What now? Post-election letters to Ministers and Members of Parliament, 2023
Following the change of government in NSW in March, 2023, masses of individual and organisational Powerhouse Museum supporters were encouraged by election promises and comments from Members of Parliament who became ministers in the new Labor government.
But as time goes by, it is clear the new government has inherited many financial, structural and strategic problems from the previous government, and the future of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo – and its related locations, remains unclear. Have they changed their minds? Are contract arrangements too firmly in place? Do they really understand the issues? Members of the public have been invited to make comments and engage in discussions, but answers are still vague and not yet convincing.
See also ‘News Chronology 2023 on’, on this website.
Following are some of the many letters that have been submitted by experienced and knowledgeable professional people, who have been close to the Powerhouse Museum for many years, and who continue to campaign to save it.
– Is the collection still seen as the core focus of this unique museum of applied arts and sciences?
– Many concerns continue to be expressed about the narrow focus earlier identified for Ultimo, on fashion and design, which has not yet been contradicted.
– Both Ultimo and Parramatta read in design proposals as entertainment centres and pop-up exhibitions.
– Many questions are asked about decisions regarding conservation plans, heritage assessments and potential demolition of award-winning 1988 adaptive reuse of buildings with associated new architectural designs.
– Do they realise that a state museum with long-standing national and international significance should be in the acknowledged centre of the state capital city?
– Compared with so many other local suburbs and council areas, if Parramatta is so demographically and historically significant, why doesn’t it have its own museum, art gallery and community arts precinct? This is not just a vote-catcher!
– The collection has been moved to distant Castle Hill, which is inaccessible to so many local, regional, state and international audiences, and where it has returned to ‘display storage’ without the background stories advocated by the Powerhouse Museum from its opening in its new city location in 1988.
– Questions are also asked about the safety of rare historical industrial objects, and the proposals to disassemble them, and move them to potentially unsafe locations.
– Concerns are also expressed about the new tendency to display objects as ‘art experiences’ with limited background information about the context of making, using and appreciating context and history.
– And many more…
So: here are some of the submissions to Ministers, MPs and some related organisations – and some replies.
Personal addresses of authors have been deleted.
21 September, 2023: Christina Sumner to Minister John Graham
Former Principal Curator at the Powerhouse Museum, Christina Sumner OAM, wrote to Minister John Graham, ‘to request an immediate halt to the declared intention of the Museum’s current leadership to dismantle the institution and to pursue the destructive path which has led to so much unhappiness in the Museum community. This is unprecedented, uncalled for, and totally unnecessary cultural vandalism of the most ill-considered kind. Museums as institutions are there for a purpose, as sounding boards for us throughout our lives, to inspire, inform and intrigue us, and the best of them, like the Powerhouse Museum as it certainly was, evolve in tandem with the times. Such thoughtful evolution is not what has been and is happening now.’ She asks further pertinent questions, based on her extensive experience, and details many well-acknowledged concerns from both herself and others.
Read more: Christina Sumner to John Graham
2 September 2023
Arts Minister’s response to submissions? Powerhouse buildings to be preserved and consultation to take place
In Arts Minister John Graham’s Media Release today, he confirms: ‘The NSW Government is delivering on its election commitment to save the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo and preserve the Wran legacy. …The Minns government will undertake further consultation with current staff as well as the arts and culture sector, business and creative industries groups, the education sector, peak bodies, expert advisors, local communities, and the public on the details and timing of this heritage redevelopment.’
Read here: 230902 Med Rel Minister Graham – The Powerhouse Museum Ultimo revitalised
See also SMH news report here: SMH 2 Sept Morris re Minns
31 August, 2023: Debbie Rudder NSW Arts Policy submission
Responding to the NSW government’s offer to receive submissions for Arts Policy development, former PHM curator Debbie Rudder discusses:
Definitions: ’The NSW Government is committed to growing arts, culture and the creative industries.’
A new look at people: How can we create better, more inclusive pathways and support for practitioners in the arts, culture and creative industries?
A new look at infrastructure: How can we create and improve sustainable access to spaces, programs and other support for all aspects of artistic and cultural activity?
A new look at audiences: How can we grow local, national and international audiences for cultural experiences, for the benefit of our community and the broader economy
Where should the NSW Government focus the greatest effort and resources?
What barriers can the NSW Government remove to unlock the full potential of arts, culture and the creative industries?
