The Government has been extremely secretive and has had to be forced into revealing its plans

The announcement of the ‘move’ was immediately met with a storm of protest. Immediately the financial calculations were exposed: instead of realising enough money from the sale of the Ultimo site to build the new museum, it was quickly demonstrated that the money received would barely suffice to remove and store the exhibits and demolish the museum.

The overwhelming reaction was one of incredulity: the idea of tearing down these wonderful buildings less than thirty years after their construction seemed utterly irrational. Already the process of demolishing the icons of the bicentennial commemorations had begun with the Convention Centre: the Entertainment Centre was soon to follow. Thus, the destruction of the museum, with its magnificent older buildings associated with the award-winning conversion, was widely regarded as a step too far.[47]

Government plans, and the rationale for them, were kept secret, and as a result of enormous grass-roots political activity the Legislative Council set up an Inquiry into Museums and Galleries on 26 June 2016, much of which was devoted to examining the Powerhouse ‘move’.

Government witnesses refused to give basic information claiming it was Cabinet in confidence’ (at least 37 times in the Legislative Council Inquiry into Museums and Galleries evidence alone[48]). ‘Cabinet in confidence’ traditionally applies to discussions made within the cabinet, leading to the convention that Cabinet speaks with one voice, having deliberated the matter in question and determined a policy.

The Government has extended it to denying information not only about the business case itself, but also the consultants’ terms of reference and reports that contribute to the business case, and even to material such as the vital logistic information provided by Peter Root Associates to assist consultants.

The so-called Business Case Summary released April 27 this year had was extracted from the Government by a parliamentary vote that passed because of a defection by a Government MLC. It went nowhere near providing the sort of evidence required in Treasury Paper tpp 08-5, Guidelines for the Construction of Business Cases.

We gave it to business executives to assess, and universally they agreed with us that it was a travesty of what was required.

The rebellious MLC persisted, joining with the opposition to pass a motion requiring the release of the full business case. After a somewhat farcical situation which developed when the Government first claimed to have no copy of the documents[49], the Business Case documents were made available, in a single copy, to be read during business hours in a Parliamentary office, with one photocopier available for public use. It is not easy to determine the structure of the collection, but we hope that what we established our own website and believe that what we have managed to get online are the essentials of the Business Case.

There are many redactions. The covering letter from Secretary of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet stated ‘some information has been redacted from the documents where its disclosure could compromise the financial interests of taxpayers, including by adversely impacting ongoing commercial negotiations’[50]. This admission that commercial negotiations are already under way is troubling, having regard to the controversy that rages over the efficacy of the project.

Responses to letters to Government MPs typically ignored any questions asked or comments made. We sent our 2016 booklets Heritage Aspects of the Powerhouse Museum Precinct and Heritage aspects of the Powerhouse Museum, with personalised covering letters, to all MPs.

Government MPs typically replied with a standard letter saying how good the ‘move’ idea is.[51] Another response tactic was to refer the matter to the Minister for the Arts who had similar standardised replies sent from Arts NSW.

ALP MPs’ replies typically quoted a speech from Mr Foley[52] supporting the idea of developing cultural amenities for Parramatta, and also stating that The Leader of the Opposition…. Has called on the Government to put forward its detailed plans for a Parramatta based Powerhouse Museum. Only then will the Opposition be in a position to judge the merits of these plans.

Of recent weeks the Leader of the Opposition has stated that the Opposition is no longer in favour of moving the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta.[53]

Greens MPs and Independent Jamie Parker have been consistently supportive of our efforts to find out the facts supporting the Government’s plans and have and upheld the best traditions of Australian democracy in doing so. They have also been consistently in favour of retaining the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo.

 

The Government was forced to make the Business Case public.
It has been released by placing a single copy, as above, in a parliamentary office, available by appointment during business hours. One photocopier is available to make paper copies only.

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References:

[47] The 1988 Exhibition and Convention Centre and the Entertainment Centre were closed for demolition in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Both were less than 30 years old. The Exhibition and Convention Centre had won the coveted Sulman award for Architecture. SMH, 6 December 2013.

[48] Count verified by search of the Inquiry website and includes use of ‘cabinet in confidence’ and ‘commercial in confidence’ in both the transcripts and in ‘Other documents’ submitted in response to questions taken on notice by Government witnesses.

[49] Letter of 4 June from department of Premier and Cabinet.

[50] Heavily annotated letter of 8 June: the material was eventually made available on 12 June.

