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Gina Fairley on what AG Budget means

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Gina Fairley, Budget 2020-21: What it means for the arts?, ArtsHub, 6 October 2020

It is no surprise the arts and culture sector has been ignored in last night’s Budget 2020-21 delivery, despite the mantra being jobs, jobs, jobs, and a veiled message of care and recovery for all Australians.

The government was due to deliver the 2020-21 Federal Budget on 12 May, but postponed it because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the wait hardly seemed worth it for the arts. Overwhelmingly, the sector has again been ignored. In his speech, Treasurer The Hon Josh Frydenberg said, ‘Our plan is guided by our values.’ The message is clear. There is no room to value the arts.

It is a wrenching outcome, that moves our sector beyond a ‘downturn’ to impending decimation.

While it is recognised that our nation faces its largest economic contraction since the 1930s – the highest budget deficit since World War II – our recession is now boldly delivered in print with this budget, but it remains an uneven picture with gaping holes … becoming wounds.

DWELLING ON DEBT

Frydenberg reminded that globally 600 million people have lost their jobs. ‘The global economy is expected to contract by 4.5 per cent this year compared to just 0.1 per cent during the GFC. Australia is not immune.’

But despite the multi-million dollar arts and culture sector – let’s call it industry to put it in the Federal Government’s headlights – being the hardest hit, no direct relief was steered towards the sector for the next financial year. There are opportunities to tap what is on the table generally, but as we came to learn with JobKeeper, arts workers and freelancers are not always eligible.

The Treasurer reported that Australia’s deficit will reach $213.7 billion this year, falling to $66.9 billion by 2023-24. ‘Net debt will increase to $703 billion or 36 per cent of GDP this year and peak at $966 billion or 44 per cent of GDP in June 2024.’

This is of course, based on the understanding that we are moving out of COVID-19 and a vaccine is coming.

The big spends across Budget 2021-21 were clear: jobs, enabling infrastructure plans ($14 billion), manufacturing ($1.3 billion) and a surprise focus on the environment to the tune of $1.9 billion.

‘There is no economic recovery without a jobs recovery. There is no budget recovery without a jobs recovery. This Budget is all about jobs,’ said Frydenberg. It would seem that arts workers and arts professions do not rate as “jobs” in the eyes of our current government.

So how will the arts find some relief in this year’s budget and some job creation?

HOW BUDGET 2020-21 WILL IMPACT THE ARTS

With the exceptions of the Australia Council, Australian Film, Television and Radio School, Bundanon Trust, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, National Library of Australia, National Portrait Gallery of Australia and Screen Australia that saw an increase in funds (largely less than an inflation index), 7 of the 13 arts agencies were delivered cuts in Budget 2020-21.

Here is the list of Agency Resourcing for 2020-21 against estimated actual received for 2019-2020:

  • Australia Council: $215,633,000 (up from $214,555,000 last year)
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation: $1,130,255,000 (down from $1,157,050,000)
  • Australian Business Arts Foundation Ltd:  $8,736,000 (down from $9,390,000)
  • Australian Film, Television and Radio School: $34,278,000 (up from $30,356,000)
  • Australian National Maritime Museum: $36,253,000 (down from $40,834,000)
  • Bundanon Trust: $18,578,000 (up from $10,150,000)
  • National Film and Sound Archive of Australia: $29,188,000 (up from $28,936,000)
  • National Gallery of Australia: $83,173,000 (down from $108,258,000)
  • National Library of Australia: $78,662,000 (up from $77,633,000)
  • National Museum of Australia: $47,860,000 (down from $57,377,000)
  • National Portrait Gallery of Australia: $15,627,000 (up from $14,241,000)
  • Screen Australia: $89,399,000 (down from $87,829,000)
  • Special Broadcasting Service Corporation: $406,036,000 (down from $415,524,000)

To see the full list of agency resourcing under the 2020-21 Budget. What these figures don’t tell is often the full story. Several of these organisations have also received funding in this financial year as a result of COVID impacts. ArtsHub will dive deeper into these numbers later this week.

The MEAA (Media Entertainment Arts Alliance) made the point in their statement: ‘The cuts to the ABC began in 2014 and by 2022 will total more than $780 million. It is hard to see how the ABC can carry on without making further, damaging cuts to its workforce and the services it offers.

‘The $250 million announced earlier this year – most of which was loans or insurance assistance – will do little to address the sector’s structural challenges. Arts and entertainment workers, already shaken by widespread ineligibility for JobKeeper payments, should be aghast that they have again been by-passed by a big-spending Budget that provides no roadmap for the sector’s restoration,’ the MEAA added.

