He later told the ABC the “combined impact of JobKeeper and JobSeeker coming into the arts sector … will be between $4 billion and $10 billion”.

But the emails show Mr Fletcher’s office was repeatedly told the arts sector employed 57,477 people. Instead, it calculated the value of JobKeeper and JobSeeker based on 800,000 employees in the “creative and cultural sector” – including industries such as printing, broadcasting, design and fashion. From that number his office estimated JobKeeper and JobSeeker were worth $4.5 billion to $14 billion in “total support to the arts” over six months.

The government has since stopped using these figures, referring instead to “$100 million per month” going to the arts sector through JobKeeper and other assistance.

A spokesman for Mr Fletcher said the minister had not overstated the figures, as it was entirely appropriate to gauge the potential scale of JobKeeper, JobSeeker and other support measures by looking at the whole cultural and creative sector. Subsequent analysis had proven up to 90 per cent of that workforce was eligible for JobKeeper, he said.

Paul Murphy, chief executive of arts union the MEAA, which put in the freedom of information request, said the emails showed Mr Fletcher had “massively overstated” the level of support JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs gave to the arts and entertainment sectors, and “he based his estimates on guesswork that he was cautioned against”.

In late March the minister’s office asked senior bureaucrats for an “estimated value of the government’s COVID-19 supports announced to date to the arts sector”, including JobKeeper.


But the office was told there was “no sufficiently detailed data [or] modelling” to do this. Caroline Fulton, first assistant secretary in the Office for the Arts, wrote that “of the 800,000 jobs stated that are employed in the broader creative and cultural industries the museums, creative arts and performing arts sectors make up the smaller 60,000 figure. Of that, around 40 per cent could be casual but potentially long-term casual. We don’t know. Because this is so complex and we are concerned that we could give the minister incorrect figures … [redacted].”

A later email, from a bureaucrat whose name was redacted from the released document, warned “essentially my biggest concern is around the proportions used for casuals in the arts sector” in the estimates.

Most of the emails provided to the MEAA were heavily redacted, which a spokesman said was “incredibly frustrating” and probably intended “to save the minister further embarrassment”.

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