Select Committee on the Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales
1: Introduction to Committee: purpose and process
2: Reports on Hearings
3: News background to second Upper House Select Committee Inquiry Feb – July 2020
1.0: Introduction to Committee: purpose and process
From 2016 – 2019 an Upper House (Legislative Council) Inquiry was carried out into the management of Museums and Galleries in NSW, including the proposed relocation of the Powerhouse Museum. (For details of the First Inquiry: Read more and for its Final Report: Read more).
The NSW government ignored the Committee’s recommendations, and on 23 March, 2020, a media release announced: ‘A new Upper House inquiry will shine a spotlight on the NSW Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum – in particular, the rationale for its proposed relocation from Ultimo to Parramatta. The inquiry will also consider the adequacy of the NSW Government’s support for museum and cultural initiatives more broadly. A select committee has been established to conduct the inquiry, chaired by the Hon Robert Borsak MLC. Mr Borsak chaired the previous inquiry into the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, which ended in February 2019, prior to the 2019 state election. “The Powerhouse Museum is a cherished cultural institution showcasing our technology and engineering heritage. It has been a valued part of the Ultimo cityscape for several decades, located on a site historically associated with the generation and supply of power for the city’s early tramways and rail systems” Mr Borsak said. “Despite much scrutiny, so much about the proposed relocation remains unclear, including the economic drivers for the project, the purported benefits to the people of New South Wales and the potential heritage impacts to places and collections”, Mr Borsak added. The inquiry will also look at the adequacy of funding to museums and galleries more broadly over time, including any impact of past efficiency dividends on collecting and cultural institutions in New South Wales. “I look forward to bringing greater transparency to issues surrounding the Powerhouse Museum’s proposed relocation and the state of the museums and galleries sector more broadly.”’
Since this announcement, and the release of the design plans for the proposed new museum in Parramatta, strong public lobbying continued.
Eventually, on 4 July, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced that the Powerhouse Museum would stay in Ultimo, and that a second museum would be supported in Parramatta. There was widespread professional and public support for this decision. However, it remained extremely unclear exactly what aspects of the integrated collection would be included in each site, and in Parramatta, exactly what other options could be considered.
Second Inquiry, from July 2020: Read more here
This second Select Committee Inquiry will address these issues, among others, as well as the needs and support for museums and galleries in regional NSW.
Chair: Borsak, Robert (SFF, LC Member)
Deputy Chair: Shoebridge, David (GRNS, LC Member)
Members: Franklin, Ben (NAT, LC Member); Jackson, Rose (ALP, LC Member); Khan, Trevor (NAT, LC Member); Martin, Taylor (LIB, LC Member); Secord, Walt (ALP, LC Member)
Read the submissions: 147 submissions had been posted on the website by 13 July, and more added later: Access them all here: Read more
Purpose of the Committee:
That a select committee be established to Inquire into and report on:
(a) the proposed move of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the Powerhouse Museum, from Ultimo to Parramatta, including:
(i) the core visions behind the move,
(ii) the governance of the project, including the effectiveness and adequacy of planning, business cases, design briefs, project management, public reporting, consultant selection and costs, project costing and cultural and demographic justifications,
(iii) the risks in the move, including damage to collections, cost overruns and the future cost of operations at Parramatta,
(iv) the consequences of flood at the site at Parramatta in light of the flood event in February 2020, (v) the impact on the heritage status of the site at Ultimo and heritage items at Willow Grove and the Fleet Street precinct at Parramatta, (vi) the use of the proceeds from the proposed sale of the site at Ultimo,
(vii) the Government’s response to the previous recommendations of the Portfolio Committee No. 4 in Report 40 entitled ‘Museums and Galleries in New South Wales’,
(b) the Government’s management of all museums and cultural projects in New South Wales, including
(i) current Government policy, funding and support for museums and galleries across regional New South Wales.
(ii) whether there is equitable access to collections across New South Wales, including at the Powerhouse Museum and the Australian Museum,
(iii) whether comprehensive consultation with communities and experts has informed cultural policy and projects across New South Wales, such as that applying to heritage arms and armour collections, (iv) the continuing impact of the efficiency dividend on the budgets of museums and galleries over the last 10 years,
(v) funding levels for museums and galleries in New South Wales compared with other states,
(vi) whether there are other more cost effective strategies than the sale of the Powerhouse Museum site at Ultimo to support museum development across New South Wales, including consideration of the new Parramatta site and the proposed standalone Western Sydney Museum at the Cumberland Hospital site,
(c) any other related matter
2.0: Reports on Hearings: Read transcripts here
Hearings took place on these dates (not public, because of COVID19 restrictions).
First Hearing: 29 July, 2020
Second hearing: 21 Aug 2020
Third hearing: 02 Sep 2020
Fourth hearing: 08 Oct 2020
Fifth hearing: 10 February, 2021
Sixth hearing: 17 March, 2022
Transcripts: will be published here in due course.
10 February, 2021 Hearing – Jubilee Room, Parliament House, Sydney
6th Hearing: 17 March, 2022
2.1 First Hearing, 29 July, 2020
On 29 July, the ‘Select Committee on the Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales’, which was established on 27 February, held the first of four scheduled hearings for the second Legislative Council Inquiry in the NSW Parliament.
– Minister for the Arts; the CEO of Infrastructure NSW; and a Deputy Secretary from the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
– Representatives from the City of Sydney, and the City of Parramatta
– CEO of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and Chair of Trustees
– Representatives from Australian, NSW and International Museums and Galleries Councils, and the National Trust.
To read details, refer to the committee’s website here:
Cover page for links to Submissions,Hearing Schedules and Transcripts: Read more
The Schedule of speakers for hearing on 29 July: Read more
For transcript, published 5 August: Read more
Webcast recordings of the hearing are publicly available here
Read also: news media reports in our News Chronology
2.2 Second hearing, 21 August, 2020
The second hearing of the Select Committee on ‘the Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales’ took place on 21 August, available for public viewing on air. Those interviewed included former senior staff and trustees of the Powerhouse Museum, a museum director and professionals in related fields associated with museum content and management, and key people from Parramatta, Ultimo and Pyrmont action groups.
Interviews covered concerns for the future of the Ultimo site, as its business case proceeds and discrepancies are discovered in the government’s meaning of ‘saving the Powerhouse in Ultimo’; the future of the Harwood building (NSW’s first tram depot); the extent of collection representation at the Ultimo site with doubts about Harwin’s focus on Fashion and a lyric theatre; and issues of access and safety in transport to and from exhibitions sites if all the collection is transferred to Castle Hill. As well, strong concerns continued to be expressed about the suitability and safety of the Parramatta site, with support for an alternative proposal for the Fleet Street heritage site.
See schedule of speakers here.
The transcript can be read here.
Webcast recordings of the hearing are publicly available here.
Read also: news media reports in our News Chronology
2.3 Third hearing, 2 September, 2020
This hearing was held in the Macquarie Room, Parliament House, Sydney, and was available to audiences on line. For details of the day, see:
Schedule of interviews: Transcript of discussions, and Webcast of proceedings.
2.4 Fourth hearing, 8 October, 2020
The 4th hearing of the ‘Select Committee into government’s management of Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects’ took place, with proceedings available live on air. For the Committee web page: See Here.
