New documents confirm government has exaggerated its COVID-19 support for the arts
Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has massively overstated the level of support provided to the arts and entertainment sectors by the Federal Government during the coronavirus pandemic, newly released documents confirm.
Details obtained under a Freedom of Information request show that the estimate of upwards of $4 billion was based on highly questionable modelling, and the true value of the support provided is likely to be a fraction of that amount.
The email correspondence shows that in days after the announcement of the JobKeeper scheme in late March, advisers in Mr Fletcher’s office desperately tried to conjure up a headline grabbing figure about the size of the government’s support for the arts sector.
Mr Fletcher was repeatedly warned by public servants that the figures could be incorrect, but pressed ahead with releasing them anyway.
MEAA Chief Executive Paul Murphy said the email correspondence shows the government has been exaggerating the level of support it is providing.
“The Minister has been misleading the arts and entertainment community from day one. The real level of support to arts and entertainment workers is just a fraction of the $4 billion to $10 billion he has been claiming.
“Not only did Mr Fletcher’s office pressure senior public servants to provide unrealistic and misleading data, but there were methodological errors across the board that led to heroic assumptions about JobKeeper.
“The Minister’s public statements give ‘back of the envelope’ calculations a bad name. He repeatedly used inflated figures about the scope of the arts sector and he based his estimates on guesswork that he was cautioned against using without further due diligence.”
In one email on March 31, a bureaucrat admitted “there is no sufficiently detailed data/modelling to estimate the overall $ value of the JobKeeper payment”. The same bureaucrat warned that the lack of firm data meant “we are concerned that we could give the Minister incorrect figures”.
The documents also reveal that the Minister used data that was exaggerated, inaccurate or unreliable to arrive at the $4 billion to $10 billion figure, including overestimating the number of employees and the economic value of the sector. Elsewhere, the public service raised concerns about over-estimating the number of casual employees who would be eligible for JobKeeper.
Yet two days later, Mr Fletcher issued a media statement in which he claimed “total support to the sector could be in the billions”.
Mr Fletcher’s office continued to pressure public servants to devise a figure the Minister could spin to the public. Throughout May he maintained the combined impact of JobKeeper and JobSeeker coming into the arts sector would be between $4 billion and $10 billion – even after Treasury admitted miscalculating the impact of JobKeeper by $60 billion.
“In contrast to Mr Fletcher’s spin, the reality is that government support to workers in the arts and entertainment sectors has been a case of too little, too late,” Mr Murphy said.
“Last week’s ABS payroll data shows that the decline of jobs in the arts and recreation sector since mid-March of 18.1% is three times the all industries average and second only to accommodation and food services. It is likely that this data actually understates the full extent of the industry’s jobs crisis given that a large proportion of the workforce is not on payroll.
“Despite the $250 million arts industry package announced last month, the picture has only got grimmer for the sector with Melbourne returning to a full lockdown which will keep arts and live performance venues and screen productions closed for many more weeks, and the real risk that the same fate could befall Sydney.”