Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on how COVID-19 has affected the arts workers

18 June, 2020

Statement on the arts industry

Today’s economic news is sobering. Unemployment in Australia has now reached more than 7 per cent, up from 6.4 per cent.

One of the most heavily impacted sectors that has experienced high levels of unemployment during the crisis, has been the arts.

This morning, I seconded a motion before the House calling on the Government to provide greater direct assistance for the sector. Yet as I got up to speak on the behalf of Warringah’s creative community – I was silenced by the Morrison government as it moved a gag order. Why don’t the Prime Minister and government want to talk about its arts and entertainment sector?

It’s hard to imagine a world that is silent and not filled with music, films or plays – yet that is what the government did in Parliament by stifling important debate.

Here is the Speech I would have given…


Mr Speaker, I second this motion and rise to speak on behalf of the arts and entertainment sector.

There is not a single Australian who does not have an appreciation for the arts in some way – it is central to how we live, how we celebrate, how we interact, how we grieve, how we think and feel.

We all listen to music, read books, go to the theatre, attend concerts, visit galleries and museums or are interested in fashion and design. Who doesn’t appreciate a good movie, an emotive piece of music or a beautiful artwork - in whatever form it comes. 

According to a recent study ‘Australians and the Arts’, nine out of ten Australians think it is important to have some creative skills.”[1]

A failure to recognise the inherent value of the Arts in all its forms is a dangerous precedent for any society – as we fall into Oscar Wilde’s celebrated definition of a cynic: Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing

The arts have a long tradition of shaping our society and an important part to play in our future. They help define and negotiate who we are, what we believe in, what we value and what we aspire to. Think of those who tell our story as a nation

  • Banjo Pattterson and his “Man from Snowy River”;
  • Dorothea Mackeller with her love of Sunburnt plains;
  • Margaret Preston’s iconic Waratahs;
  • Les Murray’s mixture of wit and wisdom;
  • Ken Duncan’s emotive photographs of Australia;
  • Paul Kelly’s storytelling in songs such as “Bradman” and “Deeper Water”;
  • Baz Lurmann’s unique creativity in movies such as “Strictly Ballroom” and “Moulin Rouge”;
  • The Bangarra dance company and their passion, energy, beauty and skill.

The arts inspire Australians and help us express ourselves to other people. The arts play a central role in creating and maintaining culture and society in Australia.

Thousands of those who work in the arts and entertainment industry are suffering due to the impact of COVID19 on their industry.

Musicians, dancers, artists, comedians – but beyond that too - cameramen and women, sound engineers, roadies, editors, producers, event staff at theatres. The ripple effects are endless.

My electorate office has been inundated with stories of people who basically overnight found themselves without months of work.

These same people bring so much joy to our community – they entertain us, they educate us, they comfort us, they inspire us… but now they are in desperate situations.

While some businesses are reopening, it will be some time before we see entertainment venues and theatres full of people again.

Many people who work in this sector and its supporting industries dedicate their lives to our entertainment,

They are not eligible for either Job Keeper or Job Seeker and are missing out on the key safety nets that the government has put in place.

The statistics are confronting.

One in four workers in the arts have lost their job as a result of COVID-19.

According to the ABS report on the business impacts of COVID-19, three in five arts and recreation services businesses reported that none of their employees meet the eligibility criteria of Job Keeper as it currently stands.

The nature of their employment is a significant factor. Many in this sector have missed out on Job Keeper as they are short term pay-as-you-go contractors despite working consistently for a variety of employers over many years.

Meanwhile, the arts sector is most adversely impacted by government restrictions and lock down measures, with 92% of businesses in the sector anticipating adverse business impacts due to COVID-19 as a direct result of government restrictions[2].

I welcome the additional grants and support packages provided to the arts and entertainment sector. 

  • To date, these packages total $27 million, including
    • $10 million in crisis relief for regional artists
    • $10 million to the Support Act charity to support those in the industry experiencing financial hardship and
    • $7 million for Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program

Meanwhile, the arts and cultural industries contribute $111.7 billion to GDP, so the scale of the support provided to date is negligible compared with the value of this sector to the economy and our society.

Mr Speaker, I strongly urge the Government to deliver greater direct assistance to the arts and entertainment community through a targeted assistance package, a programme of support grants, direct subsidies and tax incentives.

The arts have supported Australians for years, not least in the wake of the bushfires earlier this year.

It is time we gave them something in return.  

We most certainly need them to still be there on the other side of this recovery. In his book “No Man is an Island”, American poet Thomas Merton wrote “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”….. at this moment in history we are facing challenges like never before, and it is the artists and performers that will lead us through that experience of reflection.



[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics - 5676.0.55.003 - Business Indicators, Business Impacts of COVID-19, Released 28 May 2020