Powerhouse Museum is moving from Ultimo to Parramatta Photo: Museum of Applied Sciences

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By Rickie Hardiman

The NSW government bent to pressure by agreeing to hand over documents relating to their controversial policy of moving the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta.

New modelling has been revealed after the NSW upper house ordered documents to be presented, and cabinet finally released papers even though many figures are redacted.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge has been at the forefront of the push for disclosure.

He said: “The long-suffering public should welcomer this commitment to accountability and transparency.  There has been a shroud of secrecy over a most controversial decision made by this government.”

Walter Secord, Labor Shadow Minister for the Arts said: “The cloak of secrecy still surrounds this with pages and columns of key information of financial data redacted from the view of the NSW taxpayer.”

He went on to question how the community could properly assess the Powerhouse Museum move when it did not have the full financial implications of the project.

Mr Secord called on the Berejiklian Government to drop its plans to relocate the Powerhouse and adopt Labor’s plan for a cultural institution with exhibition and performing arts space in Parramatta.

Mr Secord said it is now clear why the Berejiklian Government fought the release of the documents because there is no case to move the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta and “the government was making it up as it moved along”.

The NSW Government has already scheduled costs related to selling parts of the Powerhouse Museum site in Ultimo.

Residential and commercial developments plans are quoted for two to three storeys of office space, a fashion and design museum, a restaurant and bar and a theatre, with a capital cost of $387.5 million.

Arts Minister Don Harwin said the government made no apologies for these plans saying: “This is how great projects come to life. We are creating a precinct at Ultimo”.

Costs to visit the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta would rise from $15 to more than double at $34, and children, who previously had free admission, would pay $26.

This would make the visit untenable and beyond the budget of many families.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge spoke of costs to the family being more than $150 for a single visit and that this flew in the face of the government’s own analysis which warned new museum visits would be extremely price sensitive.

He said: “It confirms again just how out of touch this Liberal National government is, not just with Western Sydney but with people struggling to make ends meet across the state.”

“Whether it is nearly $2 billion on fancy stadiums or over $1 billion wasted on destroying the much- loved Powerhouse, this is a government that keeps putting vanity projects ahead of people’s real needs.”

Former Premier, Mike Baird, made the decision to move the Powerhouse and it has been a matter of contentious debate since the announcement was made.

The Public Service Association criticised the decision as a further example of the government’s willingness to “tear down public amenities” and sell them off to property developers.

Kylie Winkworth, former Powerhouse employee said: “It is shocking that a government should want to destroy a great museum with state of the art facilities to make way for apartments”.

According to Max Underhill from the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, “Darling Harbour, and surrounding area, is Sydney’s most important Transport, Engineering and Manufacturing Heritage Precinct.”

“The former Ultimo Power House, currently preserved as part of the Powerhouse Museum, is critical to this precinct”.

The Museum is the custodian of a collection of around 500,000 items valued at more than $311.5 million. They have been collected over 150 years.

There are 338,00 heritage items in the Powerhouse, of which 6,000 currently on exhibition would need to be moved into storage, many under climate-controlled conditions, until the planned opening in Parramatta in 2023.

All items need to be digitised, packed and tracked to prevent damage, loss or theft.

There are large objects including a Catalina Flying Boat, the largest and heaviest aircraft suspended in any of the world’s museums, along with a 26-tonne engine, Locomotive No. 1, which pulled the first passenger train in NSW.

This is no ordinary move: it is a massive undertaking involving items of historical significance to Australians.

A total of 28,645 items are considered of such significance that they require their own risk management plan.  At its peak, 215 museum staff will be participating in the move with the cost of relocation estimated at $65.7 million.

The new riverside museum site in Parramatta including costs of relocating a public car park, flood mitigation work in the basement, along with consultation and management fees, will add to the project’s $1.117 billion costs.

Unfortunately, some of Parramatta’s finest heritage buildings, Willow Grove and St. George’s Terrace, will have to be demolished to accommodate the new museum.