Screen support stalls while RISE funding offers a rare budget positive

No new money is allocated to Screen Australia for the period covered by Budget 2022–2023.
No new money was allocated to Screen Australia for the period of the 2022-2023 Budget. image: Shutterstock

A final $20 million round of Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) funding, announced last Friday, is one of the few positives for the arts sector in the Morrison Government’s 2022-2023 Federal Budget.

Handed down in Canberra last night, the Budget was repeatedly described as an ‘act of political desperation’ by Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers this morning and is being widely reported as an attempt to bribe the electorate in the lead-up to the forthcoming Federal election, the date for which has yet to be announced.

Other than the $20 million encore for RISE, other arts-specific areas of expenditure in the Budget include an extra $9.3 million over two years for the National Museum of Australia to support services impacted by COVID-19, and $9 million in 2021-22 for a second round of the Supporting Cinemas’ Retention Endurance and Enhancement of Neighbourhoods (SCREEN) fund to support independent cinemas affected by the pandemic.  As pointed out today by Esther Anatolitis, though, this means:

‘$9m to Screen Australia in the current financial year for local cinemas – so nothing at all in new money for Screen Australia in the period covered by Budget 2022-23.’

Read more: Temporary measures, uncertain future: Budget 2022-23

The Fund the Arts campaign notes: ‘This is a budget that fails Australian culture, at a time when Federal support and a vision for the future is needed more than ever. There is a tiny $38m in new funding, but overall funding for the Arts portfolio falls by $190m next year, or 19%. The main reason for this is the end of the RISE stimulus program for restarting investment in the sector after COVID …’

A spokesperson for Screen Producers Australia (SPA) said the Budget offered an unsatisfactory ‘business as usual’ approach. 

‘While the Budget figures appear to show a significant drop in funding to Screen Australia from nearly $40 million in 2021-22 to just over $11 million by 2023-24, this figure reflects a return to previous levels of funding for the agency prior to the pandemic. 

‘These Budget figures reflect the cessation of programs that were brought in, in part to smooth industry transition to proposed new arrangements the majority of which have never been fully implemented, as well as temporary pandemic measures.’

A’ review of the funding support needed to maintain and enhance Screen Australia’s objectives is urgently required as well as a fulsome response to the policy settings needed to create valuable and sustainable investment into the sector.’

The spokesperson added: ‘We acknowledge measures such as the second round of the Supporting Cinemas’ Retention Endurance and Enhancement of Neighbourhoods (SCREEN) Fund to support independent cinemas affected by COVID-19 and the extension of the Temporary Interruption Fund for a further six months to 30 June 2022 were already announced by the Minister in December 2021.

‘Our takeaway is that unless a number of reforms are made to the policies that support our sector, this will ultimately lead to the sector’s decline.’

RISE gets a final encore

As previously reported by ArtsHub’s Jo Pickup: ‘While sentiment about RISE has been mixed – some have questioned its adjudication processes, some see it as favouring the bigger players – there is no question the temporary emergency spend on arts projects has been unprecedented.’

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said: ‘We established the RISE Fund to get artists back on stage, organisations back on their feet, and audiences back into their favourite local venues to support Australia’s best and emerging talent.

‘Our $20 million top up of this unparalleled funding brings the Morrison Government’s Creative Economy Support Package to $500 million,’ he said.

Read: Does RISE fund some projects to fail?

To date, RISE has supported 541 projects, created more than 213,000 jobs, and stimulated a two-year pipeline of events that will be seen by around 55 million people across the country, Fletcher noted.

‘This final round of RISE Funding will be allocated in coming months, and a significant number of new projects will be supported around the country,’ he said.

Budget falls short says LPA

Arts and entertainment peak body Live Performance Australia (LPA) said Tuesday night’s Budget falls well short of what is needed to support the industry’s post-COVID recovery.

‘The industry lost $1.4 billion in revenue in 2020, with significant losses in 2021 when our two major markets were locked down. We’ve also lost thousands of people across the industry and now face a severe skill and labour shortage, the worst ever experienced by the industry in living memory,’ said LPA Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson.

‘LPA is calling for support to drive investment and rebuild skills and capacity in the arts and entertainment industry. The current skills shortage is gripping Australian businesses nationally. We are not alone. There needs to be a much greater focus on skills and training with a package that enables industry to provide both traineeships to address critical skills shortages, and short courses for retraining established technicians.

‘We also urgently need to drive investment back into the industry through extended tax incentives, similar to those provided to the screen industry. The investment pipeline has been massively disrupted and we are competing globally for future investment, against markets that offer significant tax incentives, notably the UK and US,’ Richardson said.

LPA once again called on the Commonwealth Government to establish a Live Entertainment Events Insurance Scheme, similar to the scheme made available to the screen industry, in order to offset the ongoing disruption due to infection and isolation of personnel being experienced by the sector.

‘We were disappointed the Budget does not provide more targeted support for those industries trying to rebuild after being disproportionately impacted by COVID,’ said Richardson.

‘Australia needs a vibrant arts and entertainment industry to contribute to our economic recovery and drive social and cultural wellbeing – at a time when it’s never been needed more.

‘Live entertainment events drive visitation across regions and cities, pumping billions of dollars of spending into the economy. Our industry contributed $36.5 billion to Australia’s economy in 2019 and is a key driver of many other sectors, notably hospitality, travel and cultural tourism.

‘Targeted support to rebuild skills, and to underwrite and attract investment will enable us to create jobs, get our people back to work, more shows back on stage, our touring networks re-established, and our audiences back to live events.

‘This will support not just our artists and industry, but all the associated upstream and downstream businesses which depend upon live events as stimulus,’ Richardson concluded.

This is an edited version of an article originally published on ArtsHub.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts