Queensland Theatre Artistic Director, Lee Lewis

Queensland Theatre urges the Federal Government to care for Aussie Artists

Queensland Theatre has called upon the Federal Government to start caring for Australian Artists left stranded by their ineligibility to receive the JobKeeper Payment Scheme. 

It’s no new news that COVID-19 has drastically impacted the arts industry, with many artists and companies forced to cancel or reschedule shows. For Queensland Theatre, the business is unable to receive JobKeeper payments to support its staff. As per the requirements of the scheme, the company is not a statutory body and is therefore not eligible. 

Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, is urging the Federal Government to consider how additional support would assist individual artists working under casual contracts. 

“Nearly 80% of every theatre company’s workforce is employed under casual contracts,” Lewis said.

“All the artists, designers, directors, stage managers, technicians and speciality makers who create our productions are necessarily freelance so that they can work across many companies in their career. And therefore, 80% of our industry cannot be allowed to ‘fall through the cracks’ created by politics.”

JobKeeper is a COVID-19 Stimulus Scheme designed to sustain businesses. Eligible employers, sole traders and other entities can apply to receive a supplementary payment of $1,500 per employee per fortnight. As Lewis has stated, this scheme does not seem to provide longevity for freelance artists working within Australia. 

“I refuse to believe that our Federal Government wants to abandon artists, but that is what they are doing by refusing to extend the scheme,” said Lewis.

“JobKeeper will be the difference between freelance art workers surviving to create in years to come, or deciding to quit an industry which is obviously not valued by the Federal Government despite delivering more employment than coal mining. I don’t want to say that the Federal Government is insulting Australian artists deliberately but there is no doubt that it is a blow that will have generational consequences if it is not redressed.”

Queensland Theatre has had to make significant decisions since learning that the company was not eligible for the Federal scheme. As such, the company has been unable to retain staff, most of the team is working reduced hours and they’ve had to cancel five shows. Not to mention, the company is drawing on reserves to continue functioning.

While organisations like the Actor’s Benevolent Fund have offered assistance during this difficult time, Lewis spoke of how this hasn’t eased pressures or hardships for freelance artists. 

“Imagine the same brutal decisions happening around the kitchen table of every freelance artist in the country. What do they cut from their family budgets all the while hearing how they should come up with ‘creative solutions’ to this crisis, ” Lewis said.

“We applaud the work being done by people around the country to try and provide assistance to artists. We encourage everyone to consider contributing to organisations like the Actors’ Benevolent Fund knowing that assistance is made necessary by the Federal Government’s refusal to reconsider their ‘line in the sand’.”

Queensland Theatre’s call to action comes as the Palaszczuk Government announced today of stART a new grant program to support Queensland’s independent creative artists, producers, designers, technicians and arts workers. stART represents a further $500,000 to its more than $10.5 million initial response to COVID-19 for the arts sector. For Queensland Theatre, this new incentive is welcomed, but a federal response needs to be issued to secure the performing arts industry in Australia.

“It’s literally a stART”, said Lewis. “But this is a national crisis that needs a genuine federal response of scale if we are to prevent a talent haemorrhage the likes of which this country has never seen.”

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