Greens to move to protect arts, entertainment and event industry in Senate

With workers in the arts, entertainment and event industry largely left out of the JobKeeper program despite being one of the hardest hit by the Coronavirus crisis, the Greens will move an amendment to the legislation when it comes before the Senate today to plug these gaps and call for a tailored package for the sector.

“Australia’s arts, creative and entertainment sector has been smashed by COVID-19, with events cancelled, productions closed and projects shut down,” Greens Spokesperson for the Arts and Tourism Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“The Government and Opposition should back the Greens amendment to ensure today’s $130 billion package does not exclude these crucial workers and Australian businesses.

“Leaving our arts and entrainment industry workers out in the cold is not good enough and will have long-term ramifications for Australia’s cultural fabric and international relations and exports.

“The Federal Government has shown a complete lack of understanding about work structures in the arts, entertainment and events industries, which is now to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of workers. Many workers have already lost their entire year’s income with projects shut down.

“The Greens, and industry groups, the union and artists, freelancers and crews have tried to explain the many ways businesses and workers in the sector are excluded by the arbitrary rules in the JobKeeper Program but the government still hasn’t budged.

“It is the nature of the arts, entertainment and events industry and the hospitality and tourism industries that workers are often transient and engaged on short-term contracts, from production to production, festival to festival.

“Even workers on some of Australia’s longest running and most loved TV shows like Neighbours and Wentworth are unable to receive the JobKeeper payment, highlighting that the intent of the Program to keep workers connected with their employers is not being achieved.

“It is unfair to penalise people who work very hard and contribute so much to our economy simply because of their work structure, and this huge flaw should be fixed today.

“The Greens amendment also calls for a tailored package for the arts, entertainment and creatives industry to provide adequate support immediately and to assist recovery after the crisis.

“The Australia Council Four Year Funding for Organisations announcement last week was another big blow for our arts sector at a time when they are already suffering. The funding the Government has cut to Australia Council over many years should be restored and increased to expand access for individuals and organisations to access grants, which will be crucial for recovery of this $112billion sector.

“The Greens are also calling for the establishment of a Content Creator Fund to set aside a grant fund of $50 million each year for the production of local content. This fund will support high quality local content, our creative industry and, importantly, allow Australians to keep telling their own stories. This goes hand-in-hand with the call for local content requirements for broadcast, radio, subscription and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Stan, Apple and Spotify to finally level the playing field.

“The Morrison Government has neglected the arts, entertainment and creative industry for far too long and these support initiatives were needed long before Coronavirus hit, but now they are more important than ever or there might not be an industry left on the other side of this crisis.”

 

The amendment in the name of Senator Hanson-Young

But the Senate is of the opinion that:

1. The arts, entertainment, creative and events industries, and hospitality and tourism industries have been severely hit by this crisis and are not getting adequate support from this Package, and the Senate calls on the Treasurer to ensure the following categories of businesses and workers are able to access the JobKeeper Program:

a) Casual workers who have not been with the same employer for 12 months;

b) Freelance performers, content creators, and crew who are engaged as direct employees on short-term contracts on a project by project basis but are not registered as a business;

c) Businesses that do not have a consistent stream of linear revenue across the year, such as those working on screen and stage productions, festivals and events, and therefore the revenue test is not applicable and should instead be for a comparable period not month;

d) Entities that are established as dedicated Special Purpose Vehicles which is common in the arts, entertainment and events sectors for individual projects, and are unlikely to meet the various tests and requirements therefore excluding many workers.

2. The arts, entertainment and creatives industry needs a tailored package to provide adequate support immediately and to assist recovery after the crisis, and this should include:

a) restoring and increasing Australia Council funding to expand access for individuals and organisations to access grants;

b) establish a Content Creator Fund to set aside a grant fund of $50 million each year for the production of local content. This fund will support high quality local content, our creative industry and, importantly, allow Australians to keep telling their own stories;

c) local content requirements for broadcast, radio, subscription and streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon, Stan, Apple and Spotify.