Schedule of speakers: See Here
For Transcript: See Here
On-line recording: See Here
5th hearing, 10 February, 2021
On the NSW government web page for the ’Hearing Schedule for the Inquiry into the government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in NSW”:
For introductory information about the committee, previous hearings, and the schedule for this and earlier hearings, go to: HERE
For the schedule of speakers, go to: HERE
For the transcript of hearing, go to HERE
For the 7 Videos now available, go to: HERE
The earlier media release said:
‘The NSW Upper House committee examining the Government’s proposal for the Powerhouse Museum – as well as funding issues for the State’s museums and cultural projects more broadly – is set to kick off its next round of hearings in 2021 on Monday 15 February. The Committee Chair, the Hon Robert Borsak MLC, stated: “This costly project continues to evolve, with the Government pressing ahead with the Powerhouse Parramatta proposal despite what can only be considered almost unanimous community opposition. As highlighted by submissions to the statutory planning process, there are still serious concerns about the impacts of this State significant project “… The future of Willow Grove – a property of substantial social, cultural, historic and aesthetic significance – also remains unresolved, with the Government announcing late last year that it will be relocated to a site in North Parramatta… “This hearing will be a very timely opportunity to get to the nuts and bolts of what’s being proposed,” Mr Borsak added.’ See media release here: Media release – Fifth public hearing
Speakers include: Hon Don Harwin MLC; Ms Kate Foy: Dept of Premier and Cabinet; Mr Simon Draper: CEO Infrastructure NSW; Ms Lisa Havilah: Chief Executive, MAAS; Hon Peter Collins AM QC: President, Board of Trustees, MAAS; Mr Christopher Brown AM: Chair, WS Powerhouse Museum Community Alliance; Mr Darren Greenfield Secretary, CFMEUnion, NSW ; Mr Steven Molino: Principal, Molino Stewart; Mr Tom Lockley: Private citizen; Clr Donna Davis: City of Parramatta Council.
Much discussion focussed on plans, costs and consultation for the new Powerhouse museum in Parramatta, with particular attention to issues of the floodprone site, and the controversies associated with relocating the historic WillowGrove building. Also mentioned was the remaining lack of clarity about the specific future role of the Powerhouse Museum at its significant Ultimo site, where a decision from ‘options’ has still to be made.
6th Hearing: 17 March, 2022
The 6th hearing of the (second) Select Committee for the Inquiry into the Government’s Management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in NSW
In its 6th hearing since 29 July 2020, and following an earlier Inquiry on the same subject, the Committee met for what has been suggested is its final hearing for the Committee (not fully confirmed). The focus was on the future of Powerhouse Museum, part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
For members, and hearing schedules: Read
For full Transcript, Read: or here: Transcript – 17 March 2022
Chair, The Hon. Robert Borsak, introduced the hearing: ‘Today we will hear from a range of stakeholders including the Minister for Arts, the Hon. Ben Franklin, MLC, the Powerhouse Museum board and management and an expert flood panel. Today’s hearing is being broadcast live via the Parliament’s website. A transcript of today’s hearing will be placed on the Committee’s website..’
(Note: New Arts Minister Ben Franklin, was a former member of this committee; and former Arts Minister, Don Harwin, was included in it this time.)