What’s your big idea? (including exhibitions that must be developed that attract both schools and families) Read more: NSW arts policy submission dsr 2023
25 August, 2023: Reply from Premier, via Heritage NSW
Elizabeth Owers, Acting Executive Director, Heritage NSW, replied to a submission to Premier Minns by Garry Horvai, about the deferral of heritage listing for Powerhouse Museum buildings. Interesting is their description of museum management: ‘I acknowledge your concerns about the management of the Powerhouse Museum. Create NSW are responsible for managing the Museum. …In addition, the Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal Project is the responsibility of Infrastructure NSW…’ Read more: Minns reply 25 August
24 August, 2023: Meeting with Evan Hughes
Following Robert Borsak’s statements and Graham’s responses in Parliament on 23 August (see news chronology 2023 on), Save the Powerhouse group wrote: ‘We entirely agree with Borsak and once more urge the Minister for the Arts, John Graham and Cabinet to listen to the many voices of reason calling for an urgent change of direction at the Museum, to return to its Applied Arts and Sciences vocation and to abandon the destructive “Ultimo Renewal” in its current form. We met recently with Evan Hughes, the Minister for the Arts’ Advisor, and Kate Foy, Deputy Secretary for Community Engagement at the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and took the opportunity of the half-hour session to summarise our requests for our Museum which were
… Read our meeting notes HERE: Notes for meeting with Evan Hughes
When we suggested that “three and a half months after the election nothing seemed to have changed” we received the reply that the facts that Stage 2 “Renewal” EIS had not been placed on exhibition and that the staff had not been moved to Parramatta were signs that things were indeed changing. We were also advised that the numerous “Catalina incidents” (see our previous post) were thoroughly investigated by the Ministry. In this context we find yesterday’s 60-guest dinner beside the Catalina (see Borsak’s speech above) extremely disappointing. In short, a very cordial but not very productive meeting. We understand that a similarly friendly meeting of the PMA with the same Authority’s representatives was equally inconclusive.’
Read here: 24 August 2023 Save the P
31 July, 2023: Meeting with Office of Minister for Environment & Heritage
Debbie Rudder (Powerhouse Museum Alliance), Elizabeth Elenius (Pyrmont Action Inc), and Tom Lockley, convenor of Powerhouse Museum Heritage email group, met Tamsin Lloyd, from the Office of the Minister for Environment & Heritage, with the objective ‘to urge the Minister to expedite consideration of the Nomination for Heritage Listing of the Powerhouse Museum, including the Wran extension, and its exhibits.’ After providing a number of informative documents and considerable discussion:
‘Tamsin undertook to: • Give a briefing on the meeting and all documents to the Minister for Heritage within a few days • Pass on our thoughts on the need for urgent listing. Tamsin noted that at the moment there were no plans raise the matter with the Heritage Council schedule but will advise if there was any progress.
Tom undertook to supply a list of architects supporting the heritage listing of the PHM.
Tom, Elizabeth and Debbie expressed, on behalf of the massive forces supporting the retention of THE Powerhouse MUSEUM, appreciation of the opportunity to make our case at the decision-making level, an opportunity that has never been granted over the past eight years by the previous Government.’ Read more: Report on meeting 31 July
21 July 2023, ICOM (International Council of Museums)
Alex Marsden, Vice-Chair of ICOM Australia, wrote to Minister for Arts, and Director of Key Sites Assessment, ‘Re: SSD-32927319 Powerhouse Museum Concept Plan Proposal’, saying ‘We disagree with the proposal as presented. This looks to be the removal rather than the redevelopment of a Museum’. Read Here: ICOM to Arts Minister 21 July
20 July 2023, Des Griffin AM
Former director of the Australian Museum, Des Griffin, wrote to Minister John Graham about the recent Performance Audit Report on State Heritage Assets, as well as his support for comments by principal 1988 architect Mr Lionel Glendinning, and his recent comments, concluding: ‘For heaven’s sake will you take action to implement the promise made by the Minns Government to scrap the proposals of the previous government, plans which two inquiries by the Legislative Council found were unsupported by any rational argument.’ Read Here: Des Griffin July 20
20 July 2023, Garry Horvai
