No hope of help

In politics, some things are accidental. Some only start that way.

Perhaps when they began designing JobKeeper, the government couldn’t remember what casual work entailed. Perhaps they simply forgot there were migrants here on temporary visas. It is only a million or so people between the two groups.

Certainly, they could not have intended for the program to cover priests. If the program was to prevent sackings, the government was indifferent to the church’s record.

The drafting was vague, also, on whether the diocese could ask for half the wage back – to “assist with future payments and the balance sheet”.

As a senior Catholic Church employee told the ABC: “For the church to use these funds in this way, while so many others in their community are excluded from JobKeeper or are seriously struggling financially at the moment, is simply shocking.”

These things look like accidents, until they’re not.

The decision to exclude universities from the scheme was deliberate. It is hard not to imagine the enmity at the root of this.

It’s less than two years since the Morrison government cut $328.5 million from research funding for universities. According to some figures, the money for research and development is at its lowest in 40 years. Sometimes accidents are convenient.

Although a package is lately touted for the arts, the decision to starve the sector for three months was also deliberate. The government rejected calls for assistance. When JobKeeper came in at half its budget, they rejected them again.

This is the same government that tried to destroy the Australia Council, that cut funding to individuals and chipped away at national institutions with a series of specious efficiencies. The culture is stricken, and the government does not care.

Some arts companies could still fail, especially mid-sized ones – the ones where more radical work might be shown. Some artists will simply have stopped making art. The starving artist will have become starved.

These things might look like accidents, except that they are not. Why would a government that disdains experts want to fund their work when a shutdown could simply end it? Why would a politics that defies parody want to put money in the theatre?

Australia has been in a stubborn, decades-long culture war. This pandemic has been a Russian winter for the right. The true damage will not be known for years.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 20, 2020 as "No hope of help".

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