Art in Times of Emergency — Resources for Australian Creative Practitioners, Part I

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the Australian arts and cultural sector hard. Event cancellations and indefinite venue closures mean disruption to work, creative practices and incomes. The aim of Art in Times of Emergency — Resources for Australian Creative Practitioners is to be a non-exhaustive set of resources providing guidance, tips and links to initiatives that may support you, as workers and organisations, in that sector.

Rebekah Robertson
Mar 16 · 8 min read
anthromorphised rabbit reads a newspaper, despondent

I’ve written this article with creative freelancers in mind — people who have patchwork careers. People completing a combination of limited term contracts, casual jobs, freelancing, gigs, artwork sales and profit-share events. It could also be beneficial for people in the insecure casual workforce or outside of the mainstream economy.

Part I deals with money in the immediate term. How you can access it when you’re facing the breakdown of employment contracts, cancellation of events and the closure of arts-related workplaces. I’ll be covering things from super and insurance to Centrelink benefits, emergency relief, loans and grants.

Subsequent parts will offer an introduction to earning a creative income in isolation, amongst other things.

Insurance

Income Protection Insurance

I wish I could start on a bright note with some positive news and advise that the income protection insurance, often lumped into the premiums of the superannuation accounts held by almost all working Aussies, could kick into effect right about now. Unfortunately not, licensed insurance broker Ahmet Yavuz tells me “income protection insurance held through super [accounts] is designed to replace around 85% of income in the event of partial or total disability, when illnesses like cancer or accidents mean [that you] can’t work”.

The implication: contracts terminated when events, shows and the like are cancelled, is not cause for most income protection policies to kick into effect.

I mention to Ahmet that my research on income protection policies indicates that there can be coverage for redundancies, business bankruptcies and force majeure events — of which the Covid-19 pandemic is one; these aren’t typical policies and “people generally know if they are covered by one of these”. In my view, it is still important for freelancers that can afford this insurance to seriously consider it. If you contract covid-19 and are unable to work during this, bronchitis or any other illness — a claim on the insurance could help.

Tax and Super

Lower your tax estimate to increase your tax flow

A festivals and events professional in my extended network posted on twitter about their current predicament. They were contracted to manage a fairly significant venue at the now-cancelled Melbourne International Comedy Festival, then had a stage management job lined up at the now-cancelled Dark Mofo festival. Two major contracts, that represent up to a quarter of yearly income, evaporated overnight. The I Lost My Gig initiative demonstrates that this is not an isolated story.

I’m going to assume for a second that this fella had the MICF contract lined up as a short-term employee contract and the Dark Mofo on an independent contractor/sole-trader/freelancer arrangement. From this, I know that they have a sole-trader ABN and are probably signed up for quarterly PAYG instalments/IAS for their tax.

Quarterly tax instalments mean you prepay your tax obligation in advance. This is typically estimated from the previous year’s income. If you work in the events industry and have had work opportunities dry up, your quarterly tax payments could be calculated on an inflated income — you might be paying too much tax. If this is you, follow the ATO’s instructions on varying your instalment to pay a more accurate amount of tax and free up some cashflow in the coming months.

Accessing money from your super when things are dire

I’ve gotten a couple of questions about releasing money from super to cover today’s expenses. This is possible in limited circumstances and, contrary to misinformation floating around socials, you can’t take a loan from your super fund and pay it back later. Early release from super is, typically, similar to Income Protection Insurance payouts: on medical grounds.

If you’re facing “severe financial hardship”, you may be able to withdraw some of your super. This is only if you have received eligible government income support continuously for 26 weeks and are unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses. In this case, you can access between $1,000 and $10,000 and it is taxed as a super lump sum.

Centrelink Payments

This isn’t an official resource, so I think I’m allowed to say that the Services Australia (formerly Centrelink) website is a headspin. Don’t get me wrong, the staff members are helpful and knowledgeable — they are just administering an incredibly complex system facing considerable demand.

If you don’t currently receive a Centrelink payment

If you are:

· over 21

· hold Australian citizenship or permanent residence

· have work to return to

· impacted by Covid-19

Then you may be able to access a payment and have the waiting period waived.

When I spoke to a staff member at a Centrelink call centre, I specifically asked if workers employed FOH at venues closed due to static 500+ crowd bans, like Arts Centre Melbourne, Museums Victoria et all, are counted as impacted by Covid-19. The specifics are dependent on individual circumstances and policies are evolving.