Witnesses, in three sessions, were:
The Hon. BEN FRANKLIN, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Regional Youth
ANNETTE PITMAN, Acting Chief Executive, Create NSW, Department of Premier and Cabinet
KATE FOY, Group Deputy Secretary, Tourism, Sport and Arts, Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade
Ms LISA HAVILAH, Chief Executive, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
The Hon. PETER COLLINS, President, Board of Trustees, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
Mr GREG ROGENCAMP, Associate Principal, Surface Water Engineering Leader, Arup
Mr TOM GELLIBRAND, Head of Projects NSW, Infrastructure NSW
Mr RICHARD DEWAR, Technical Director, WMA Water
Dr JOHN MACINTOSH, Flood/Hydrological Engineer, Water Solutions, via videoconference
Ms DONNA DAVIS, Lord Mayor, City of Parramatta
Ms SUZETTE MEADE, North Parramatta Residents Action Group
Arts Minister, Ben Franklin opened discussion: ‘The Powerhouse is in a period of extraordinary transformation. With the establishment of Powerhouse Parramatta, the renewal of Powerhouse Ultimo, the expansion of the Museums Discovery Centre in Castle Hill and the ongoing operation at Sydney Observatory, the Powerhouse is designing a new approach to museums. Leading with a place in history, the Powerhouse and its venues will set a global benchmark for museums and cultural precincts, rewriting how institutions represent and reflect their communities. The investment by the New South Wales Government will cement the Powerhouse as Australia’s leading museum of applied arts and sciences with the development of two world-class facilities, in Ultimo and the museum’s flagship in Parramatta. As the first New South Wales State cultural institution to be based in western Sydney, Powerhouse Parramatta will be a transformational cultural precinct in Australia’s fastest growing city. Leading in science and technology and fostering our future STEM leaders, Powerhouse Parramatta will be the largest museum in New South Wales, with over 18,000 square metres of exhibition and public space, attracting two million visitors annually. Furthermore, Powerhouse Ultimo will undergo a renewal that would put the museum’s notable design and fashion collection at the forefront. Presenting exhibitions that feature the museum’s significant collections alongside iconic objects, Powerhouse Ultimo is an ideal site to host exclusive international exhibitions and programs that support the fashion and design industries. The expansion will deliver a new and increased exhibition and public space and a significant investment in the development of a creative industries precinct that will generate subsidised commercial studios and workspaces. Lastly, the Museums Discovery Centre is home to the Powerhouse collection. A key component of the Powerhouse renewal is the development of new storage facilities with a research workshop and community spaces that will provide new levels of access to collections on one consolidated site.’
Discussion with witnesses:
Critical discussions followed this address, about the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences across all sites, and included questions and responses about: the existence of and access to business cases; the proposed development and use of significant buildings in Ultimo; the status, representation, exhibition and location of the broad collection; the identification of the Ultimo site as a ‘Fashion and Design’ museum; as yet unclear programs intended for all future sites; the purpose of donated funds in relation to the Museum’s role; and issues about the dangers of a flood-prone Parramatta site and the destruction of historic buildings.
Save the Powerhouse community group wrote by email and Facebook:
Subject: TODAY’s INQUIRY HEARING INCONCLUSIVE We learned that:
– Other than confirmation that the Locomotive No1, the Catalina flying boat and the Boulton and Watt engine will stay and be displayed, we learned little new.
– According to CEO Lisa Havilah, the Powerhouse Ultimo will focus on fashion and design but not exclusively. The Steam exhibition will remain but will be integrated into “industrial exhibitions” to be “relevant and contemporary”.
– Peter Collins, President of the Board of Trustees also assured us that “there is no plan to demolish the Harwood Building” although its future use is not clear as there was a general discussion about moving “some” of the collections to Castle Hill to make room for “creative industries”.
– The Parramatta Powerhouse will focus on Science and Technology but there will be no permanent exhibition at all.
– There was a lengthy technical discussion by water experts on flood risks in Parramatta and the wisdom (or lack of) of building a new “world class” institution on a flood-prone river bank, but no meaningful conclusion.
– Suzette Meade, Spokesperson for the North Parramatta Resident Action Group deplored the decision to demolish Willow Grove Mansion and gut St George Terraces while Parramatta Lord Mayor Donna Davis opposed the loss of the building “undercroft” as public space.
