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

Submission from Tom Lockley

This submission addresses specifically Terms of Reference 1 (a) (viii): Government's response to the previous recommendations of the Portfolio Committee No. 4 in Report 40 entitled 'Museums and Galleries in New South Wales'.

#2: Analysis of the ‘Finding’ response

Introduction

After the major Inquiry into Museums and Galleries, a Final Report was issued on 28 February 2019 after over two years of proceedings. It was supported by massive evidence, many submissions and facts elicited during over thirty hours of sittings. Only Government members of the Inquiry demurred.

The report was headed up by a Finding, not a mere Recommendation, as follows:

Finding 1

That the Final Business Case for the Powerhouse Museum in Western Sydney Project did not comply with NSW Treasury's Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis.

On 17 July 2019 the Government’s response was received, as follows:

Response: Not Supported. Since February 2016, Infrastructure NSW has undertaken six independent reviews of the New Museum in Western Sydney project, conducted by more than 30 independent reviewers including specialists in design, planning and economics.

The Final Business Case for the project demonstrates the expertise, time, detail, rigor and due diligence underpinning the planning of this project. Highly qualified consultants in cultural infrastructure, museum logistics, urban planning, construction and operations contributed via peer review processes and governance panels. The document includes an economic appraisal for the project, produced in accordance with NSW Treasury's Government Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis.

The key parameters of the Economic Appraisal were endorsed by the Project Steering Committee which included a representative from NSW Treasury. The INSW Business Case summary indicated that it provided a sound basis for government decision making.

 


 

This scanty (131-word) response is very similar to statements made in the so-called Final Business Case Summary (page 2) issued a year before (2 July 2018). (red underlining: exactly the same wording as the response; black underlining similar meaning, different words)

Since February 2016, no fewer than six external reviews have been undertaken as work on the New Museum has evolved. The Gateway process managed by Infrastructure NSW involved extensive independent review by multiple experts in cultural infrastructure, urban planning, economic analysis, construction and operation. In addition, as part of the Business Case’s development, CIPMO has sought advice from multiple experts in cultural infrastructure, museum logistics, urban planning, construction and operations through peer review processes and expert advisory panels. Infrastructure NSW’s review of the Business Case for the relocated Powerhouse Museum, completed in February 2018, concluded that the Business Case had successfully demonstrated the case for change.

There were still four more sitting days before the end of the Inquiry when this travesty of a Business Case summary was issued, and it seems that the minister was not taking his 2019 response seriously – just submitting something that would fill the statutory requirement of making a response.

After the release of the report there was a debate in the Legislative Council[i] in which the Government members simply took the same line as the response, without addressing any issues. If it existed, for example, it would surely be easy to simply list the process by which the alternatives were assessed.

The remainder of this submission will dissect this response to demonstrate the response’s lack of validity.

Comments on ‘Six independent reviews’ – paragraph 1 of the Government response

The Government was forced to release the current Business Case in April 2018. They had been under severe criticism for failure to secure expert advice and it is strange that the six independent reviews were not released as part of the Business Case. It is even stranger that there is no mention of these reviews in such documents as the MAAS Stakeholder Engagement Register.

As preparation for this submission we sought information about these reviews by emailing Infrastructure NSW, the Minister for the Arts on 12 April. Ms Havilah passed responsibility for replying to the email to INSW and an unnamed person stated that the information could not be provided because it was ‘cabinet in confidence’.

We then asked for metadata: who were the members of the review groups, what were the terms of reference, when did they meet and so on. Again this was refused: even this information was ‘cabinet in confidence’[ii].

We assume, despite the absence of evidence, that these six independent reviews must exist, otherwise the minister would be guilty of perjury.

We do not concede that the release of the assessments of the review panels can possibly be against the public interest: either they are positive, which is to the credit of the Government enterprise, or they are negative, in which case the information needs to be publicly known. In any case, we need proof that the process exists as described.

We also want to clarify a few other issues. We believe, from other sources, that any review process at this stage does not include the assessment of the basic soundness of the original ‘move’ idea. We also have information that no people with museum qualifications or significant experience have been involved in any review process. We do not understand how INSW can conduct an independent review into its own actions. INSW, MAAS museum and the Arts Minister have repeatedly been asked to supply evidence that there has been any assessment of alternatives to the original ‘move’ idea and we are proceeding on the assumption that this has still not been done.

However, in an attempt to achieve more definite knowledge about the procedure, and because we had exhausted the normal communication channels, INSW received a GIPA request from us by registered mail on Tuesday 5 March. An email from the Information and Privacy Commission has confirmed that we are entitled to seek this information and that INSW is, for the purposes of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, an agency.