If the answer becomes yes, and you meet income and asset requirements, apply for the Sickness Allowance. This provides a temporary allowance to people who have work to return to. The other possibility is the Newstart Allowance. Both payments are for the same amount (up to $604.70 per fortnight), but they have different mutual obligations (conditions and requirements) and the application process is different. There is some fiddliness around income and asset tests, and access to the payments — these, again, are variable and I won’t bombard you.

That $750 bonus stimulus payment

If you’re living in Australia as of 12 March 2020 and receive either Family Tax Benefit A or B, or any other Centrelink or DVA allowance or pension, you’re likely to get the $750 bonus payment. This should be paid out between 31 March and 17 April.

If you do currently receive a Centrelink payment

Proceed as you are. You ought to receive your $750 within the next month, you don’t need to do anything.

If you’re a freelancer whose contracts have disappeared.

According to the Australia Institute and Freelance Jungle’s Rebekah Lambert, you’re in a precarious position. The $17.6 billion business stimulant package isn’t designed with the 1.5 million sole-trader businesses in mind. That said, this has been communicated to the government and your local MP may be advocating for this to be rectified before legislation passes through the lower and upper houses.

Some sole-traders, subject to income and asset tests, may be eligible for Job Seeker’s allowance. Remember Ahmet, the insurance broker I spoke to? In his experience, sole-traders are more likely to have the type of income protection insurance that pays out in force majeure type events. However, this is still fairly uncommon.

Loans, credit and debt relief

I debated including this section, because debt scares me. That, of course, was wildly privileged; weathering a halt in income may only be managed by taking on credit. There are a couple of lower interest ways to do this. For people who are currently repaying debt, like a mortgage or car loan, most providers have hardship stipulations.

The big banks and financial hardship

I only researched the big 4 banks and some other credit unions, they all have teams named ‘financial hardship unit’ or ‘financial difficulty division’. They work with individuals and businesses on a case-by-case basis to design a tailored solution with you. I spoke to Commbank’s Emergency Assistance team and they are considering many covid-19 pandemic related events as eligible for emergency assistance. How this works is on a case by case basis. It might look like a reduction in the minimum payment or temporary suspension of interest. If you foresee troubled times ahead, getting in touch with early intervention teams are beneficial.

Charity NILs Loans

I’ve fielded a question about No Interest Loans — loans up to $1,500 offered through a network of NfP local providers around Australia. These are emergency loans for white goods, medical procedures, car repairs etc. They aren’t designed to help people cover rent or bills, so are unlikely to apply to the majority of people.

Low interest loans and credit cards

I used Finder to search for low interest personal loans and read through the terms and conditions to ascertain which make offers to self-employed or casually employed people. They are out there and exist, the lowest I found were 8.6% for a personal loan and 7.9% for peer to peer lending. I also found that the smaller banks and credit unions had a range of no-frills, lower interest rate credit cards on offer. From my research, the 0% interest rate ones had stricter conditions and reverted to fairly high interest rate.

Charity support and crowdfunding

Creative industries specific support

Support Act is an amazing NfP that punches hard for a little organisation. They exist to support musos and music industry workers experiencing financial strife. You can apply for relief through them. They also have a ‘support a mate’ low-cost crowdfunding platform, it also allows donors to receive a tax-deduction for anything pledged through the platform.

The Actors Benevolent Fund, ditto. If I receive any requests to do a more comprehensive breakdown of charities and NfP support, I’ll do additional research into your Salvos and Vinnies and what not.

Crowdfunding

The comparison website www.crowdfunding.com is a resource available to make a decision. There are too many variables for me to make any determination or recommendation on any one over another.

Grants

If you have received a grant from a funding body, trust or foundation and now query whether you can complete your project- give them a call. I’ve heard about artists and organisations programmed into now-cancelled lineups at Dark Mofo, who have received funding to create and present a world premiere. They’ve had questions around what now happens to th money, often spent.

Now is the time to make a phone call. Staff are knowledgeable and administrative & bureaucratice wizards, they want to work with you.

In Summary

That’s it for Part I for Art in Times of Emergency — Resources for Australian Creative Practitioners. Please share this with your friends, colleagues and contemporaries. I’ll be following up with Part II — tips around designing and delivering creative services online. It could be beneficial for comedians wanting to do stand-up gigs, writers delivering workshops and others.

Peace out buddies!

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