'It's all been very weird': arts organisations still waiting for promised funds

Arts minister promised Covid-19 rescue funds would ‘flow immediately’ but successful applicants still waiting

Arts organisations across Australia that were told by the federal government in November they would receive emergency Covid-19 relief funding “immediately” are still waiting.

Six months after the grants program was announced and a week before Christmas it is unclear whether any of the promised $60m from the first tranche of the $75m restart investment to sustain and expand emergency funding has flowed into the struggling cultural sector.

The $250m rescue package to arts and cultural organisations affected by Covid was announced in June, three months after the forced shutdowns sent arts organisations across the country into a downward financial spiral.

In October it emerged in budget estimates that still no emergency funding had been disbursed, apart from the quarantining of $49.5m for Screen Australia in the form of insurance guarantees to get the industry moving again.

The arts minister, Paul Fletcher, announced on 20 November that the emergency funding component of the total $250m rescue package would “begin to flow immediately”.

Three days later he reiterated that promise, naming 10 companies and events that would be the first among 48 projects in Victoria to receive the emergency funds “immediately”.

Fletcher’s office would not identify the remaining 38 Victorian arts organisations that it said would receive the first tranche of grant money.

Six companies and/or events have since been announced as emergency funding recipients in South Australia totalling $4.4m, and one in Tasmania worth $1m. There has been no public announcement of any grants awarded in New South Wales, although Fletcher’s office did provide to Guardian Australia the names of six successful NSW recipients totalling $4.4m.

Recipients from all four states who agreed to speak to the Guardian on condition they not be identified confirmed they had yet to see a cent of their promised grant. One said they had not even seen a contract.

“It’s all been very weird, and there’s a lack of communication,” another arts administrator said.

“We found out more than a month ago … but we’ve only just received the contract this week. We have to assume we won’t be seeing any money until next year.”

Under law, the government is required to declare all grants awarded on its grant connect website within 21 days of a grant contract being executed. Guardian Australia understands this may be when a contract is signed or when funds are disbursed. No recipients have yet been listed on the website.

Fletcher’s office said the government was abiding by the 21-day declaration laws, but declined to comment on the apparent discrepancy between the minister’s “flow immediately” assurances and the fact that no companies have confirmed publicly they have received those funds.

His office said the minister was making “announcements of individual grants in a staged manner”.

Labor’s arts spokesman, Tony Burke, said it was possible arts organisations promised emergency funds in June would be left waiting until 2021.

“The government has a plan for the announcement and doesn’t care about the delivery … Each state has to wait until there can be a convenient media event before they find out who is helped and who misses out,” he said.

“And then everything goes silent again.”

Just 23 of the 115 projects Fletcher said on 20 November would receive emergency grants have been identified by his office so far.

On 27 November the Guardian applied under Freedom of Information laws for a full list of emergency funding recipients but the request was rejected by Fletcher’s department on the grounds it constituted “an unreasonable diversion of resources”.

Fletcher’s office denied suggestions the grant making process was lacking transparency, and said the full list of recipients would be announced next week.


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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