Garry Horvai wrote to Treasurer, Daniel Mookhey, and copied to Premier Minns.: ‘I am a nine-year veteran trying to save the Powerhouse Museum. On the 4th July 2020, the previous government announced that the Powerhouse Museum will be saved. This has turned out to be a total misdirection. There was a hidden agenda behind this announcement.’ After providing examples of serious concern, he concludes: ‘The current management is desperately trying to maintain the previous government’s dream for Ultimo. Please take on board the utter futility of this plan. All Ultimo needs is some serious TLC.’ Read Here: Garry Horvai 20 July, 2023
18 July, Save the Powerhouse, Lionel Glendenning
Save the Powerhouse Facebook page refers to excerpts from a letter written to new Arts Minister by architect, Lionel Glendenning, who ‘headed the internationally recognised conversion of the old Ultimo Power Station in 1988. As the “team leader” recommended by Prof. Hannah Lewi, VicePresident of Docomomo Australia, Glendenning has made his thoughts of the proposed “Renewal” abundantly clear in a recent letter to Minister John Graham. He is adamant, as we all are, that the Powerhouse Museum is NOT saved.’ . Read Here: Save the Powerhouse re Lionel Glendenning 18 July
13 July 2023, Save the Powerhouse
Writing to all members of Cabinet, Save the Powerhouse co-convenors Patricia Johnson & Jean-Pierre Alexandre wrote: ‘We write to express our utmost concern for the future of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. “Save the Powerhouse” is a community campaign opposing the “Ultimo Renewal” project which would convert the world-class, venerated Powerhouse Applied Arts and Sciences Museum into a commercially driven creative arts and events “Precinct.” In the weeks before the State election we were repeatedly promised that, if Labor was elected, the “Renewal” project would be PAUSED while the new Government reviewed its contractual obligations and widely CONSULTED with the relevant parties and the public. Yet, three and a half months after the election, no genuine consultation has taken place.’ After giving detailed examples of public concerns about what decisions have not yet eventuated, they add ’Save the Powerhouse believes the Cabinet will shortly decide on the future of the “Ultimo Renewal” project and demands that the project be cancelled.’ Read Here: Save the Powerhouse to Cabinet 13 July
10 July 2023, Powerhouse Museum Alliance
On behalf of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, Kylie Winkworth and Jennifer Sanders wrote to arts minister John Graham, expressing in well-informed detail the many issues raised about the former governments proposals for the Museum over the past 9 years, and the PMA’s serious concerns about the lack of action by the new government on following up pre-election commitments to undertaking serious review. Read Here: PMA to John Graham 11 July 2023
Kylie Winkworth also wrote a covering letter, asking ‘Is the Minns government really going to finish off the museum demolition job started by Baird and Berejiklian, still led by Harwin’s handpicked team in bed with the casinos and business lobbyists of the WSHBID? That’s what it looks like, but we’d be happy to be corrected.’
Read Here: Kylie Winkworth 10 July
10 July 2023, Tom Lockley
Tom Lockley, long time volunteer, experienced educator and aircraft enthusiast, and exemplary documenter of the PHM ‘renewal’ issues, wrote to the new Arts Minister John Graham, noting that: ‘There is grave concern that the forthcoming Cabinet discussions may not be properly briefed.’ He provided a number of informative attachments:
Read Here: Tom Lockley 11 July 2023
Cover sheet: Tom L Cover sheet
Item 1: email to Mr Graham of 30 June: Tom L Item 1
Item 2: Current & early fact sheet as sent to the previous and current government: Tom L Item 2
Item 3: A list of material that we would like to see to confirm or refute the assertions of improper procedure outlined in items 1 and 2: Tom L Item 3
Item 4: a list of people who have expressed support for the retention of the 1988 award-winning museum conversion of the Ultimo Power House: Tom L Item 4
2 July 2023, Garry Horvai
Garry Horvai wrote to Evan Hughes, adviser to Arts Minister John Graham, saying: ‘This is an 11th hour appeal to you as advisor to the Arts Minister to try to prevent behind the scenes powerful lobby groups from achieving their aim to spend $500mil + to convert the current Museum into an Educational/Entertainment /Commercial Hub that will house a Design & Fashion Museum.’ Citing particular concerns about the dangers of moving the Boulton and Watt engine, he notes: ‘As far as we know – no world recognised expert is being consulted. This irresponsible plan is being championed by the current CEO. It also appears to be fully backed by the current Trustees, some of whom were blatant fit for purpose appointees of the previous government. Outside experts believe that moving B&W even under world recognized expert care is a highly risky endeavour and should not be undertaken.’ Read Here: Garry Horvai, 2 July, 2023
29 June 2023, Des Griffin AM
