Powerhouse Museum Ultimo

Powerhouse Museum Ultimo

(Petition, 25 February 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I welcome to the gallery supporters of the Powerhouse Museum and thank the many volunteers who collected signatures from people across New South Wales to save the Powerhouse Museum. In the gallery today we have united residents of Parramatta, residents of rural and regional New South Wales and families who value the Powerhouse Museum. All are here today to save the Powerhouse Museum and to call for an internationally significant museum that celebrates Western Sydney, not a downsized Powerhouse Museum that the Government does not even have a site for. The Powerhouse has operated successfully in Ultimo since 1893 and in its current purpose-built building since 1988. Today I join over 10,000 people across New South Wales to condemn the dismantling of this vital and popular cultural institution from its foundation to sell the land for private development.

The Powerhouse belongs in Ultimo. Ultimo is the city's creative and innovation hub and is the country's leader in digital start-ups. It is close to cultural institutions, Darling Harbour and higher education, which link with the Powerhouse's core science, technology and design purpose. The Powerhouse Museum is currently located in a converted electric tram power station. The museum provides the perfect use for protecting this world-class heritage building and the building fits in with the science and technology aims of the museum. The site supports open space, of which there is little in Pyrmont and Ultimo, and sits on top of the "goods line" which connects pedestrians to Harris Street. The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences is important to Ultimo and Ultimo is important to the museum.

It has been unhelpful, irresponsible and disingenuous of the Government to twist this community campaign into an inner city versus Western Sydney culture war. We are all Sydneysiders and responsible governments do not pit people from one area against those from another. Supporters of the Powerhouse in Ultimo agree that Western Sydney urgently needs its own internationally significant museum that celebrates Western Sydney and its immense contribution to modern Australia. But this should not be at the expense of a supported and established inner-city institution.

Cultural institutions are needed across the city and across the State. New South Wales is one of the only States without a strategic museums policy that looks at which artistic, cultural and historical stories we want to exhibit and where. We have no agricultural museum, no mining museum and no migration museum, for example. Establishing the right cultural institutions for Western Sydney should involve an expert assessment of the history, existing culture and strong emerging creativity in the region, after consulting with the people of the region. There are no public reports on options for Western Sydney, there have been no invitations for innovative ideas from the local arts communities, and there is no assessment or business case on why moving the Powerhouse will produce the best outcome for Western Sydney.

The Government has not engaged in any creative process; it has merely imposed a top-down decision that conveniently complies with its ongoing agenda to flog off inner city public assets for development. Cultural institutions cannot be merely relocated; their collections get moved but their history is lost along with much of the support of benefactors and sponsors. The Powerhouse has historical and contemporary relevance and history with its current site. The Government is not relocating this museum; it is dismantling it and using the proceeds for a new and likely smaller and inferior museum for Western Sydney. 

The Powerhouse has 400,000 artefacts, 95 per cent of which are kept in storage at any one time. This huge collection could span onto a site in Western Sydney without closing the Ultimo museum. The two museums could leverage off each other, with more exhibitions and works on display. The Powerhouse used to host the Migration Heritage Centre, which has now been closed. This could support an inspirational new migration museum linking it with the strong migrant populations of Western Sydney. There are many options, but the Government has refused to consider any.

Last financial year visitor numbers to the Powerhouse increased by 12 per cent and sponsorship increased by 51 per cent, yet the Government claimed the move was necessary due to poor patronage. Patron numbers at all museums and galleries go up and down. The Government is collecting massive amounts of stamp duty from both the inner city and Western Sydney, including Parramatta, where residential towers are dotting the skyline. It should support cultural institutions for all of Sydney's growing populations.

We do not want the Powerhouse to be another casualty of the growing list of relocations of inner-city functions and services for residential development. Adjacent Pyrmont is already Australia's most densely populated suburb—we cannot keep building more and more apartments without providing new infrastructure and services, let alone remove cultural infrastructure. Over 10,000 people have signed this petition to keep the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo and I join their call on the Government to appoint an expert committee to consult on what is best for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and Western Sydney, without dismantling the Powerhouse.

You can read the full discussion HERE.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!