Greens to back international students in the Senate

Australian Greens Senator for NSW and Education spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi said the Greens would back 565,000 international students by today introducing amendments to make temporary visa holders eligible for the JobKeeper scheme.

Senator Faruqi said:

“Over the last two weeks, I have received hundreds of messages from international students who have lost their jobs and now face an incredibly uncertain future.

“The government has refused to listen to the thousands of international students who have been forced into poverty by this crisis, many of whom are now struggling to pay for food and rent.

“The Greens will move for temporary visa holders including international students to be made eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy today. We call on the Opposition and crossbench members to support this effort to ensure international students are not left destitute.

“We also continue to call for international student access to income support, including the Coronavirus Supplement, and Rent Assistance.

“Platitudes by the government are not going to help international students at this time of need. They need concrete help and financial support to get through this crisis.

“Many international students can no longer rely on family support from their home country, as the pandemic has shut down entire economies and ways of earning a living.

“In other countries like New Zealand and Canada, we’ve seen governments step up to support overseas students during the pandemic. There is no reason why Australia cannot do the same.

“For many years, Australia has benefited enormously from our international student population. Now, as they face an increasingly desperate situation, we must ensure they are supported and taken care of,” she said.

Government Must Extract Housing From The Too-Hard Basket

Australian Greens Senator for NSW and Housing spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi has said that the National Cabinet has manifestly failed to provide any leadership or direction on national housing policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing must be put back on the agenda for a national response.

Senator Faruqi said:

“After weeks of promising more information and direction, the National Cabinet has completely dropped the ball on housing. It must be put back on the agenda and dealt with urgently.

“It smacks of gross incompetence to put housing in the too-hard basket by dismissing it as a state or territory issue. Our response to COVID-19 requires a coordinated national effort.

“It’s revealing that while the National Cabinet has acted so quickly on commercial tenancies, vulnerable people who rent their homes have no clarity on whether their landlord will be allowed to increase their rent next month or evict them as soon as the pandemic is over.

“I urge the National Cabinet to support rental and mortgage holidays, an increase to rent assistance, and boost funding for crisis housing.

“Unemployment is increasing dramatically and the Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper payments are not due to land in bank accounts for weeks. People urgently need clarity and the assurance that they will have their home to live in during these trying times,” she said.

$130 Billion Jobkeeper Payment Passes The Parliament

Today marked one of the most important days in the Parliament’s history with the passage of legislation to support the Morrison Government’s $130 billion JobKeeper Payment.

This unprecedented level of financial support will save millions of jobs and keep families together, businesses in business and preserve the productive capacity of the Australian economy.

The $1,500 per fortnight JobKeeper payment is the equivalent of about 70 per cent of the median wage and represents about 100 per cent of the median wage in some of the most heavily affected sectors, such as retail, hospitality and tourism.

It will be available to full-time and part-time workers, sole traders and casuals who have been with their employer for 12 months or more. Importantly, it will apply to the many Australians working in the not for profit sector.

Combined with the Government’s previous actions, this totals $320 billion or 16.4 per cent of GDP in economic support to Australian businesses, households and individuals affected by the Coronavirus puts Australia in the best possible position to bounce back stronger than ever.

Eligible businesses can apply for the payment online and are able to register their interest via ato.gov.au

AAA Credit Rating Reaffirmed By S&P

Australia’s AAA credit rating has been reaffirmed by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) in an expression of confidence in the Morrison Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and our record of prudent economic and fiscal management.

In its report, S&P notes that Australia’s “strong fiscal performance remains a credit strength” and that “while fiscal stimulus measures will soften the blow presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and weigh heavily on public finances in the immediate future, they won’t structurally weaken Australia’s fiscal position. This expected improvement is a key supporting factor of our ‘AAA’ rating.”

Today’s report confirms Australia as one of only 10 countries which has a AAA credit rating with all three major ratings agencies.

However S&P also recognised that “the COVID-19 outbreak has dealt Australia a severe economic and fiscal shock” and has put our AAA rating on a negative outlook which is defined as a one third probability of a downgrade over the next two years.