North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) wrote later:
Their regular email newsletter reported on 17 April on local issues of concern and interest. It included: ‘Powerhouse Museum Inquiry Hearing: On March 17th this year a further hearing was held for the Upper House Inquiry into Powerhouse Museum and other Cultural institutions. This inquiry was very timely as we had just seen again the evidence of water heavy rain does to the project site on Phillip Street. The former minister for arts and heritage Don Harwin is now ironically on the inquiry committee mainly spending his time answering questions instead of asking them. NPRAG secretary Suzette Meade appeared beside Lord Mayor Donna Davis. Suzette focussed her time on the community sadness and anger over the demolition of WillowGrove by the State Government and tabling a set of images from the recent rain events as well as the debris collected around the river front. The Lord Mayor focussed on the lack of evacuation plan from the state government and pointing out that it’s not even required until the project requires final occupation certificates to open, as well as council’s planners still being very unhappy with the undercroft design of the building with flood waters and public safety. The same day the flood expert John Macintosh from the Brisbane Grantham Floods gave his expert testimony beside ARUP the state government engineers who are professionally advising that the Parramatta Powerhouse site is safe. During questioning the committee got ARUP to admit that they had not been treating riverine and overland flooding as one event in heavy rainfall but two separate events. This inquiry hearing session is also very good viewing and explains the still inherent danger of building this project on this flood prone site.’ NPRAG April 17
3.0: News background to second Upper House Select Committee Inquiry Feb – July 2020
(chronological order, present to past; extracted from PMA website: Read more )
22 August, 2020
‘Powerhouse Museum still in danger’
Judith White writes about her response to the Select Committee’s hearing in her Culture Heist newsletter: ‘Six weeks ago the museum’s supporters were celebrating Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s backflip decision to retain the museum at Ultimo. But the backflip has turned into a 360-degree somersault…. On Friday 21 September an array of expert witnesses, including some of Australia’s most distinguished specialists, lined up to give evidence of the flaws in the plan to an Upper House select committee inquiry. Their considered, meticulously documented testimony was compelling to watch.’ Read more here: or here: 22 August Judith White
21 August, 2020
‘Proposed Powerhouse Museum could be ‘life-threatening’ during major floods’
Alex Hart reports on Channel 7 News that ‘A scathing new report has found the proposed Powerhouse Museum at Parramatta will pose a serious risk to life during a major flood. Experts say precious exhibits could also be destroyed unless dangerous design flaws are fixed.’ Hart is reporting on one of the issues covered in the Inquiry hearing (see above), notably a report prepared by Molino Stewart Environmental and Natural Hazard Consultants. View the news report here.
19 June, 2020
Inquiry submissions on line: Select Committee on the Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in NSW
Following the extensive first Inquiry into Museums and Galleries in NSW, which produced an exemplary report that was ignored by the NSW government, a second inquiry was established as a ‘Select Committee on the Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales’ on 27 February 2020. While we wait to hear when the first hearings of this Inquiry may take place, the committee’s website has posted 139 submissions so far, and it is understood that more will be added. Of these, only two so far are in favour of the move: unbelievably, the trustees of the Powerhouse Museum No87 (MAAS Trustees), and perhaps believably , the Western Sydney Business Chamber No80 (Borger). See all submissions so far here: Read more
1 May, 2020
Inquiry submission: from 3 May to 17 May – 14 more days!
‘Extension of submission closing date: Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales’
The Select Committee for this second Legislative Council Inquiry has advised by email that:
‘The original closing date for written submissions to this inquiry was 3 May 2020. Thank you to those who have already made a submission. In light of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the submission closing date has now been extended to 17 May 2020.’
See the committee website here, for terms of reference, timeline and procedure for submissions: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/listofcommittees/Pages/committee-details.aspx?pk=264
25 March, 2020
‘Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales – Invitation to make a submission’
The Hon Robert Borsak MLC, Committee Chair of the first, and now second, Inquiry to be made into the Government’s management of museums and cultural projects, sent out an invitation to all interested people, saying:
‘A NSW Legislative Council Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales. The terms of reference for the inquiry, information guides and media release are attached for your information. On behalf of the committee, I would like to invite you to make a submission to the inquiry. The closing date for submissions is Sunday 3 May 2020.’ Also available is an on-line questionnaire: ‘Responses to the questionnaire may be used in the committee’s final report.’
