual arts (through the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy), regional touring (through Playing Australia) and festivals (through the Major Festivals Initiative). With no additional support and no literary organisations in the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework ($115 million), literature is the only artform that does not receive infrastructure support through a targeted government program. To write our future, we must fund our writing.
  • Increasing investment in digital and accessible delivery (see below).

Digital and accessible delivery

The global response to COVID-19 also made arts engagement or employment more accessible, flexible or even possible for many.

Most arts, cultural and creative organisations had to quickly adapt, pivot or completely reimagine existing programs and activities to take advantage of new digital and remote workplace and delivery initiatives.

The rush to do so immediately made the sector more accessible for many who had previously faced barriers to sector engagement or employment. However, this happened in a way that has been frustrating many Deaf, Disabled and regional people in particular – in that the world suddenly got a whole lot more accessible the minute that city-based non-disabled people needed it to.

But more accessible does not equal accessible enough. A lot rushed online without thinking about sign language interpretation, captioning or audio description, for example. Or without multi-lingual interpretation, even though programs can more easily reach international audiences than ever before. Or without an understanding of digital inequality or the difficulties many regional or remote communities face in terms of insufficient bandwidth. And, without support, it is unclear whether the changes that have been made will necessarily stay in place once we’re all able to return to our venues and offices.

But as we start to move towards a new-new-normal, it’s clear that we don’t want to go back to the way things were before, which was less flexible, less accessible, less diverse, less productive, and less compatible with other areas of our lives.

2020 has taken us so far away from business as usual. But even if it’s just a temporary new normal, it’s one we can improve – by using this moment to revisit the logistics and culture of our organisations and programs, find ways to make them better for more people, and start to plan for a new (and better) future both on- and off-line.

I consent to making this submission publicly available.


Submissions should be emailed to the Committee Secretariat, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts by Thursday 22 October 2020.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance. larsenkeys.com.au

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