BY JOHN MOYLE
Last week saw the usually soporific scenes in the the NSW Legislative Council take a turn towards high drama when a government member crossed the floor to help deliver the Greens and Labor a win in the Powerhouse Museum relocation saga.
When NSW Liberal Legislative Council member Matthew Mason-Cox took his upper house perambulations to the other side of the chamber the vote came down 19-18, giving the Government 14 days to table its business case for the Powerhouse Museum relocation.
“The Government was absolutely stunned,” Jamie Parker, Greens MP for Balmain said.
“It was earth shattering for the Government.”
Earlier, the Government was intent on withholding their business case for three months after they had made their final decision, which meant that they were continuing their shroud of secrecy around the subject that was first announced by ‘Casino’ Mike Baird in 2015.
The proposed move has never had a groundswell of support except from the usual suspects wanting to get their snouts in the trough – and of course the developers who would get to make a new hole in the ground at Ultimo.
“I am the member for Auburn and I represent people living in suburbs just three kilometres from the Parramatta CBD and no-one has ever raised with me that they want a small piece of the Powerhouse to be moved to Parramatta,” Luke Foley, leader, NSW Labor opposition said.
Five time mayor of Parramatta, Paul Garrard said “I don’t think the site in Parramatta is the best site. When I left office it was up t the Government and the Council to develop a process to come to the new Council and the administrator took over and effectively lied to the State Committee on the matter.”
The plan called for the sale of the Powerhouse site at Ultimo for an expected $200 million that would be spent on buying the old DJ’s car park for $140 million.
Of this money, $140 million would go to the redevelopment of the Riverside Theatre and $40 million towards the “delivery of the cultural plan” for the use of the new museum site.
In reality, the Government was not spending any new money, but doing a shell shuffle to dazzle while not having firm plans for any of the proposed projects.
And the business plan for Parramatta did not add up, as shown when Deloitte’s modelling for Parramatta Council while under administration showed that the economic benefits to building a new Powerhouse in the precinct would only be around $106 million.
The Government has claimed that the citizens of Parramatta support the move, but almost all of the consultation was done after the announcement was made and the questions gave no options.
As plans were muddled and changed from an entire transplant of the inner city facilities to a partial move of the collection, costs kept escalating and are now estimated to being between $1 billion and $2 billion.
City of Sydney Labor councillor Linda Scott who has been a long term opponent to the move said “No global city closes down cultural institutions in order to reopen another.”
No-one objects to western Sydney getting its own cultural facilities, but that will need a rethink of all political parties in how the arts dollars are allocated.
“The current situation is unacceptable when more than 90 per cent of the State Government’s arts budget is spent in the CBD, so much more needs to be done in western Sydney,” Luke Foley said.
While western Sydney contains one in 10 Australians, it attracts one per cent of Federal funding and 5.5 per cent of State Government funding.
“Many Labor Party members have supported me and Linda Scott in saying that the Powerhouse should stay in Ultimo and that western Sydney deserves its own dedicated museum,” Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader, Labor Party said.
The fact that the opposition to the destruction of a great cultural institution has got this far is further proof of what community and political action can achieve.
“We’ve had petitions and public rallies that show that community actions can not only move governments but moved that one member of parliament so strongly that he crossed the floor, and it’s also moved Labor’s position,” Jamie Parker said.
The Government has plenty of reasons to drop this reckless idea that could easily turn into a 2019 election issue.
“Of course we will go to the election with a clear policy on delivering a first rate facility to Parramatta for performances and exhibitions, as I don’t think that the people in western Sydney are happy about receiving some of the Powerhouse leftovers,” Luke Foley said.