Des Griffin wrote to Arts Minister John Graham, ‘More than 3 months after the election of a new Labor NSW Government, the unpopular and wasteful “Renewal” project is still being “steamrolled” with no real community consultation nor any consideration for its massive public rejection.’ Read Here: Des Griffin 29 June
24 June 2023, Save the Powerhouse
Save the Powerhouse wrote to Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, providing strong arguments for ceasing the ‘Renewal’ project for the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, saying: ‘In your first major update to the Parliament on 20 June, you warned that “The NSW budget is poised to remain in the red…and that the state had lurched from a once-in-a-generation pandemic into a once-in-a-generation cost of living crisis… There are tough choices ahead, they will not be easy, but they cannot be avoided,” you added. We, at Save the Powerhouse, and our 5000+ followers in NSW, Australia and overseas believe the “(Powerhouse) Ultimo Renewal” project is a prime candidate for such “tough choices”. Read Here: 24 June to NSW Treasurer
18 June 2023, Des Griffin AM
Des Griffin wrote to Independent MP Michael Regan, saying ‘I want you to do your best to get the new government to honour its promise to stop the destruction of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, a major institution presenting applied arts and sciences and important in its educational contribution to citizens and visitors.’ Read Here: Des Griffin 18 June
10 June 2023, Garry Horvai
Garry Horvai wrote to Greens MP for Balmain, Kobi Shetty: ‘…I am hoping that the Greens still have concerns regarding the fate of the Powerhouse Museum. Certainly this was the case under the leadership of David Shoebridge, ably assisted by Robert Borsak and Walt Secord. They conducted numerous parliamentary inquiries, unfortunately with limited success. All criticisms were spun out of existence or put on notice or resorted to the ultimate “cabinet in confidence” strategy. The battle to save the Powerhouse Museum is not over by a long shot. Powerful behind the scenes people are still as determined as ever…’ Read Here: Garry Horvai10 June, 2023
6 June 2023, Save the Powerhouse
Active community campaign group, Save the Powerhouse, wrote to Arts Minister John Graham, and other involved people, saying ‘We write to express our utmost concern about the future of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, on behalf of our 5000+ followers in NSW, Australia and overseas…We, and most of our followers, strongly oppose the “Renewal” project proposed and initiated by the former government, but apparently under threat of being adopted and advanced unchanged by the current Labor government.’ They requested an urgent meeting.
Read Here: Save the Powerhouse to John Graham 6 June
20 May 2023, Grace Cochrane AM
Former senior curator of decorative arts and design at the Powerhouse Museum, and editor of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance web page, Grace Cochrane wrote to Ministers in the new NSW government, hoping to influence changes to the proposed plans for the Museum. Congratulating them on their recent election success, and asking ‘What now?’, she said: ‘… I am writing to provide you with information about the former government’s disastrous decisions to first demolish and move, and then totally alter the structure and program, for the historic Powerhouse Museum and its continuing contemporary context. Read Here: Grace Cochrane 20 May 2023
19 May 2023, Sandra McEwen
Former Powerhouse Museum principal curator of biotechnologies, Sandra McEwen, wrote to new Arts Minister John Graham: ‘You are in a unique position to save what was once one of the finest educational institutions in Australia… Under the previous Liberal state government, the Museum appears to have been stripped of its mission, most of its scientific staff, its status as a ‘museum’ and, indeed, its existence… Please cancel the $500 million wasteful and destructive secret demolition plans for the Ultimo Creative Industries Precinct. These plans will erase all trace of the Powerhouse Museum and turn a great public museum into an expensive function centre and contemporary arts facility. It is a criminal use of public funds. Read Here: Sandra McEwen 19 May 2023
18 May 2023, Andrew Grant
Andrew Grant, former Senior Curator, Transport, Powerhouse Museum, wrote to Minister for Heritage, Penny Sharpe, saying: ‘I write to draw your attention to the current threat to buildings of heritage significance on the site of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo. In particular, I cite the Wran Building (1988) and the Harwood Building (1981), the latter being an adaptive re-use of the former Ultimo Tram Depot of 1899… The key argument here is the former Government’s refusal to recognise the heritage significance of the Powerhouse Museum in totality (which includes the above two buildings) rather than simply the former Ultimo Power House which excludes these two buildings.’ Read Here: Andrew Grant 18 May 2023
