By ANDREW BARCLAY
In a raucous discussion, complete with wolf calls and booing, the NSW Government sought to position so called inner city elites against western Sydney in a parliamentary debate over the selloff of the Powerhouse Museum on Friday.
The debate in parliament occurred after a petition with 10,000 signatories was tabled in Parliament by Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich and was backed by the Member for Balmain, Jamie Parker.
It called on the Government to “expand museum services to other parts of NSW but retain the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo”.
A strong local campaign against the move collected the required 10,000 signatures for a parliamentary debate, including those from notable people including Cate Blanchett and former premier Bob Carr.
The NSW announced plans a year ago to move the museum from its home in Ultimo to the western suburbs, most likely to the seat of Parramatta.
The following twelve months has seen a campaign by locals to save the museum, opposing the government’s plan to sell the site to developers.
With both levels of the public viewing gallery brimming with campaigners, thunderous applause could be heard, even causing the Temporary Speaker Melanie Gibbons to remind members of the public that clapping and booing were not allowed.
“Order. People in the public gallery will remain silent,” she said.
Government claims that patronage at the museum was poor were rebutted by Mr Greenwich, who said visitation and sponsorship had both increased at the museum, contrary to
However, the government remained unmoved and will push ahead, and claimed the move of the museum was important for the development of an arts precinct in western Sydney.
Parramatta MP Geoff Lee called Mr Greenwich and Mr Parker’s efforts keep the museum in the city “elitist”.
“We make no apology for supporting arts in western Sydney,” he said.
Labor opposition leader and spokesperson for the arts, Luke Foley, also spoke during the debate, yet provided no clear detail on Labor’s position.
He has argued previously that his party isn’t opposed to the move “in principle”.
But Mr Parker said the petition demonstrated the depth of opposition to the government’s plan.
“By bringing this issue to the floor of Parliament, we are highlighting that moving the museum is more about a cash grab than culture. The winners will be big developers,” Mr Parker said.
“It is not a responsible tactic to perpetuate a false dichotomy of inner Sydney and western Sydney.”
Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts Troy Grant said work on a feasibility study and business case were “progressing well”.
“The NSW Government has made it clear we will be funding the construction of the new museum in Parramatta with 100 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the Ultimo site going towards the new build,” he told City Hub.
Among the campaigners present at parliament were some residents from Parramatta and regional NSW who were opposed to the Powerhouse Museum move.
John Hillman, from the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, said the government’s plan was nothing more than a “sweetheart real estate deal for developers”.
Mr Hill said that the government’s declaration it is pursuing a cost benefit analysis was proof of “stunning economic mismanagement”.
“Parramatta and Greater Western Sydney deserves a new world class, state of the arts museum that reflects and respects Parramatta’s unique and leading place in Australia’s history and heritage,” Mr Hillman told City Hub.
The petition followed an escalation of the dispute between the government and those who want the building to remain in its current location, with a group of prominent Australians issuing an open letter urging the government to ensure they don’t “destroy the Powerhouse”.
The letter, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, demanded the government overturn the decision to relocate the site and argued the museum’s items will be put at risk if the site is moved.
“Western Sydney deserves better — a unique institution shaped by community consultation, one that reflects the history, achievements and cultural diversity of the region, and the aspirations of its people,” the letter said.
Despite supporting the move to the west, Parramatta Mayor Paul Gerard’s council is opposed to one potential site, wtih all councillors voting against the museum being built on the banks of the Parramatta River.
The estimated $200 million from the sale of the site will go towards to cost of the move, estimated at over $500 million.