The Morrison Government has taken decisive action to protect Australians and the economy from the effects of the coronavirus, with Government support for the economy totalling $320 billion or 16.4 per cent of GDP.

This unprecedented level of support reflects the unprecedented moment that we find ourselves in.

S&P’s action today, in reaffirming our AAA rating, is a reminder of the importance of maintaining our commitment to medium term fiscal sustainability.

Our disciplined economic and budget management, which saw the Federal Budget return to balance for the first time in 11 years, meant the Budget as noted by S&P “was on track to achieve a surplus in fiscal 2021 before the COVID-19 outbreak”.

Our measures are temporary, targeted and proportionate to the challenge we face and will ensure Australia bounces back stronger on the other side, without undermining the structural integrity of the Budget which Australians have worked so hard to restore.

Securing the Essentials for Remote Communities

Ensuring a reliable supply of essential goods, groceries, pharmaceuticals and other critical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic is a high priority for the Australian Government.

The Australian Government is working in close collaboration with states and territories under the National Cabinet mechanism to coordinate responses in a range of sectors. Groceries and food security is one of the priority groups under this mechanism.

Today I will host a roundtable discussion with Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, the Hon Michael Gunner and representatives from the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA), Islanders Board of Industry and Service (IBIS), Outback Stores, Coles, Woolworths and Metcash. This is part of my ongoing engagement with Ministers from all jurisdictions.

To support this work, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) – has established a dedicated Food Security Working Group that is closely monitoring specific issues that are particular to regional and remote Australia.

Delivery of food and essential supplies is an exempt category from the travel restrictions to remote areas and so will continue as normal.

People can move within designated biosecurity areas, but if they leave and want to come back, they will need to isolate themselves for 14 days.

Travelling to other towns and cities could increase the chance of you and your family getting sick and so we are encouraging people to remain in their community.

The safest place for you and your family is in your own community.

There is no need for people in remote communities to stock-up or hoard supplies and we need the community’s help to resist the panic buying we’ve seen in urban areas.

I am aware of some community stores not receiving their full order and a limited number of stores having stock issues. This is something that all Australians are experiencing to some extent.

People can expect some pressure on stock levels for a couple of weeks, but we are doing everything we can to resolve those issues as they develop.

Communities can help:

  • We need community support to make sure we don’t run out of supplies.
  • Please don’t panic buy or stock up on groceries more than normal.
  • Deliveries will continue and there will be enough groceries for everyone if we each only buy what we need.

Update on Coronavirus Measures

Australian governments met today as the National Cabinet to take further action to slow the spread of coronavirus to save lives, and to save livelihoods.

We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow the spread of this virus must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives.

We need to ensure Australia keeps functioning, to keep Australians in jobs.

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway on the latest data and medical advice in relation to coronavirus.

There are more than 5,800 confirmed cases in Australia, and more than 2,400 people have recovered from the virus. Sadly 44 people have died.

Testing keeps Australians safe. Australia has one of the most rigorous coronavirus testing systems in the world with more than 304,000 tests completed.

It is clear the epidemiology curve is beginning to flatten. But it is still too early to determine whether such movements will be significant or sustained. That’s why it’s important that all Australians continue to adhere to the social distancing measures.

Many Australians have been looking forward to an Easter holiday. National Cabinet reiterated previous advice that social distancing must continue and that Australians should stay at home and not undertake unnecessary holiday travel.

Leaders thanked all Australians who have acted responsibly and have been undertaking social distancing and isolation measures.

National Cabinet reiterated that social distancing is slowing the spread of the virus in Australia. These measures are saving lives and livelihoods. National Cabinet reminded Australians that social distancing must continue at Easter and agreed that Australians should stay at home this Easter and not undertake unnecessary holiday travel.

National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday 9 April 2020.

