Speech: Support the Arts
In lockdown, which many of us are in at the moment and some of us have been through for a long time, it's the arts that have got many people through. It's been the things we've watched and the things we've listened to that have got us through. We all take it for granted that we can sit there and open up ABC iview or binge on whatever streaming service we like. We all take it for granted that we can enjoy ourselves and pass the time with the arts during these very difficult times. But the arts need our support. If they're going to be there for us, we need to be there for them.
What we've seen instead from this government, especially during the course of the pandemic, is bringing the arts sector to its knees. We saw that with the exclusion of so many casual workers from the original round of JobKeeper, a wage subsidy which the Greens were the first party to call for. We saw the government completely decimate a whole group of people simply because they happened to be employed as casual workers. In my area of Melbourne, a big part of our economy is heavily reliant on people getting together to enjoy themselves. We've got a visitor economy but we've also got an event economy. Many of the people who work for the comedy festival, the arts festival or the international film festival are employed on a casual basis. They do it from year to year. This is the thing I think the government doesn't quite get. Arts isn't just about people who make something that appears on TV, or a piece of music or an artwork—it's all of the people who work around them to make it happen.
When those events had to be cancelled—many are still being cancelled in Melbourne at the moment—a lot of people were out of work. A sector that is helping us get through the crisis by providing the entertainment and distraction that so many of us need got next to no support from the government. In fact, so many of those people who made their whole living based on working in connection with the festivals, which up till now had been a regular part of every year that you could plan your year around, all of a sudden found themselves with nothing. In many instances, the government wouldn't even give them JobKeeper. It wouldn't even give them JobKeeper. Many businesses in the arts sector found it incredibly difficult to support their staff and even continue to get by. We had to push and push and push the cause of the arts with this government to get minimal support for sectors of the arts and creative industry.
What became apparent in the course of the pandemic—because it reveals the cracks already underlying society—is that the government is actually quite hostile to an understanding of a certain sector of the arts, just like it is with education. That is why it excluded so many people in the education and creative sectors from JobKeeper and from any kind of support. It's why, even now with this bill, the government is coming back again with another attack. What it wanted to do is say, 'We're going to provide some support to film and television, and we're going to increase the support that's available to television.' That's something we would welcome, because we have been fighting for it for a very long time. But, of course, the government can't give with one hand without taking away with the other. So it announced that it was going to increase the TV offset by harmonising it with the film offset, by reducing the film offset from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. Whenever the government says, 'We're going to do something that is helping a sector,' you have to look pretty closely. You didn't even have to look at the fine print for this one to see that—in the middle of a pandemic, at a time when the industry was already doing it tough in ways that I've just explained, including in areas like TV and film—the government came and said, 'We want to cut support for you even further.' We fought them off on film and we won. But there are other measures in this bill which again betray the government's hostility towards the arts and the creative sector.
The increase of the minimum expenditure threshold for a production to be eligible from $500,000 to $1 million will have a huge impact on the sector in Australia, including in Melbourne and Victoria, where we are fortunate to be housing so many people associated with the sector, not only actors but also production staff and all the way through the chain. At a time when the industry, which employs so many people, is trying to get back on its feet, why would you want to cut support? Why would you want to cut support to independent films and documentaries that are making sure that we can tell stories about ourselves to ourselves, that we can tell Australian stories to people in this country? This is the level at which it happens, and yet it's not as if the government is short of a quid when it comes to handing out money to support certain sectors. There were tens of billions of dollars available for big corporations and billionaires who didn't need it. Gerry Harvey was quite happy to be sucking at the public teat and getting JobKeeper from this government, and then he went on to make record profits off the back of public support.
You may know this, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, but many people wouldn't: if you go and put petrol in your car to fill up, you pay 40-odd cents a litre in tax. But when Gina Rinehart and her big mining companies go and put diesel in their trucks, they pay the tax and then, at the end of every year, the public writes them a great big refund cheque. So the public are paying for their petrol tax twice: they're paying when they go and fill up themselves and they're paying so that Gina Rinehart can have tax-free diesel, cheap diesel. Clive Palmer and all of the other billionaires on their mining sites get cheap petrol, which is subsidised by the Australian public. The government is prepared to give $8 billion a year in the fuel tax credit.
This is very sensitive for the government. They're interjecting, defending Gina Rinehart and defending Clive Palmer because they know they are willing to write cheques for billions of dollars a year to support the fossil fuel industry. We're very happy to have that diesel fuel rebate going to farmers because they are doing it tough. But why do big mining corporations need to be subsidised by the public to buy cheap fuel? At the same time as the government comes in here with a bill that says we are going to cut funding from the creative and film sector, they say, 'We can find billions of dollars in the kitty to take from the public to help Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer buy cheap diesel for their mining trucks.' At this time of climate crisis, when we're looking for ways to make our economy lower emissions, the government says, 'We will spend billions of dollars a year to subsidise the big coal and gas corporations, but we're going to cut money from the creative sector.' That is what this government is about. It is all about priorities, and the priorities of this government are to be nothing more than a bunch of corporate shields for the big coal and gas corporations, many of which make donations to this government.
What is even worse is that at the time that the government comes along and says, 'We've got to cut money going to the creative sector,' they will give billions to the coal and gas corporations, and these coal and gas corporations don't even pay tax. The biggest gas corporations between them brought in $55 billion a year in income in the last recorded year. Do you know how much tax they paid? Zero—zero dollars tax. The government then has the gall to say, 'Not only will we make you pay no tax, but can we give you a handout as well?' But then the government says: 'I'm sorry, there's not enough money for film and television to give them the kind of support they need. There's not enough money for the arts sector to give them the support they need. There's not enough money for education to give them the support they need.' That is because this government does nothing more than the bidding of the coal and gas corporations while everyone else can go hang.
I would have thought, during a pandemic, that the thing to do would be to create employment, and you don't create employment by pulling the rug out from under the creative sector. A job working in the arts should be treated just as importantly by this government as a job in the mines, but it's not—the government does not treat it as importantly. The government says, 'If you're working in the creative sector or you're working in the education sector, you're fair game—we're coming after you.' This government says that they're all about business but they're only for a certain kind of business, and if you happen to work in the arts and creative sector then the government is coming after you.
We see this time and time again. They love to get the photo op with the big Hollywood stars but one-off support to big productions is not the same as systemic support for the screen industry. That's what we need: we need systemic support for the screen industry. Australian audiences deserve to see stories on their screens that reflect the diversity of our community. We need a strong local screen industry to tell our stories. The next step to provide that kind of systemic support and to protect the local industry must be to legislate local content quotas for streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Stan. We need to do that; that has to be the next step.
The Greens have been fighting for the arts and entertainment workers throughout the pandemic. We are also fighting for an arts insurance scheme to underwrite live events that may need to be cancelled due to COVID. But, to conclude, again this government says they're coming along and providing support, but they can't provide support at the same time on one hand without cutting it and taking it with the other. So we will seek to amend this legislation in the Senate so that we can start to provide the kind of support, ongoing and secure, that our creative sectors need.