‘The package of measures for the screen industry announced last week and included in tonight’s Budget represent a missed opportunity to help the sector rebuild and contribute to the economic recovery. MEAA acknowledges the additional funding for Screen Australia, but notes that this simply restores what was cut from the organisation’s budget from 2013-14.’

TRICKLE THROUGH POTENTIAL IN BUDGET 2020-21

While not addressing the arts specifically, some spending may trickle down to the sector with artists and organisations seeing these benefits.

Job generation:

  • A new JobMaker hiring credit will be payable for up to twelve months and immediately available to employers who hire those on JobSeeker aged 16-35.
  • It will be paid at the rate of $200 per week for those aged under 30, and $100 per week for those aged between 30-35.
  • New hires must work for at least 20 hours a week.
  • All businesses, including arts, culture and creative industries, will be eligible.
  • Extension of the JobKeeper payment support for a further six months until 28 March 2021.
  • The budget doesn’t provide any clarity about the future of JobSeeker payment rates after Christmas.

Income tax cuts

  • Tax cuts backdated to 1 July this year.
  • Lower- and middle-income earners will this year receive tax relief of up to $2,745 for singles, and up to $5,490 for dual income families.
  • From 2020-21, the upper limit of the 19% personal income tax bracket will rise from $37,000 to $45,000 and the 32.5% marginal tax rate upper threshold will lift from $90,000 to $120,000.
  • These tax cuts are promised to be fast-tracked.

Small Business asset write off

‘Eight out of every ten jobs in Australia are in the private sector,’ Frydenberg reported. That number is considerably lower for the arts.

  • Over 99 per cent of businesses will be able to write off the full value of any eligible asset they purchase for their business.
  • This will be available for small, medium and larger businesses with a turnover of up to $5 billion until June 2022. This is great news, if you are eligible, but sadly is capped too high for most small arts businesses.
  • Exempting from the 47% fringe benefits tax employer-provided retraining activities to employees who are redeployed to a different role in the business.
  • An additional $4.5 billion investment in NBN Co will bring ultra-fast broadband to millions of families and businesses. Funding of $29.2 million will also accelerate the rollout of the 5G network.

Super reform

  • Australians will automatically keep their superannuation fund when they change employers, stopping the creation of unintended multiple accounts.
  • A new online YourSuper comparison tool will help people compare the performance of funds
  • Australians today are paying $450 million a year in unnecessary fees as a result of 6 million multiple accounts.

Investment in training and education

  • Pre-budget announcements included $1 billion JobTrainer fund to create up to 340,000 low‑cost training places for school leavers and job seekers.
  • An additional $1.2 billion was committed to create 100,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships, with a 50 per cent wage subsidy for businesses who employ them. But how many “apprenticeships” are typical in the arts?
  • $1bn will be injected into Australia’s university research sector.
  • $299m to provide an additional 12,000 undergraduate university places in 2021.
  • 50,000 new higher education short courses in agriculture, health, IT, science and teaching (doesn’t appear to extend to humanities or the arts)

Looking out for women

Australian women made up the majority of those who lost their jobs during this crisis, said the Treasurer. Many of these have been within the arts and culture sector, which is gender weighted to women. $240 million has been committed to:

  • New cadetships and apprenticeships for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (no arts and culture)
  • Job creation and entrepreneurialism, and
  • Women’s safety at work and at home.

Additionally in the pre-budget announcements the Federal Government pledged a further $305 million towards childcare, largely targeted at Victoria as the state battles its second wave. The support package would see the activity test, which determines how many hours of subsidised care parents receive, relaxed until 4 April 2021.

Under essential services – disabilities and mental health

  • An additional $3.9 billion for the NDIS
  • More funding for Lifeline, headspace, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline and young Australians with a mental illness to help them participate in the workforce. These initiatives bring our commitment to mental health support to $5.7 billion this year.

Aged Care and COVID care were also part of budget roll outs.

A SUMMARY: NOT WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN PAPER

What political commentator Ben Eltham described earlier this year as a ‘cultural bloodbath years in the making’, has only been continued with last night’s announcement of Budget 2020-21.

There are a few slim opportunities that the arts and culture sector can piggy-back on: by employing new staff under 35 years who have been on JobSeeker; writing off asset purchases if you are a private business, and individuals in lower tax brackets finding some relief from reduced threshholds.

There is also potential assistance through NDIS for artists living with disability, support for artists living with mental health issues, and a nod to greater support for women in the workplace – however this one remains very vague.

But that is really it. The rollout was depressingly familiar.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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