Commercial Tenancies

The National Cabinet agreed that states and territories would implement the attached mandatory Code of Conduct (the Code), including via legislation or regulation as appropriate, to implement the principles agreed on Friday 3 April. The Code builds on the draft codes submitted by landlord and tenant representative bodies in the commercial property sector.

The purpose of the Code is to impose a set of good faith leasing principles for application to commercial tenancies (including retail, office and industrial) between owners/operators/other landlords and tenants, in circumstances where the tenant is a small-medium sized business (annual turnover of up to $50 million) and is an eligible business for the purpose of the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper programme.

National Cabinet agreed that there would be a proportionality to rent reductions based on the tenant’s decline in turnover to ensure that the burden is shared between landlords and tenants. The Code provides a proportionate and measured burden share between the two parties while still allowing tenants and landlords to agree to tailored, bespoke and appropriate temporary arrangements that take account of their particular circumstances.

National Cabinet again noted that it expects Australian and foreign banks along with other financial institutions operating in Australia, to support landlords and tenants with appropriate flexibility as they work to implement the mandatory Code.

The Commonwealth Government is also acting as a model landlord by waiving rents for all its small and medium enterprises and not-for-profit tenants within its owned and leased property across Australia.

The Rent Relief Policy will include a mutual obligation requirement on the small and medium sized enterprises and not-for-profit tenants to continue to engage their employees through the JobKeeper initiative where eligible, and if applicable, provide rent relief to their subtenants.

Impact of coronavirus – Theoretical modelling of how the health system can respond

Australia has a world class health system, including an Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus Management Plan. The Plan includes modelling of possible scenarios of coronavirus spreading through Australia. This informs the actions taken to slow the spread and prepare the health system.

Today National Cabinet released the first set of theoretical scenario modelling undertaken to inform how Australia is preparing our health system, including our Intensive Care Units (ICUs), for coronavirus. A summary of the modelling is attached, and the modellers will release a technical paper on the data today.

National Cabinet noted that the hypothetical scenarios were commissioned in early February, when the outbreak began and prior to National Cabinet implementing measures to reduce transmission and flatten the curve including through travel restrictions and social isolation.

National Cabinet noted that the modelling is a useful tool but it does not predict the future. In the real world, we can adjust restrictions as the outbreak evolves to manage the length of the outbreak.

What the modelling has done and continues to do, is to inform Australian governments and medical experts so we can take actions to slow the spread of coronavirus and ensure our health system is prepared under a range of scenarios.

National Cabinet noted that early data suggests the existing measures in Australia are flattening the curve to a point where the health system can meet expected demand. So far only 8 percent of cases in Australia have required hospitalisation and ICU.

While the modelling does not show how the virus will move through our community, it tells us some important things including that we would have been overwhelmed if we had not reduced the number of travellers and introduced public health measures.

The modelling does not reflect the actual recent evidence of the spread of the virus in Australia and measures that the National Cabinet has announced to slow the spread of the virus.

National Cabinet will commission a next phase of the modelling that will put Australian data into the model and see how it aligns to our actual experience. This has not been an option to date given the relatively small amount of data available on community transmission of the virus in Australia. As more ‘real’ data is put into the model its accuracy improves. National Cabinet has requested the first results of this modelling include state and territory breakdowns to reflect the different stages of coronavirus transmission by jurisdiction.

The theoretical scenario modelling by the University of Melbourne (Doherty Institute) Pandemic Modelling Team finds an uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic would overwhelm our health system for many weeks. Around 89 per cent of people would catch the virus, with 38 percent requiring some medical care. ICUs would be well beyond capacity for a prolonged period.

Quarantine and isolation slow the rate of transmission. This flattens the epidemiological curve. It reduces the proportion of people who would catch the virus to 68 percent, and those needing medical care to 29 percent. While this reduces the peak demand on ICUs, the modelled expanded ICU capacity would not be enough for several weeks.

Social distancing makes it harder for the virus to spread and reduces the proportion of people infected. The modellers have looked at two levels of social distancing. With a 25 percent reduction in transmission due to social distancing, the proportion of people infected would be 38 percent with 16 percent requiring some medical care.