We await the result and if there is additional relevant information we will submit an addendum to this submission.

Peer Review and Governance Panels- paragraph 2 of the Government response

Key point: The statement in the Government’s response to the Finding, that Highly qualified consultants in cultural infrastructure, museum logistics, urban planning, construction and operations [have] contributed via peer review processes and governance panels’ is inaccurate.

On 11 February 2020 emails were sent to INSW, the Arts Minister, the Premier and the CEO of MAAS including the following:

As regards the ‘Highly qualified consultants in cultural infrastructure, museum logistics, urban planning, construction and operations [who have] contributed via peer review processes and governance panels referred to in Mr Harwin’s rejection of the Inquiry Finding, no Government entity has been able to produce evidence that they exist.

We believe that our website http://maasbusinesscase.com/ has every relevant document from the business cases and Government publications that has been released and ‘peer review’ has only two sets of relevant mentions:

·       Firstly, the so-called Expert Guidance Group /Panel mentioned in Inquiry evidence by Ms Torres and Mr Harwin July / August 2017 has been shown to be a sham, details as below, pages 4ff.

·       Secondly Attachment EE - Consultations and Peer Review Schedule is listed as part of the released business case but apparently does not exist.

If this statement is in error, please inform us urgently.

No response has been received. As a matter of interest, we have on 17 occasions asked the Legislative Council office, the Arts Minister, INSW and MAAS for copies of Attachment EE.

At the outset, a very important point must be made. The people organising the Business Case and therefore the ‘move’ itself, are not experienced or indeed qualified, in museology. The most, indeed the only, capable experienced person we have been able to find in the process is Peter Root, of Root Partnerships, who played a valued part in the commissioning of the present museum. He has of recent years produced plans for removing the exhibits from the museum, and they are probably as efficient as possible for this huge project[iii]. In his Inquiry evidence he was careful to emphasise that he was following instructions rather than originating, or necessarily supporting, the project[iv].

He is an exception to the general rule that people with museum qualifications and experience have taken no part in the process. A 2016 Linkedin search of the local Johnstaff employees, for example, did not find that any of the 114 local employees had significant museum-related experience or qualifications, and this firm has the responsibility of preparing the Business Case.

On 11 July 2019 in an interview with Mr Jesse Price, Executive Liaison officer of MAAS, he mentioned to me that Johnstaff did indeed have a qualified and experienced museum person working on the project. He promised to get me the details but did not do so even after a reminder email on 22 July. I rang his office several times during late 2019. When he was on holidays his PA said she would endeavour to find these details but did not make further contact with me. Early in 2020 we heard that Mr Price left MAAS for a position at the Australian Energy Regulator. On 4 December 2019 I also raised this mater with Ms Havilah, but she had no information to hand on any employees of INSW or related bodies that had museum qualifications or experience.

All these employees charged with making the ‘move’ happen are further constrained by having to adhere to Government policy which means that they have to defend the indefensible. This puts great strain on them.

The Expert Advisory Group.

In Inquiry evidence 29 August 2017 Mr Harwin advised us of the membership of an Expert Advisory Group, (which we take to be the same entity as the Expert Advisory Panel mentioned by Ms Torres on 30 June 2017). He said that this group had ‘provided guidance throughout the process.’ He made this statement when refusing an offer of consultation with former Director Lindsay Sharp. Here is the exact transcript:

The Hon. WALT SECORD: I want to take you back to the $1.5 billion claim that you dispute, involving Dr Lindsay Sharp. I know Dr Lindsay Sharp made this offer: that he and a number of senior figures in the arts administration community would sign confidentiality agreements with you, would take you through the costings as to how they arrived at that $1.5 billion figure, and would give you binding, signed confidentiality agreements. What is your response to their offer?

The Hon. DON HARWIN: My response to that would be that we have established an expert advisory committee to look at this. We have a wealth of knowledge and a solid project focus track record across many critical aspects of the project, including: the design and delivery of major arts and cultural projects; government relationships; subject matter expertise across museums, collections, science and the arts; major project planning and delivery; operations and management of museums; and philanthropic and sponsor relations. They provide their knowledge and guidance directly to the project committee. The members of that include the following: Dr J. Patrick Greene, previously the chief executive officer of Museum Victoria; Professor Graham Durant, the Director of Questacon; Mr Mark Carnegie, well-known as an arts philanthropist; and I think you have been advised previously of Doug Hall's role[v]. He has a continuing role.

The Hon. WALT SECORD: Point of order—

The Hon. DON HARWIN: I am answering the question.

