The proposed relocation of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta might not go ahead, as vital state government funding for the move may be rescinded. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet has reportedly already informed crossbenchers that funds intended for the Powerhouse relocation – which has been projected to cost as much as $1.1 billion by Infrastructure NSW – are to be reviewed. Uncertainty about the future of state-supported projects comes in the wake of the announcement of a proposed 12-month wage freeze for public servants, as the state grapples with the economic fallout of the shutdown. The proposed $810 million upgrades to the ANZ Stadium have also been called into question.
On Friday, 29 May, the lord mayor of Parramatta, Bob Dwyer, took the extraordinary step of issuing a public plea to the Berejiklian government to make good on its commitment to relocate the Powerhouse. “If the NSW premier is serious about wanting to supercharge the state’s economy, she should start by making the Powerhouse relocation a top priority and investing in Sydney’s west,” Dwyer wrote. “For far too long, the people of Western Sydney have waited for a world-class cultural institution close to home which they can be proud of. We are tired of being short-changed.”
In addition to adding a state-of-the-art cultural hub to the area, attracting an estimated two million visitors a year to Parramatta, transplanting the Powerhouse is also expected to create 2,300 jobs during the construction phase and over 3,000 full-time positions once the venue opens in 2023.
When it was announced in 2018 that the Powerhouse Museum would be relocated from its current home in Ultimo, it was a deeply divisive decision that regularly proved to be a political hot potato. From the proposed relocation site’s flooding potential to the ballooning costs of the project and criticism of the new museum’s design – colourfully described by a Labor arts spokesperson as a “monstrosity on stilts” – the Powerhouse move has been dogged by controversy.
However, the current global crisis has thrown an unexpected spanner into already contentious works. There are now unprecedented new pressures on state coffers, as multiple industries have been plunged into financial turmoil, not least the cultural sector. Already, one major Sydney venue – Carriageworks in Redfern – has gone into voluntary administration, and the state government has been compelled to pledge $50 million in relief to the arts and culture sector which has experienced soaring unemployment and loss of earnings.
Despite the state's economic challenges, City of Parramatta council CEO, Brett Newman, urged the NSW government to spend its way through the crisis. “Sydney needs infrastructure projects of this magnitude to survive,” he said, adding that Parramatta had received no significant cultural investment since the 1988 bicentenary celebrations. “Western Sydney gets a meagre percentage of cultural arts funding compared with Sydney’s CBD and eastern suburbs, despite the fact our residents make up almost a third of NSW population. The once-in-a-generation Powerhouse project is an important step to address this imbalance.”