With a 33 per cent reduction in transmission due to social distancing, the proportion of people infected is 12 percent and only 5 percent require some medical care.

The modelling confirms that with social distancing and an expansion in ICU capacity, everyone who needs an ICU bed over the course of the pandemic could access one.

The modelling parameters further show the severity of coronavirus on different age groups based on hospitalisation and ICU admission. The results for aged groups vary significantly with the rate of hospitalisation for cases under 20 years at 0.62 percent and negligible ICU needs. For older people, coronavirus has more severe impacts with 35.8 percent of cases requiring hospitalisation for those between 70 and 79 year olds and 65.9 percent of cases for over 80 year olds.

Unlike many countries, we have an opportunity in Australia to choose how to respond from a position of relative control. We can tailor our interventions to gain the most benefit and minimise the cost to society.

AHPPC Advice

National Cabinet noted the AHPPC advice on the use of Off-label Medicines for Treatment and Prophylaxis of coronavirus; Healthcare Worker Use of PPE When Caring for Suspected or Confirmed coronavirus Patients; Home Isolation; Organ Donation and Transplantation during the coronavirus Pandemic; and Rapid Point of Care Lateral Flow Devices to Detect Antibodies to SARS-COV-2.

More funds and big tech regulation needed to save public interest journalism

The release of funding for regional media outlets is welcome but much more than $5million is needed and big tech must be forced to pay for content if public interest journalism is going to survive, the Greens say.
The Greens have been calling on Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to use the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund to support struggling regional media outlets who’ve been pushed to the brink with COVID-19.
Greens Spokesperson for Media Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said:
“The release of funding from the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund is welcome but $5million is not enough.
“Regional newspapers have already closed their doors across the country and many more are heading towards the same fate. The Minister needs to explain whether those who have already shut will be funded to restart their presses, and who will be eligible and how much can they receive?
“It seems the Minister has expanded the eligibility criteria yet hasn’t released all of the Fund or put additional money towards it, he should do that immediately or explain why he won’t.
“COVID-19 is the straw that’s broken the camel’s back, it isn’t the cause of the struggles of public interest journalism.
“Big tech like Facebook and Google have been ripping off small players and individual journalists for too long and they must be regulated better.
“Minister Fletcher needs to act on the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry recommendations now. Waiting until November for tech giants and media companies to reach a deal will mean more news outlets hit the wall.
“The Government needs to step in now and force big tech to pay for the content they use. It’s time big tech played fair, that’s what will really help keep Australian journalists in their jobs.
“The Government must also reverse its cuts to the ABC. The public broadcaster has doubled its audience in the last month and is the only news source in many regional areas and will increasingly be so in more locations if the media landscape in Australia isn’t urgently reformed.
“Strong media and journalism is vital for a robust democracy especially at a time when there is unprecedented power being exceeded by Government in the midst of this global pandemic.”

Arts, entertainment and creative industry left behind without changes to JobKeeper

The Morrison Government’s refusal to change the JobKeeper program to include more casuals will leave workers in the arts, entertainment and creative industry behind and jeopardise the recovery of the sector after COVID-19, the Greens say.
Greens Spokesperson for the Arts Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Government was being wilfully ignorant to how the sector operates and its work structures.

“The Morrison Government needs to wake up to the value of the arts, not only for cultural and social cohesion purposes, but the $112billion it contributes to our economy each year,” she said.

“Workers in the arts, entertainment and creative industry should be valued the same as any other worker entitled to the JobKeeper payment.

“Under the proposed rules, freelancers who are commonly paid on short-term contracts and don’t have an ABN, and casuals employed for less than 12 months will miss out.

“Many hospitality and tourism workers will be in the same boat and these are industries that will also be dependent on the arts and entertainment industry for recovery.

“I urge the Government to fix this before Parliament sits on Wednesday, for the sake of hundreds of thousands of workers who will otherwise be very unfairly left behind.”

CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE: LABOR BACKS THE RIGHT DECISION

There is no rule book showing how to lead a nation through a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing we have experienced in our lives has presented such a profound challenge to our health, our economy and our way of life.

Throughout the crisis, the Labor Party has taken a constructive approach and looked for solutions, not arguments. We have and will continue to advocate in the national interest, not partisan interests.

Our aim is to help the government get the response right to save lives and protect jobs. We must carry our nation through this crisis swiftly, minimising the health impact so we can get businesses running and Australians back to work.

Then we will start the Herculean task of rebuilding our nation.

But right now, our priority is our people — their health, wellbeing and standard of living.

When the government makes the right decisions, Labor will back it, just as we did when we voted to fast-track the first economic stimulus package through parliament in a single day.

But if we believe the government has made the wrong call, such as acting too slowly on health responses and economic support, or sending Australians confused messages on social distancing, we will say so.

This is not a time for politics, but it is a time for good ideas — and no political party has a monopoly on good ideas. That’s a key element of a pluralist democracy, which should be cherished, not dismissed.

 

That is why, where Labor has seen gaps in the government’s response to the crisis, we have offered constructive suggestions.

Last week the government accepted Labor’s suggestion that where one half of a couple lost his or her job, the income threshold at which they would be eligible for assistance based on the income of their partner should increase from the current level of $48,000.

The new threshold of $79,000 will deliver relief to hundreds of thousands of low- to middle-income earners — nurses, teachers, police and aged-care workers, who would have otherwise missed out.

Likewise, Labor heard the pleas of renters worried about how to keep a roof over their heads and suggested a moratorium on residential property evictions, as well as measures to give landlords interest relief from banks on properties where their tenants have no income.

The government has embraced these measures.

Likewise, Labor advocated greater use of telehealth under Medicare after our offices were flooded with calls from older Australians worried about whether it was safe to go to their local GP.

The government again took on the advice, as it did with our concerns about the need for a boost in support for mental health services, our call to extend the COVID-19 supplement for Newstart recipients to include 230,000 students and young people and our suggestions for action on childcare.

Labor MPs have also heard from thousands of business owners who told us they did not want to have to lay off their staff.

That’s why Labor, unions and business argued for wage subsidies to keep people in work and ensure there was an ongoing relationship between workers and their employers.

After initially rejecting this idea as impractical, the government has announced its $750-a-week JobKeeper allowance. This will help the nation emerge from this crisis with a capacity to rebuild the economy more quickly.

The government deserves credit for listening to good ideas and turning them into good policy.

Labor supports the JobKeeper allowance, although we are discussing with the government ways to ensure that casuals who have been displaced by the health crisis and migrant and visa holders do not get left behind.

We are also yet to be convinced that changes to the Fair Work Act are necessary, given that wholesale change could cause unintended consequences given widespread differences in industrial awards.

Perhaps a better approach is through the Fair Work Commission, a process that has begun and should be consistent with the way employers and the trade union movement have been working together during this period.

I am sure with goodwill these issues can be worked through.

Labor is concerned that Australians should have to dip into their superannuation savings at this difficult time because it will reduce their future retirement incomes. And it would happen at a time when superannuation balances are relatively low because of the decline on stockmarkets.

Labor has also expressed concern that there were no health checks such as heat-testing for international arrivals at our airports until recently and that cruise passengers on the Ruby Princess were allowed to disperse around the country with disastrous consequences.

We also maintain the payments and investments to stimulate the economy and support people and businesses should flow as soon as possible.

As people queuing up at the Centrelink in my electorate have told me, people are out of work now and they need help now, not weeks into the future.

Some suggest the best response to the COVID-19 crisis is to balance our efforts to eradicate COVID-19 against the health of our economy, but I reject that as a false dichotomy.

The social-distancing measures are difficult but necessary and Australians are showing tremendous discipline and care for others in their compliance.

The best plan for our economy is to beat the spread of the disease and minimise the number of infections. If we think we will be doing something a week from now, unless there is a good reason, we should do it today.

On both health and economic responses, prevention is better than cure.