The Hon. WALT SECORD: You are not. I was asking what your response is to their offer to provide the costings and to go through it with a signed confidentiality agreement.

The CHAIR: Order! The Minister may continue.

The Hon. DON HARWIN: Peter Root, the Managing Director of Root Partnerships who has had an extensive involvement with the Powerhouse Museum; Penny Hutchinson, previously the head of Arts Victoria; and Edmund Capon as well, who I am sure is well-known to all of you. My response would be we are getting the expert advice and we are able to go forward on the basis that the best advice is available already to the project and we have locked that in to ensure that we have a good outcome.

There are many problems with this assertion.

·       In the Business Case documents we have not found evidence of any influence that the panel has had. It is only mentioned in the business papers twice – in the Engagement Register listing the two meetings mentioned below.

·       The group was not formed until over 2½ years had elapsed since the project was inaugurated and there is no trace of such process before this time.

·       The group first met on 7 September 2017 at The Mint, Macquarie Street, attended by Peter Root, Penny Hutchinson and Graham Durant with a group of senior people from MAAS and CIPMO.

·       A second and final meeting, on 25 September 2017 at Parramatta Council buildings, had the same attendance plus Patrick Greene. Doug Hall attended neither meeting.

·       Edmund Capon and Mark Carnegie have never attended meetings of the group and do not appear in the involvement register[vi]. They are reported as saying respectively that they would not attend and did not know anything about it.

·       Graham Durant told us in a phone conversation on 17 September 2018 that he had given some advice to various people on the establishment of Questacon facilities for a few hours in November 2017 but had no further interaction with MAAS.

·       Edmund Capon, Mark Carnegie and Patrick Greene are not mentioned in any other context in any released documents we can find.

·       In the academic world, peer assessment involves the examination of the relevant material by outside experts. In this case, Root Partnerships has been paid considerable amounts for professional involvement in the project and thus Mr Root should not take part in peer review, nor should Penny Hutchinson, then a director of Root Partnerships[vii].

Thus, the total legitimate involvement of this group is attendance of one person (Professor Durant) at two meetings and one person (Dr Greene) at one meeting.  There is no possibility that any legitimate assessment could be done in this short time.

We have, in February / May sought details of the six independent reviews referred to in Mr Harwin’s response to the Inquiry finding in emails to Ms Havilah, MAAS museum consultation, the Premier, INSW and the Arts Minster, and included in at least two emails to each place the following statement:

We have previously confirmed that there has been no proper peer review of the ‘move’ project, and no mention in any documents of peer review processes since the two poorly attended meetings of a so-called Peer Advisory Group in September 2017. If you have any countervailing evidence in this regard, please advise and we will correct our records accordingly.

No such rebuttal evidence has been received. 

Expert involvement since the Government’s response to the Inquiry

On Thursday December 5 2019 I had a formal discussion with Ms Havilah, and one area canvassed was our perception that there had been no , or very little, involvement of people with museum experience and qualifications in the whole process, despite Mr Harwin’s statement referred to above, and no independent assessment involving people with museum experience and qualifications.

Ms Havilah told me that this need is met by a process called ‘Deep Dives’ conducted by Infrastructure NSW. Internet searches describe the process but we cannot find any examples of the process in action. So on 11 December we emailed MAAS museum (Mr Price, Ms Havilah), INSW, the Arts Minster Mr Harwin and INSW asking for more information:

We would like as much detail as is readily available on this process. For example, since September 2017, how many such investigations have been carried out? What topics have been covered? How is the membership of such investigatory processes been determined? How is it assured that the assessors do not have pecuniary interests in the projects being assessed?

More importantly for our purposes, how many ‘Deep Dives’ have been carried out regarding the ‘move’ of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta?

Please confirm that no such process was carried out before the end of September 2017. We have been seeking this information for the past 3½ years and have demonstrated that the proposed ‘move’ has never been researched.

A reply from INSW, received on 11 February[viii], simply referred us to the so-called Final Business Case Summary of 2 July 2017 and stated that the material was ‘cabinet in confidence’ and could not be divulged. We then asked for details of the establishment of these groups, names of participants, dates of meetings and subjects of these reviews but again we were told that these were ‘cabinet in confidence’. As we were not happy with this, a GIPA form was submitted, received by INSW on Tuesday 5 May, and if it elicits any further relevant information this will be forwarded to the Inquiry.

Fig 1: the reluctantly released Business Case had only one copy, black and white printouts, with many A3 pages reproduced on A4 and completely illegible. It was available by appointment only during office hours at the Legislative Council offices.

