Campaign to Save the Powerhouse

Responsibility for facts stated is taken by Tom Lockley, PO Box 301, Pyrmont
0403 615 134

Bulletin 57: six years on.

(You might like to mark the anniversary of the announcement of the Powerhouse ‘move’ by letting the authorities know you still care. An anniversary wish to the Premier  might be useful). Other useful email addresses include, (the arts minister),
Project <>,,
Simon Pagett <>,
Lisa Havilah and your local member might also be a good target.)

On 26 November 2014 the then Premier Mr Baird announced that the Powerhouse Museum would be ‘moved’ from Ultimo to Parramatta. The entire move would be financed by the sale of the Ultimo site for ‘urban renewal’ (ie supertowers), and the money left over would be used for other purposes. Stakeholders, including event he Parramatta Council and the Trustees of the museum were not informed of the idea before it was announced,  much less consulted. The entire museum / heritage / arts community were horrified and a huge program of resistance to this disastrous idea has been mounted. And the money raised by the sale of the Ultimo land would barely pay for the removal and storage of exhibits.

But the few, almost nameless, people who have taken it upon themselves to perform this act of cultural vandalism are unswerving in their desire to downgrade thief world cultural treasure that is the Powerhouse Museum and to inflict on Parramatta an institution that does not have local relevance on a site that has wonderful heritage buildings and is not the preferred site of the elected council. Despite the announcement of July 4 this year, all that has been promised is the retention of an inferior museum at Ultimo and retention of a few iconic exhibits.

The latest ‘fact sheet’ is attached. This is the fourth fact sheet that has, since mid-2017, been formally submitted to the Government and its agencies for checking, and as usual we undertake to publicise any responses. So far there has been no contradiction of any facts listed: there has been no consultation and no research into alternatives, no use of museum experts, etc and this project wastes huge amounts of money and trashes magnificent heritage. 

Two more matters are added to the latest sheet: the Government in September 2018 explained that they had found a way around examining the project against the ‘base case’ – what is the situation before the ‘move’ – by declaring that the ‘base case’ is the Government’s decision to make the ‘move’ – incredible that this might seem. No explanation has ever been given about the rationale, process and legality of this decision.

Also, the first legislative Council Inquiry made a Finding that the proper process for creating a Business Case had not been followed; the Government responded to the massive document proving this assertion by a very brief statement to the effect that the whole process had been checked by peer review groups and six review panels involving over 30 experts, and the Government completely rejected the Finding. It has been comprehensively demonstrated that the single peer review exercise was – to put it as gently as possible – a sham, and despite even a GIPA application the only information we have about the review panels is a list of dates and titles of the reviews. We have absolutely no information even about the terms of reference, the procedures followed, the matters canvassed, and the qualifications and independence of the assessors, much less any indication of the outcome of any review.  

We have just completed another investigation, and this concerns the documents released to the public in June in response to a call for information by Robert Borsak MLC, supported by all parties. First impressions were that they were just about useless in providing basic information about the ‘move’ so a detailed analysis was made.

The analysis showed that the initial impression was, if anything an understatement.

A covering letter from the Government (five pages of legalese) basically claimed that it was more important that the Government should  have privately available information that it was for the public to have assurance that the planning process was soundly based. There is ‘a conclusive presumption of an overriding public interest against disclosure’ in much of the information not provided.

But the Government was required to respond to the order for documents, and 17 document boxes with around 20.000 sheets of (often poorly photocopied) material was made available, by appointment, for examination by a single person at a time. Under Covid restrictions, the person examining the material had to be escorted to and from the relevant office by a staffer from an MPs office. Almost all such people work from home when parliament is not sitting and are very busy when parliament is sitting. Formal and informal requests for this material to be made available in digital form have been comprehensively ignored.

Of the pages supplied at least 20% were material that was already online (eg PR reports from the firm Aurecon) illegible (over 1000 sheets in one document) or utterly irrelevant (eg drafts of the 2017-8 MAAS annual report, also long since online).

About 4,000 documents were listed on over 400 pages of cataloguing, and a feature of these was the provision of multiple copies of identical documents. Of the 4,000 listed documents at least 2213 were multiple copies, leaving about 1,800 discrete documents. 22 copes were provided of an email  Re: Power House Museum - Power Distribution Options, 16-Mar-2020. Further, email chains were often supplied as separate documents, under different file names, so we received several stages of an email chain under separate catalogue numbers, when jus the last email would suffice.

Of the documents supplied the overwhelming majority were administrivia – dates of meetings etc – or minor technical matters. There are effectively no overarching documents that give any indication, for example, of the developing business plans. To get information we have had to look at the supplied material to find facts wherever they could be found. A few examples:

·        Discussion of job specifications for a Brief Writer (who would also be the Implementation Verifier) for the Parramatta construction job revealed the manner in which responsibilities for various sections of the Parramatta planning have been apportioned. Also it is interesting that this important role would be outsourced from INSW: a possible explanation could be that such an appointment at ‘arms length’ could enable the Government to set the parameters for the design brief etc and then allow the outside contractor to seem to be responsible for any consequent shortcomings in the brief.

·        Discussions of the display areas that would be used for non-museum activities, including dancing, indicate to our experts that the exhibits are regarded almost as decorations for  a theme park. No discussion was found about the design philosophy of the museum displays.

·        Previously unavailable drawings present less flattering aspects of the design: the view from Lennox Bridge showing  the way the proposed museum is dominated by the adjoining supertower; and a view of the museum as culmination of the Parramatta Civic Link. Instead of the original concept of the link ending with a very attractive riverside park, the rear view of the museum is not at all imposing. See the separate attachment.

But the main interest is what is not presented. For example our examination indicated that:

·        There is no information on the current business cases, including budgeting and financing.

·         There is no discussion of exhibition concepts.

·        Visitor studies projections are limited to flow studies at Parramatta and our expert had the impression that the projected capacity did not accommodate the heroic assumptions for visitor numbers proposed in the previously released business case, but time and the limited available data did not permit a proper study of this.

·        There was no information about the Ultimo Creative Industries Precinct or the Lyric Theatre.

·        There was no acknowledgement of the heritage values of the total Ultimo building complex, only reference to the restricted heritage assessment of the ‘Ultimo Tramways Power House’, the structure that was the original Powerhouse itself.

·        And, of course, no indication that any person with significant qualifications and / or experience in museum matter was seriously involved in planning.

Thus this document release joins the many other examples of Government secrecy and apparent lack of democratic process that has been a continual feature of the ‘move’. This contempt for democratic process is disgraceful.

For the tragics, the full report on the released documents is attached and is also on the website. Gradually, relevant material is being placed on the website, accessible from . You might like to read only the summary on the first few pages.


Campaign to save the Powerhouse

Australia’s major museum of arts and sciences in Sydney’s most evocative heritage building. For more information See also:

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Tom Lockley

0403 615 134....