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Secret Powerhouse business

Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Alec Smart

BY JOHN MOYLE

Last week the Berijiklian government stooped to new lows when its arts minister Don Harwin failed to follow Upper House directives to produce the business plan for the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta.

This was despite Harwin’s spokesperson saying in early April that “The business case was delivered to the Government in December … (and) Infrastructure NSW – the Government’s independent assurance body will release a summary of the Powerhouse business case 90 days after it makes the investment decision.”

“It’s unprecedented and this whole thing is really shonky,” Robert Borsak MLC, Shooters and Fishers Party said.
“I’ve never seen such a flagrant breach of Government duty to be accountable to the Upper House ever.”

Mr Borsak is also the chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Museums and Galleries that was established in 2016 and extended to 28 June 2018.

Harwin’s amazing feat of factual dexterity was supported by his letter to Ms Jacqueline Moore, Executive Director, Premier and Cabinet on the 16th of April stating “I certify to the best of my knowledge that there is no documents held by the Office of the Minister for the Arts that are covered by the terms of the resolution.”

“The NSW Legislative Council is the house of review and it has a role to do checks on the accountability of the Government so there is either no business papers or the State Government is refusing to produce, and either avenue is unacceptable,” Walt Secord, Labor MLC and Shadow Arts Minister said.

Action group Save the Powerhouse said they were “outraged by the Government’s latest blatant duplicity. In refusing to produce the documents relating to the proposed Powerhouse move, which Minister Harwin has stated were received in mid-December 2017, it is clearly contravening the motion agreed in the Legislative Council on April 11, requiring the Final Business Case and associated documentation to be presented to the Clerk of the Upper House within 14 days.”

Greens member for Balmain Jamie Parker said “This is the story that just keeps on giving, but there are a range of things that Parliament can do, they can refer the minister (Harwin) to the Privileges Committee.”

This is easier said than done as it will take a majority in the Upper House to get the referral passed as a motion.

Currently Labor, the Greens, Shooters and Fishers party and the Animal Justice League oppose the move, but are still short of a majority to pass any censure against Harwin.

The balance of power in in the Upper House for this debate is held by The Christian Democrats, who usually support the Government.

“The Government relies on those Christian conservatives,” Jamie Parker said.

The proposed move also brings into question the legal status of many of the donations, which in most cases were made to the Powerhouse Museum collection to be protected by the State.

“Under the charter of the Powerhouse the museum has the requirement to protect the heritage of NSW,” Walt Secord said.
“Families gave important historical items to establish the museum knowing that they would be protected forever and now they have no idea what will happen to them.”
There is an obligation to protect our historical artefacts.”

It seems strange that a government would act in such a foolhardy manner, particularly when there do not seem to be any votes in the issue, and the voters of NSW are right in asking ‘why are they doing it?’

Robert Borsak possibly has the answer when he said “There is no doubt that this is about a government grab for inner city real estate.”

But if that is the case it must also raise the question of who is set to benefit other than the public asset rich coffers of the NSW government?

“There is no transparency here,” Robert Borsak said.

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