Advocating to Recognise Art as Work: Centrelink Win

After years of lobbying, NAVA Members secure the recognition of professional arts activity undertaken to meet Centrelink’s mutual obligation requirements.

For more than twenty years, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has been at the forefront of advocating for Centrelink to officially recognise art as real work.

Part-time workers or freelancers in the arts sector who receive JobSeeker payments are required to meet mutual obligations through job searches and participating in Workforce Australia programs. Workforce Australia’s Points Based Activation System (Pbas) requires jobseekers to earn 100 points through a range of activities to keep their payments.

NAVA achieved a sector win in April 2023 when Workforce Australia expanded the recognition of professional arts activities undertaken by Australian freelance and part-time workers to meet mutual obligation requirements.

Although NAVA has also long voiced opposition to the onerous and punitive mutual obligations system, the recent recognition of art as a form of employment-seeking activity is a win for the thousands of visual artists and arts workers who rely on income support between projects and jobs.

Part-time workers and freelancers in the creative sector who receive Australian Government income support payments may now log work undertaken as an artist or arts worker to meet their obligations. This includes applying for a grant, submitting an application for an exhibition, meeting a curator about commissioned artwork, or volunteering at a gallery.

Workforce Australia developed a fact sheet with practical guidance to help artists and creative workers meet these requirements. The guide covers various aspects of irregular and freelance work, including visual arts, photography, design, writing, and tutoring. Self-Employment Assistance is also available for artists and arts workers to set up and maintain a business, undertake business training, or seek advice. 

This shift in policy acknowledges that professional visual artists and craft and design practitioners actively seek employment-like opportunities in various forms and from a wide variety of sources. It not only validates the contributions of artists but also streamlines the process of meeting their mutual obligations without diverting them into doing work that has little to no relevance to their career intentions.

Centrelink’s limited recognition of the distinctive nature of a profession in the visual arts has long been a barrier for artists and arts workers seeking income support. To satisfy Centrelink's mutual obligation requirements, artists have been directed into seeking unrelated work or programs, diverting them from the pursuit of professional visual arts, craft, and design practices and careers. As such, artists were burdened with twice the amount of work and administration.

In January 2023, NAVA was pleased to see a commitment in the Government’s National Cultural Policy—Revive to develop information about the flexibility available for artists to be looking for work or working in the creative arts sector, and to have this recognised as part of their mutual obligation requirements for unemployment payments.

NAVA’s submission in February 2023 to the Inquiry into Workforce Australia Employment Services highlighted ongoing issues with the existing points system, which until recently, failed to encompass the majority of work in the visual arts, craft, and design sector. NAVA made two significant recommendations for Centrelink:

  1. Recognise the professional work undertaken by visual artists and arts workers as employment-seeking activities. 
  2. Adopt an averaging process for income from artists’ fees and awards similar to how the ATO handles this type of income under the Tax Ruling: carrying on business as a professional artist.

Centrelink’s expanded recognition of professional arts work aligns with the importance of the centrality of the artist, a key pillar of the Government’s National Cultural Policy—Revive.

Next steps

NAVA will continue to assess and identify gaps in the point allocation for the expanded range of activities. Notably, making art is still not recognised as an employment-seeking activity. Please share your experience reporting irregular or freelance work with Centrelink by emailing

NAVA is also requesting that Workforce Australia ensures Centrelink staff are aware of the expanded range of recognised activities and undertake training to increase their understanding of the specialised nature of work in the arts. The Government has this week announced an investment of $228 million into Services Australia, including 3,000 additional frontline staff, this financial year.

NAVA is also investigating the application of annual income averaging for lump sum payments from commissions, royalties, and grants and the exemption of prize money from the income test as we have long called for. Please share your experience with lump sum payments and Centrelink by emailing

Meanwhile, NAVA continues to advocate for:

Image credit

Jessica Murtagh, Modern relic IV: All in this together, apart 2021. Hand blown glass, sandblasted and engraved.

[ID: Photo of a glass vessel in the style of ancient Athenian ceramic amphoras, featuring an illustration of individuals wearing face masks while queuing at Centrelink.]

Advocating to Recognise Art as Work: Centrelink Win