Guy Sebastian admits he was ‘used as a prop’ by the Federal Government in bungled arts package rollout
“I’d rung all my muso friends, asked for their suggestions, and I relayed them on that Zoom call to the Prime Minister,” Sebastian told the Herald Sun.
“I’ve asked for updates, everything they gave me was about the RISE grant and things have been allocated to Support Act. But no one seems to have followed through on their words or had any plans for insurance for people putting on musicals or concerts. It’s not working, obviously.”
Sebastian infamously stood beside Morrison as the PM announced the $250 million arts fund in June last year, which was intended to support the arts sector during the brunt of the pandemic.
However, the package was heavily criticised by industry figures for its inadequate size and poor rollout, with no businesses in the music industry having received funding support from the package as of October 2020.
The Government would later expand the Arts & Entertainment Package, of which $75 million was initially set aside for the live industry, as part of the RISE Fund extension this March, with Arts Minister Paul Fletcher saying that the package has now increased to $430 million.
The inaugural Australian Idol champion and host of The Voice Australia said that the backlash he received from his peers for appearing with Morrison was “fair enough”, admitting that he was blindsided by the nature of the relief package.
“I copped it, because I was trying to support something I believed would make a difference. And it hasn’t, so that’s on me,” Sebastian said of the criticism he received.
“I made that decision, I’ll cop it, that’s fair enough. But it doesn’t mean I agree with how it’s been rolled out, I think it’s dismal.
“I’m embarrassed that I was used as a prop to push something that to be honest they haven’t done the due diligence on to make sure it’s actually getting to the people that need it. It was just a box that was ticked.”
Sebastian also used the opportunity to call for fairer treatment of the music industry as it continues to grapple with the fallout from COVID-19.
“For some reason the arts industry hasn’t been treated like a normal industry. I’m a massive sports head, I’m obsessed with sport, I love my AFL and my cricket. So you can’t go and watch a live show but my little brother played footy on Saturday. 40 people on the field sweating on each other, tackling each other, spectators shoulder to shoulder. They get to the end of the game and go ‘Don’t sing the team song’ because singing is apparently unsafe,” he lamented.
“During this pandemic people in the arts have been made to feel like our jobs aren’t real jobs. They’re not worth considering our industry as something worth taking a risk on. But you can go and watch a football match but you can’t watch a stage where everyone is naturally socially distancing because they’re in a bloody band. They’re not sweating next to each other and touching each other. We can go on walks where everyone is passing each other by a metre, but if you sing on stage to people 30 metres away they’re going to catch COVID. It’s a mess.”
He also said he’d get the vaccine as soon as he was eligible and able.
Paul Murphy, chief executive of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), also lamented that support for the sector was “woefully inadequate and too slow coming” – particularly in light of many industry participants being ineligible for JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments last year.
“The only conclusion that can be drawn from the Morrison Government’s poor response is that it does not understand the nature of employment in the arts sector, and it does not value the enormous contribution the sector makes,” he said.