14 May 2023, Garry Horvai
Long-term advocate for protecting the Boulton & Watt steam engine, amongst other significant PHM machines, Garry Horvai asks new arts minister John Graham ‘That you reveal the make up of the expert team that will be supervising the dismantling, temporary storage, the relocation and restoration of B&W as a working steam engine; Indicate what all this would cos; Give a reason why this wasteful useless exercise for moving a fragile priceless object from A to B within the same structure is essential. Many members of the public are convinced that the only reason for this move is to allow the Wran Building to be demolished. Read Here: Garry Horvai 14 May 2023
And for Graham’s response, including ‘We acknowledge the significance as a collecting institution and its important function as a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences throughout its history. The Government is committed to the delivery of a world-class museum in this tradition at the site in Ultimo and we are in the process of examining all aspects of the former government’s plans.’ Read Here: Reply to Garry Horvai
May 2023, Powerhouse/Sydney Observatory letter
Save the Powerhouse group wrote on email and Facebook, that ‘We are all aware of the destructive and costly manoeuvres of the current MAAS management’, and after identifying main venues, added: ‘But less is known of the havoc currently inflicted on the MAAS fourth site: the Sydney Observatory. A spokesperson for Sydney City Sky Watchers and former Sydney Observatory Educator shared her letter to Alex Greenwich, MP for Sydney with us.’
Read Here: PowerhouseSydney Observatory letter May 2023
30 April 2023, Save the Powerhouse
Save the Powerhouse wrote to Arts Minister John Graham with copies to: Premier Chris MINNS, Penny SHARPE, Minister for Heritage and Kobi SHETTY, MP for Balmain. They say: ‘…We are encouraged by your pre-electoral commitment to preserve the Powerhouse Museum, an institution which “is a big part of the Wran story,” as a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. But now, a month after the election, we still note that the “Ultimo Renewal” is well underway despite having only reached the DA (Stage 2) “EIS Preparation” stage. Read here: 30 April to John Graham
30 April, 2023. And in a separate letter to Minister of Heritage, Penny Sharpe, Save the Powerhouse wrote: ‘The “Renewal” project calls for the demolition of the Sulman Medal winning Wran Building named after former Labor Premier Neville Wan, the force behind the transformation of a disused powerhouse into the museum we know…We therefore urge you to proceed urgently to the State Heritage listing of the entire Powerhouse Museum, including the Interiors, Harwood Building, Wran Building and Galleria and Collections. Read Here: 30 April to Penny Sharpe And for Minister Sharpe’s reply, 13 June, Read here: 13 June Penny Sharpe reply
13 April 2023, Steve Muscat, Rail Confidence
Director of Rail Confidence organisation, Steve Muscat, sent round an open letter offering ‘a professional opinion about the risks involved in dismantling and relocating the Museum’s Boulton & Watt beam engine.’
Read Here: Steve Muscat Rail Confidence re B&W 13 April
10 February 2023, Engineers Australia
Jane McMaster (Chief Engineer) and Prof Olivia Mirza (President, Sydney Division, Engineers Australia) wrote to then Premier, Dominic Perrottet and Ben Franklin, then Minister for the Arts about their concerns for the future location and presentation of the ‘full science and technology element within the museum at Ultimo’.
Read Here: Engineers Australia 10 February 2023
8 February 2023, TICCIH President
Dr Miles Oglethorpe, President of The International Committee on the Conservation of Industrial Heritage, wrote an open letter to then NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, ‘to urge the Government of New South Wales to step back from its current proposals to radically downgrade the Powerhouse Museum’s science, technology and engineering exhibitions and instead to reinstate them, together with its hugely valuable associated education and skills programs.’
Read Here: ICOM to Arts Minister 21 July
15 July 2022, Docomomo Australia
Professor Hannah Lewi, Vice-President, on behalf of Buildings at Risk sub-committee, Docomomo Australia, wrote to the Director, Key Sites Assessments NSW Planning, Department of Planning and Environment. In detail, it submitted that ‘the Draft Conservation Management Plan for the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo requires substantial amendment and rewriting to bring it to the acceptable standard for Conservation Management Plans.’
Read Here: DoCoMoMo Australia 15 July 2022