Inquiry into the Government's management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales
Submission from Tom Lockley

#1: Introduction and fact sheet

This submission addresses the whole matter of the proposed move of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the Powerhouse Museum, from Ultimo to Parramatta.

 

This is the first of eight separate submissions, as follows:

1.    This submission: Introduction and fact sheet.

2.    ‘Finding’ response: the Government’s inadequate, irrelevant and severely flawed response to chief criticism outlined by the earlier Inquiry.

3.    Heritage considerations of the whole project, which have been severely underestimated.

4.    Finances: implications of the destruction of the museum at Ultimo (notes only, not a full analysis).

5.    Consultation shortcomings throughout the whole process.

6.    Move risks: case study of moving a major object, illustrating a lack of care for exhibits.

7.    Miscellaneous matters: general points indicating other areas of Governmental ineptitude.

8.    An alternative project: quick notes on a possible alternative.

 

Full responsibility for these submissions all facts therein is taken by the writer as listed. However, the material often comes from an informal email group that has been functioning since 1 May 2016. Over 100 members include present and past MAAS employees and volunteers, other Government employees and contractors, a wide range of other people with skills in engineering, architecture and the arts, and general museum members and supporters with many relevant skills and experiences. I am happy to provide all possible supporting evidence but will not divulge the names of many sources of information: volunteers and employees have in the past been ordered to present a favourable view of the ‘move’ of the magazine, and employees feel that if they express dissident view they will be discriminated against for future employment Museum jobs are scarce and highly sought after, so this fear is understandable. Other correspondents who have Government jobs or ties to Government projects have similar concerns. In a rational democracy, such fears should be groundless, but the irrational and arbitrary decision-making that is demonstrated in these submissions cause people to lose confidence in democratic processes.

 

Throughout these submissions ‘I’ indicates action taken by me alone, and ‘we’ indicates action taken with help from email group members, who remain unnamed throughout.

 

As a general rule, these matters have been raised with the relevant authorities, challenging them to provide any factual countervailing evidence and no such evidence has been forthcoming. These submissions are online on the private website http://maasbusinesscase.com/ .

Summary fact sheet developed 2015-2020

The following FACTS have been consistently asserted over the past four years, not just from the enormous Inquiry into Museums and Galleries, and no contradictory material has emerged. On Monday 21 January 2019, for example, the Premier, the Arts Minster and other politicians received, by registered mail and by email, a copy of these facts, with a covering letter formally requesting comment or refutation, but again there has been no valid response.

The contents of this sheet were also presented in a 1:1 interview with Ms Havilah at PHM at 12 noon on Wednesday 6 November 2019 and she was invited to present any evidence of error in any point.  She has not been able to do so, and neither has any Government politician or agency. It is agreed with Ms Havilah that any communication with her is equivalent to direct communication with the Arts Ministry. The sheet has continually been presented through the normal channels to INSW, Create Australia and MAAS Museum, requesting that all errors be reported to us, with no response,

Full references supporting each fact are available: check https://powerhousemuseumalliance.com/ or email tomlockley@gmail.com.

1.         The idea of moving the Powerhouse Museum was not researched. It was an announced political decision in late 2014. CIPMO, Infrastructure NSW and MAAS museum authorities have clearly stated that their actions have resulted from this announced decision, and there was no pre-announcement research into alternative strategies for the laudable objective of improving the cultural facilities of Western Sydney.

2.         There was no consultation with stakeholders. Even the trustees of the museum and Parramatta Council learnt of the idea from reading about it in the newspapers.

3.         This state of affairs has continued: There has never been any later consultation or research into alternatives to moving the Powerhouse Museum to the site chosen by the Government in Parramatta. A sham consultation effort in mid-2017 consisted of asking people what they wanted to see in the new museums and asking for suggestions about the use of the Ultimo site.

 

4.         ‘Moving’ the Powerhouse is a very bad idea. Of all possible projects for enhancing the cultural facilities of Western Sydney, it is hard to find one that is more expensive, more destructive and more inefficient: The largest objects have to be the last out of Ultimo and the first into any new building at Parramatta, with consequent massive costs for storage and transit. There will be a considerable resultant time delay, unnecessary with almost any other project. The specially strengthened floors (for supporting heavy exhibits) and ceiling (for suspending aircraft and other similar items), as well as the extensive steam reticulation network, will be wasted at Ultimo and have to be replicated at considerable cost at Parramatta.

This process wastes, at the very least, some hundreds of millions of dollars above what would be required for any other cultural / educational project.

5.         The magnificent soaring galleries of the existing building cannot be replicated in Parramatta within the proposed new building. The proposed site is smaller than the Ultimo site, and is further compromised by the current plan to build at least one commercial / residential tower on the site and by the unanimously expressed desire of Parramatta Council for the retention of heritage buildings on the site. The unresearched decision to include a Planetarium within the museum added further difficulties.

6.         The currently planned process involves a massive degradation of the Ultimo site, again for the purpose of building commercial / residential towers to assist budgeting. There is a calculable value of heritage in institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum, and this has been totally ignored by the Government.

7.         The proposal has been the subject of almost universal criticism. The Government was forced to hold a Legislative Council Inquiry which attracted over 150 relevant submissions. Apart from the Government submission, all organizational submissions, including those of the National trust, only two gave qualified support for the move, and all others completely opposed it. Of the over 100 individual submissions, some from very highly qualified people, none supported the ‘move’. Non-Government witnesses were universally condemnatory of the idea. The Save the Powerhouse Facebook page exemplifies the views of the general public with over 20,000 people involved in active support. Mr Baird, asked at the Inquiry to name one arts group in favour of the move, did not do so even when given three weeks to research the topic.

8.         The site chosen by the Government had been specifically rejected by the elected council prior to its dissolution to enable forced council amalgamation. The land deal was finalised by the unelected administrator, and has not been approved by the re-elected Parramatta Council.

This is Australia’s only museum dedicated to the important interface between the applied arts and sciences and it is an act of cultural vandalism to move it from its present magnificent building on its present site, site, most accessible to the state, the country and the world.

Edited by Tom Lockley, PO Box 301, Pyrmont 2009. tomlockley@gmail.com 0403615134.