Fig 2: We have repeatedly sought from all possible sources the release of Attachment EE, not released in the Business Case documents as can be seen from the above index sheet.

Paragraph 3 of the response

To recapitulate: this paragraph is as follows:

The key parameters of the Economic Appraisal were endorsed by the Project Steering Committee which included a representative from NSW Treasury. The INSW Business Case summary indicated that it provided a sound basis for government decision making.

This is less significant than the previous paragraphs, so only a few comments are relevant.

The Project Steering Committee is part of INSW. Members are generally:

·       Deputy Secretary, Department Justice, Arts & Culture,

·       Chief Executive, Justice Infrastructure (or nominated Delivery Agency),

·       Executive Director, Arts NSW,

·       Director, MAAS,

·       Representative MAAS Trustee,

·       Senior Analyst, Arts & Cultural Institutions, NSW Treasury,

·       Director, Cities Branch, Department of Premier & Cabinet,

·       Executive Director, Infrastructure NSW, and Project Director.

All but the MAAS Trustee are believed to be SES public servants charged with carrying out the Government’s wishes, and the recently appointed Trustees are almost all from finance or law fields, with no experience in the museum field. Basically the PSC may have checked that the numbers added up, but in terms of providing an independent assessment one could not expect much.

The final sentence simply is INSW evaluating itself and saying that it had done a good job.

The paragraph does not do anything to restore confidence in the process.

Other relevant comments

For the record, the ‘move’ idea has been specifically opposed by two former directors of MAAS, at least two directors of other comparable institutions, four former trustees, nine professional curators and at least five other museum experts of similar standing. There are also many experts in other art-related areas, including the architect who designed the museum conversion and at least two other (younger) architects who are practicing at a very high level.

It is disappointing, but typical, that these former senior employees, curators and trustees are not respected at all, even though many of them still work voluntarily in arts / sciences / educational / museum fields, have dedicated their lives to these pursuits and have contributed many well-researched documents to the ‘move’ debate.. One of our email correspondents, discussing the Business Case papers, puts it well:

Notably absent from the list of stakeholders are the museum’s own community of supporters, notable donors, former trustees and sponsors. Not to mention Life Fellows.

Also not a single museum or heritage group in Parramatta or western Sydney is a stakeholder, nor worthy of being consulted. Not even Old Government House, Parramatta Park, or Parramatta and District Historical Society, the first local historical society in Australia, founded just 12 years after the RAHS in 1913. They must think that Parramatta is the museum equivalent of terra nullius, with no museums in Parramatta or western Sydney.



[i] Hansard transcript:Wednesday, 7 August 2019 Legislative Council- PROOF Pages 26-29:Committees: PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE NO. 4 - LEGAL AFFAIRS, Report: Museums and Galleries in New South Wales, Debate resumed from 8 May 2019.

[ii] an email received on 29 April from Infrastructure NSW, no signature.

[iii] Available online at the private website maasbusinesscase.com http://maasbusinesscase.com/business%20case/Blue%20attachments/Root%20Projects%20all%20drafts/list%20of%20all%20root%20drafts.htm

[iv] Inquiry evidence, opening statement, Friday, 17 February 2017 page 30

[v] This statement is an error. Doug Hall was not previously mentioned in evidence to the Inquiry, is not mentioned in the submissions to the Inquiry or the ‘Other Documents’ section, and only appears once in the released records as below. In the uncorrected version of the transcript he was listed here as Director of the Art Gallery and GOMA, Queensland. On 20/06/2017 he took part in a workshop at Arts & Culture NSW, Level 5, 323 Castlereagh Street, Sydney Workshop, with Craig Limkin (CIPMO), Mark Curzon (FKM Architects), Stephanie Brancatisano (FKM Architects), Raymond Berger (River Levett Bucknall), Anna Cuthbertson (Johnstaff) and Nicholas Lawler (Johnstaff) discussing an ‘Area Schedule’, no further details available, and this is the only mention of his name in the Maas Stakeholder Engagement Register, (entry for 20/06/2017). Mr Hall was director of the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art 1987-2007.

[vi] MAAS Project Communications and Engagement Strategy for the New Museum in Western Sydney (attachment O).

[vii] https://rootpartnerships.com.au/people/ , retrieved in July 2018. She does not appear in the current listing.

[viii] This reply was received two months after the formal request for information, but the fact that we did eventually receive a reply was pleasing as typically such requests have been ignored or a response has been a standardised letter from Create NSW on behalf of the Government simply saying that the ‘move’ was a wonderful thing.