Arts rescue package worth $250m still waiting to be allocated, Senate estimates told

Four months after a lifeline was promised for Covid-hit sector, less than one-fifth has been spent – and all of that has gone to the screen industry

More than 80% of the $250m promised by the Morrison government to the Covid-hit arts and culture sector has not yet been handed out, Senate estimates heard on Wednesday.

In June, after months of urgent pleas for help for the struggling industry, Scott Morrison announced a federal package that was criticised by some as too little too late.

On Wednesday senior bureaucrats initially struggled to provide any precise figure on how much of the pledged emergency funds has been spent.

“Is it because it’s zero?” the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young challenged the department secretary Simon Atkinson.

“Not much has been spent yet, has it?” she suggested, prompting the department’s chief operating officer, Pip Spence, to assure the hearing that “some money has gone out” – but she was unable to provide a figure.

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications returned to the hearing later in the morning with a figure of $49.5m, less than one-fifth of the total emergency funding announced almost four months ago.

And all $49.5m has gone to Screen Australia under the package’s temporary interruption fund, to help 20 film and television productions in securing finance after losing access to insurance due to the pandemic

“So it’s not actually money out the door,” Hanson-Young said.

Simon Atkinson fronts the environment and communications legislation committee on Wednesday
Simon Atkinson fronts the environment and communications legislation committee on Wednesday. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

“Work is under way to consider projects that have been put forward, to get the money out as quickly as possible,” Spence told the hearing, adding that the money was expected to start flowing in November, some five months after the government unveiled the package.

An earlier $27m emergency relief package for Indigenous and regional visual arts and the music industry outreach program Support Act announced in April had been fully allocated, the department told the hearing.

Coinciding with the rescue package announcement on 24 June, the arts minister, Paul Fletcher, announced the establishment of a creative economy taskforce to provide advice on and support for the implementation of the $250m package.

The taskforce, chaired by the Museum of Contemporary Art director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor and comprising a further 19 leaders across the performing, visual arts, recording and film industries, met for the first time on 15 September and will meet again on 29 October.


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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