[51] We sent our booklets (full details Heritage aspects of the Powerhouse Museum precinct ISBN 978-0-9803693-4-2 and Heritage aspects of the Powerhouse Museum ISBN 978-0-9803693-4-2 by T H Lockley, published 2016 and online at http://lockoweb.com/phm/oldindex.htm and http://lockoweb.com/phm/default.htm respectively). Replies were variations on this ‘standard letter’ theme:

The NSW Government is committed to growing the arts and cultural sector across the whole of NSW and in February 2015 launched the first NSW Arts and Cultural Policy Framework - Create in NSW. This Framework is guided by the principles of Excellence, Access and Strength. It provides strategic direction for arts and culture over the next 10 years, with specific actions for Sydney, Western Sydney and Regional NSW.Sydney’s CBD is home to some of Australia’s best cultural programs, festivals and experiences and the NSW Government remains committed to strengthening Sydney’s position as a global centre for arts and culture in the Asia Pacific. We are working towards a defined arts and cultural precinct for the Sydney CBD based around the Sydney Opera House, extending through to a new Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, Barangaroo in the west and the Australian Museum in the east. In defining this precinct we will activate sites to ensure Sydney has a thriving cultural and artistic scene that is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

Relocating the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta is part of developing a wider arts and cultural precinct for Western Sydney. Establishing the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta will support the growth of the arts and culture sector, tourism and the visitor economy by providing a vibrant new experience for visitors from across Greater Sydney, Australia and the world.

The new Powerhouse Museum will be situated at a site on the banks of the Parramatta River. This site will deliver a vibrant, exciting community hub that can be easily accessed and enjoyed day and night. Detailed planning and design will now commence to realise the new Powerhouse Museum which will be a contemporary museum in a smart and creative city, and a beacon of art, culture and innovation in Western Sydney.

The unique opportunity that this new museum presents will allow more of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences world-class collection to be on display than ever before with the size of the collection on display set to increase by at least 40 per cent. It provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a museum for the future, responding to the changing shape of Sydney, new methods of content delivery, design innovation, learning and collaboration.

Proceeds from the urban renewal of the existing Powerhouse Museum site in Ultimo will be committed to funding the new Museum at Parramatta. The divestment process will be managed by Government Property NSW and future development of the site will be subject to normal planning processes and heritage protections that apply to the site.

The NSW Government looks forward to working in close partnership with Parramatta City Council and the community to design and deliver this new cultural destination for NSW. Through recognising the strengths of Sydney, Western Sydney and Regional NSW, the NSW Government will grow the arts and cultural sector across our State.

I trust that this information has now been of assistance to you in the clarification of your immediate concerns.

[52] I25 February 2016, debate on Powerhouse ‘move’: Mr LUKE FOLEY (Auburn—Leader of the Opposition) [4.40 p.m.]: I thank all the petitioners who brought this matter to the attention of the Parliament and all the citizens who joined us for the debate today. The starting point of the Labor Party is that for too long there has been underinvestment in arts and culture for greater Western Sydney. In October 2013, in an address to the Urban Development Institute of Australia, as the shadow Minister for Planning I talked about the challenges of the future of Western Sydney, a region of two million inhabitants today, that will be home to three million people by 2030. I talked about our aspiration that graduates of the University of Western Sydney should expect and demand access to high-skilled, well-paid jobs in Western Sydney.

In that speech I said that attracting and retaining talented graduates requires a better cultural offer for the Western Sydney region. Ninety per cent of the Arts NSW budget is spent in the Sydney central business district and less than 5 per cent is spent in Western Sydney. Western Sydney is home for 47 per cent of Sydney's residents but receives 5 per cent of the State's arts funding. This Government has committed $30 million during the next four years for the Western Sydney arts and cultural sector which is less than the Art Gallery of New South Wales will receive this year alone. Ninety per cent of the arts budget is spent in one local government area, the City of Sydney, and that has to be addressed.

Labor is no stranger to redistribution. Neville Wran and Laurie Brereton were moving hospital beds to the west in the 1980s. Those opposite cry, ‘What did Labor do?’ What about the Parramatta Riverside Theatre? What about the Campbelltown Arts Centre? What about the Casula Powerhouse? That is what Labor did. There is far more to be done but the Government has to tell us why a plan to locate the Powerhouse Museum at the Parramatta golf course, which is not within easy walking distance of the Parramatta central business district, is a plan to genuinely deliver to the people of Western Sydney the opportunities and infrastructure they deserve. Labor wants a landmark iconic structure for the arts in Parramatta and it may well be that that involves a space for exhibition and performance that can be used by an array of arts companies and institutions. Let us look beyond simply one institution in the Powerhouse; let us raise our ambition. [Time expired.]

[53] Parramatta Advertiser, 28 April 2018