Published February 16, 2016 - Andrew Taylor, SMH Deputy Arts Editor
A coalition of museum experts and inner city MPs has demanded the NSW Premier overturn his government's decision to relocate the Powerhouse Museum from inner-city Sydney to Parramatta.
An open letter to Mike Baird warns the museum's extensive collection of 500,000 items will be put at risk if the museum is moved to western Sydney.
The Greens member for Balmain, Jamie Parker, told a meeting at the NSW Parliament on Monday that he and the independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, had spoken to "even members of the Nationals who are horrified at this proposal".
Mr Greenwich criticised the government's lack of consultation and said people in western Sydney did not want the Powerhouse Museum.
"The government has made a top-down decision with no assessment or consultation and as a result the inner city will lose something it wants and western Sydney will get something it never asked for," Mr Greenwich said.
The letter, which comes ahead of a parliamentary debate on February 25 about the proposal to move the Powerhouse, suggests there are better alternatives for a new museum based in Parramatta.
"Western Sydney deserves a world class, major cultural institution, a 21st-century museum, not a relocated 1988 museum concept," according to a draft of the letter.
The letter commends the NSW government for promising to spend more money on cultural infrastructure in western Sydney, but contains veiled criticisms of the lack of transparency surrounding the decision.
The meeting, organised by Mr Parker, was attended by former Powerhouse director Carl Andrew, museum consultant and former Powerhouse trustee Kylie Winkworth, deputy president of the NSW branch of the National Trust Brian Powyer and representatives from community groups based in Parramatta and Ultimo.
Mr Parker and Mr Greenwich will also attend a meeting of the Save the Powerhouse campaign in Ultimo on Friday.
Children from the Webb and Carter families attend a Save The Powerhouse Rally in Ultimo last year. Photo: Fiona Morris
Winkworth said the government proposal was "a museum demolition plan".
"The Powerhouse Museum cannot be relocated," she said. "Its exhibitions and exhibits and stories and its impact as a visitor attraction are all indivisible from its Ultimo building."
Ms Winkworth said the issue of "cultural equity" was important, but it was not only residents in western Sydney who lacked cultural facilities.
She said the state government had failed to invest in museums in country NSW, while other states had funded cultural facilities in regional areas.
"Unlike Queensland, NSW hasn't invested in destination regional tourist attractions and museums like the Stockman's Hall of Fame, the Waltzing Matilda Centre," Ms Winkworth said.
"NSW arguably has the most inequitable funding model for museums of any state or territory," she added.
NSW Arts Minister Troy Grant, the Nationals member for Dubbo, cast doubt in January on whether the state government would fund the building of cultural facilities in western Sydney and regional NSW, saying it was the primary responsibility of local government.
"Is it fair to taxpayers in regional NSW and the outer suburbs to be triple taxed for culture and to be funding state and national collections … without getting meaningful benefit?" Ms Winkworth said.
Mr Powyer, who is based in Parramatta, said the National Trust strongly opposed the sale of the Powerhouse's Ultimo site for redevelopment.
"The trust strongly opposes any demolition of the existing historic structure, the purpose-built 1988 extension and extant components that demonstrate the Powerhouse's original use," he said.
The meeting was also told the closure of the Powerhouse would have a detrimental economic effect on inner-city Sydney and lead to job losses and the closure of small businesses.
"The proposal to sell the Powerhouse building came from Infrastructure NSW where the museum was simply a piece of public property to be privatised," Mr Parker said. "Whilst a big-ticket real estate deal is stereotypical for Sydney, it is not the best way to determine cultural infrastructure policy."
Despite the criticism, Mr Parker said he was optimistic the NSW government will welcome the ideas that came from the meeting.