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BY KRISTEN TSIAMIS

The Upper House inquiry into the Powerhouse Museum took an interesting and unscheduled turn on Wednesday October 19.

The Committee scheduled an additional hearing day to clarify testimony from the President on the MAAS Board of Trustees Professor Barney Glover and the recently appointed director of the Powerhouse Museum, Dolla Merrillees

Patricia Johnson, co-convenor of the Save the Powerhouse campaign said that the hearing was unexpected. “It was a previously unscheduled short session from 1-2pm, and we understand that this was called to clarify testimony. The Committee wanted to hear more from them.”

State Independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich thinks the impromptu hearing is  positive for the Powerhouse and its future.

“It’s quite clear that the inquiry, as well as astrong community campaign, have been able to shed light on the problems associated with the relocation of the Powerhouse. I’m confident that what we will find is that there was a lack of detailed plans from government as to how they were going to do it, that it was going to cost more than ever expected, and that the museum in its current spot has strong support.”

Mr Greenwich believes that both Ultimo and Parramatta deserve world class cultural institutions. “I think what is happening is the government’s ill thought out plan is being exposed – I think also what is happening is a really important discussion for arts and infrastructure in western Sydney, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of the city. Using that much money would be better spent for a museum and arts infrastructure that celebrates Parramatta and its role in Western Sydney.”

The final scheduled hearing will take place on the 14th of November. Ms Johnson believes the inquiry is making good progress.

“The Committee is doing what it is supposed to do, particularly uncovering secret information about costs and acquisition of site in Parramatta. Initially, these witnesses appeared to know nothing about projected costs. In this hearing, they were comfortable with freedom of information documents and looking at a building envelope of at least $500 million. The previous talk from the government was of $200 million.”

The projected cost of a new museum could blow out to over $1 billion, taking into consideration a minimum of $200 million for moving the contents of the Ultimo museum, if that’s even feasible.

Ms Johnson said one of the biggest issues is the proposed site of the new museum: the old David Jones carpark. Ms Johnson said the location is flood-prone, and “no satisfactory explanation has been given as to how they’re going to make it flood-proof. It’s also about two-fifths the size of the Ultimo museum…the collections, upwards of 500,000 pieces won’t fit.”

The MAAS has put out a survey which serves as a promotion for the new museum in Parramatta. Ms Johnson said that “they were asking people to talk about the new museum and how great it was.  We have more than 8,000 people from our Facebook page stating their real opinion. Several thousand objections to the new site might help.”

Mr Greenwich is hopeful that this hearing will garner further public support for keeping the Ultimo museum. He said “I hope that it will have further support, community campaign to save an important cultural institution.”