For the full message, with all necessary information about making submissions to the Inquiry, and responding to the questionnaire, Read more here: Borsak – invitation to submit to 2nd Inquiry ; Factsheet – Making a submission ; TOR – Museums and cultural projects in New South Wales
23 March, 2020
MEDIA RELEASE: INQUIRY INTO THE GOVERNMENT’S MANAGEMENT OF THE POWERHOUSE MUSEUM AND OTHER MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL PROJECTS IN NEW SOUTH WALES
The NSW Legislative Council announced that: ‘A new Upper House inquiry will shine a spotlight on the NSW Government’s management of the Powerhouse Museum – in particular, the rationale for its proposed relocation from Ultimo to Parramatta. The inquiry will also consider the adequacy of the NSW Government’s support for museum and cultural initiatives more broadly. A select committee has been established to conduct the inquiry, chaired by the Hon Robert Borsak MLC. Mr Borsak chaired the previous inquiry into the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, which ended in February 2019, prior to the 2019 state election.’ After providing more details, it continues: ‘The committee is receiving submissions until 3 May 2020. Alternatively, interested individuals are invited to submit their comments by completing an online questionnaire, open until the same date. Public hearings will be held in the coming months. For information about the inquiry, including the committee membership and the terms of reference, please visit the Select Committee’s website. For media release and submission guidelines, Read more or here: Second Inquiry – submissions and questionnaire
28 February, 2020
‘Parramatta: Powerhouse Museum relocation inquiry’
Joanne Vella writes in the Parramatta Advertiser that: ‘A fresh inquiry into the State Government’s $1.5 billion relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta has polarised the community.
The Greens and Labor have backed the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers’ Party motion to launch the inquiry. Greens MP David Shoebridge said the inquiry was made more urgent after the recent floods at the proposed new $645 million Powerhouse site. “We need to ensure the safety of the Powerhouse’s priceless collection and it really does beggar belief that the government is proposing to place it beside a river on a flood plain,’’ he said. “We will also be passing a close eye over the proposed budget given the billion dollar cost overruns that almost every infrastructure project has faced under the Coalition.”
Mr Shoebridge said the community’s campaign was also a key reason for maintaining scrutiny. “There is a compelling case for Parramatta to have its own world class cultural institution that responds to its unique history from First Nations, to invasion and colonisation and the vibrant surge of migrants in the post war period,” Mr Shoebridge said. Opposition arts spokesman Walt Secord described the design as a “monstrosity on stilts’’. The design also spells the demolition of heritage-listed Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace at Phillip St. North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group welcomed the inquiry particularly about the demolition of 1870s Italianate villa Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace. “NPRAG is very pleased to hear further scrutiny into the Powerhouse Museum debacle is starting soon,’’ spokeswoman Suzette Meade said.’ Read more: 28 Feb P Adv. Relocation Inquiry
27 February, 2020
‘Fresh inquiry into Powerhouse Museum’
Hard on the heels of all recent reports, Linda Morris , in the Sydney Morning Herald, advises: that: ‘A fresh parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the Berejiklian government’s $1.5 billion plan to relocate the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta, as well as disparities in funding support for city and regional galleries and museums. The future of the museum and its priceless collection will be scrutinised by the same select upper house committee which urged last year that the museum’s relocation to Parramatta be abandoned and western Sydney be given its own world-class institution.
The wide-ranging inquiry will investigate the vision behind the move, governance of the project, including the effectiveness and adequacy of planning, the business case, design briefs, project management, public reporting, costs and cultural and demographic justifications. Greens MP David Shoebridge said special focus would be given to the consequences of floods after the carpark on the riverfront site was on February 10 turned into a swimming pool during the one-in-a-10-year flood event. Terms of reference also include the heritage status of the site at Ultimo and Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace, historic buildings at Parramatta slated for demolition per the winning designs by Moreau Kusunoki and Genton. The motion to hold an inquiry was backed by Greens and Labor, and was carried on voices in the upper house without there being a vote.’ Read more or here: 27 Feb Fresh Inquiry