Arts workers missing out on financial support again

Self-employed artists and small companies in Victoria are among thousands of sole traders and contractors currently not eligible for financial assistance from the state government because their income is under $75,000. Ausdance VIC has received many reports of dance artists, dance studios and dance teachers being stranded by the strict eligibility rules.

Victoria’s Treasurer Tim Pallas announced state funding of $450 million dollars in late May and said it was aimed at supporting sole traders and small businesses with grants of up to $2500. However, the eligibility rules mean that businesses that are not registered for GST will miss out.

Sole traders and small businesses with a business turnover of less than $75,000 per annum are not required to register for GST and many dancers, teachers, choreographers and other artists don’t earn enough to qualify.

One North Fitzroy based dance teacher, Nikki told Ausdance VIC she feels “penalised” by the eligibility rules. “I may not be registered for GST but I pay plenty in income tax so I would expect to be included.”

A studio owner in regional Victoria told us, “I can’t do this anymore.” Katie is a sole trader who teaches children and adults in dance fitness and acrobatic skills. “I cannot operate; and there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Teachers are also missing out even though they do not legally need to be registered for GST in order to work. The owner of a dance school in Mordialloc, Steve Kearney told Ausdance VIC it is “manifestly unfair treatment” for dance teachers and “many thousands of creative sole traders.”

Even though some restrictions have been eased in regional Victoria, dance studios remain closed. “I can’t access my studio even for Zoom classes,” says Joanne of Swan Hill. Joanne is now having to refund fees for cancelled classes. “How can I pay rent?” she asks and adds it feels like the government “doesn’t take the dance industry seriously”. “How can you not be serious about bringing joy, dreams, hope, and future goals to those who need it in these uncertain times?” Joanne asked us.

Ausdance VIC does not have all the answers, but we are backing a petition on calling on the Victorian government to remove the GST turnover requirement from its small business and sole trader assistance packages.

The ABC news website is carrying a long-read story on the issue by reporter Yara Murray-Atfield published on 7 June.

There are similar problems with the relief funding package announced by the Commonwealth in the first week of June. Applicants will need to meet a stringent list of eligibility rules in order to apply for a COVID-19 Disaster Payment. The payment is only available if you have missed more than 7 days of work and you cannot access paid leave entitlements through your employer.

For a full rundown of COVID-19 grants and support measures available from the Victorian and Commonwealth governments, visit the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry website.