Fact sheet as at 26 November 2020

This information typically comes from an informal email group that has been functioning since 1 May 2016. Over 100 active 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. Volunteers and employees have in the past been ordered to present a favourable view of the ‘move’ of the museum, and employees feel that if they express dissident views 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.

Basic facts, developed 2015-2020

The following FACTS have been proven over the six years. Our first fact sheet was submitted to the Government in August 2017 and no contradictory material has emerged even though they have been brought to the attention of all concerned. On Monday 21 January 2019, for example, the Premier, the Arts Minster and other politicians received, by registered mail and by email, an updated fact sheet, with a covering letter formally requesting comment or refutation, but consistently there has been no response. These matters 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 that any communication with her is equivalent to direct communication with the Arts Ministry / Department of Premier and Cabinet, who are the executive arm of the proponents of this project.) This sheet is the latest version and has been presented through the normal channels to INSW, Create Australia and MAAS Museum, requesting that all errors be reported to us We undertake to publicise widely any 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.

‘The Powerhouse Museum will move from Ultimo to Parramatta (Parramatta Advertiser, November 26, 2014 10:35 am)

2. People with significant experience and / or academic qualifications in museum work have been almost systematically excluded from decision-making processes. Trustees 2014-20 have had no such people; no such people were found in an audit of Johnstaff employees who prepared the 2018 Business Case;  there were no such people involved in the architectural work of the 2019-20 design competition; in the released SO52 documents no such people figured among addresses involved in the planning; the firms who conducted the consultation processes 2017-20  (Elton consulting and Aurecon) employed no such people. We have been able to document only a few hours of consultation with any such people during the entire process.

3. There was no initial consultation with stakeholders about the basic ‘move’ idea. Even the trustees of the museum and Parramatta Council learnt of the idea from reading about it in the newspapers.

4. 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. Sham consultations since mid-2017 have typically consisted of asking people what they wanted to see in the new museum and asking for suggestions about the use of the Ultimo site. No notice has been taken of the voluntary input from Inquiry submissions and the avalanche of general criticism, often from very highly qualified and / or experienced museum people. PR firms have been employed to present a favourable image of the project, and the results of the ‘consultations’ do not reflect this general criticism, only minor suggestions resulting from the consultations being recorded in their final reports.

5. ‘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 must be replicated at considerable cost at Parramatta. The Harwood building, a state of the art curatorial and storage facility in a great heritage building, will need to be replaced at huge cost, with inferior facilities remote from any museum, at Castle Hill. This process wastes, at the very least, some hundreds of millions of dollars above what would be required for any other cultural / educational project.

6. 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 even now we are not clear on how much commercial non-museum operations will impinge on the core mission of the museum. A further complication is the unanimously expressed desire of Parramatta Council and other significant organisations for the retention of heritage buildings on the site. The unresearched decision to include a Planetarium within the museum (now apparently abandoned) added further difficulties.

7. 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. The July 4 2020 announcement that three iconic items would be retained at Ultimo and that the museum would remain open was pleasing, but there has been no diminution in the process of removing items from the Powerhouse Museum and no guarantee that the Harwood Building and the 1988 additions will be retained.

8. The proposal has been the subject of almost universal criticism. The Government has been forced to hold two Legislative Council Inquiries. Both 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. We, also, cannot find a legitimate grass-roots organisation that recommends the ‘move’.

9. 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 only recently been approved by the Parramatta Council, Resolution 2790 which only passed by the Mayor’s casting vote, a later recission motion being only narrowly lost. The ‘Fleet Street’ precinct has a very strong level of support as an alternative.

Additional material for this sheet

10. The Government has changed the Business Case ‘Base Case’ criterion. The Base Case is what happens if the status quo is maintained as per TPP 08-5 section 4.2. Logically, this should be the situation of the museum prior to the Government decision of November 2014 but on 2 September 2018 we were advised that the Government had changed the Base Case to the Government’s decision to ‘move’ the museum. We have constantly sought details of the process, rationale and legality of this decision without any response. It makes it very difficult for the project to have basic scrutiny.

11. The Government has falsely claimed that the total project has been properly overseen by independent review panels and peer review process. The Peer Review process has been comprehensively shown to be false information. There was no oversight as described by Mr Harwin on 29 August 2017. Despite comprehensive enquiries, including a GIPA application, no information at all is available about the formation, composition, processes and findings of the claimed six independent review panels. There is no sign of their influence in any released document. We have been able to identify no members of any panel, and the Government has refused even to list the qualifications or verify the independence of the panel participants. Everything is ‘cabinet in confidence’ beyond the names and dates (month only) of the panels: #1: December 2016 – MAAS review report; #2 February 2017 - MAAS New Museum in Parramatta review report; #3: January 2018 - New Museum in Parramatta report; #4: March 2018 - New Museum in Western Sydney report #5: April 2018 - MAAS Ultimo report #6: - November 2018 - New Museum in Parramatta report. We were told that there is only a single report document for each review panel.

This demonstrates the major overarching problem, that of excessive secrecy from this Government throughout the whole period of this process. What information we do have indicates that this project would be destructive of world-class heritage, hugely expensive, and unless halted, will waste hundreds of millions of dollars in producing an outcome far inferior to what could otherwise be obtained by rational evaluation and decision-making process. This view is so widely held that any imputation that the process is a reaction by inner city silvertails against cultural progress in the western suburbs is a ridiculous slander.

We submit that the Powerhouse Museum is an item of world heritage. Its custodianship is an unmitigated honour for our state political leaders. They hold it in trust and have the duty to pass it on, if not improved, at least preserved. It is not a disposable toy of a few ill-advised people. Changes need to be made, but as a result of appropriate research and consultation rather than the current haphazard, ignorant and authoritarian lack of due process.

Further. the only satisfactory resolution to the current situation is outlined in the following agreed statement:

1. Parramatta must get a magnificent new museum and/or other cultural facilities on a site that is democratically approved and of a type that is properly researched and democratically selected

2. Australia’s only museum of applied arts and sciences must remain where it is: in the most accessible site for the city the state, the country and the world. It must retain its iconic traditional exhibits, in its unique heritage building, with appropriate facilities and funding

3. All Powerhouse Museum buildings, including the Harwood building, must be preserved, integral to the museum.

Responsibility for this statement is taken by Tom Lockley, tomlockley@gmail.com, 0403 615 134, PO Box 301 Pyrmont 2009.
26 November 2020.