Adjournment on Arts in Western Sydney

Recently I spoke in the Parliament in support of the planned relocation of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, known to most people as the Powerhouse Museum, to Parramatta.

In doing so I wanted to highlight the funding deficit for the arts in Western Sydney and the need for fundamental reform to the distribution of cultural investment in New South Wales, of which the relocation of the Powerhouse is a part.

Nearly one-third of NSW's population live in western Sydney, but the region receives just 1% of Commonwealth arts program funding and 5.5% of the state government's arts budget. 

You can watch the speech here:

From Hansard:

The Hon. SHAYNE MALLARD ( 22:01 ): I speak in support of the planned relocation of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, known to most people as the Powerhouse Museum, to Parramatta. In doing so I want to highlight funding deficit for arts in Western Sydney and highlight this fundamental reform to the distribution of cultural investment in New South Wales. In February 2015 the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

One in 10 Australians and nearly one-third of NSW's population live in western Sydney, but the region receives just 1% of Commonwealth arts program funding and 5.5% of the state government's arts budget.

The Fairfax journalist was quoting figures from the Building Western Sydney's Cultural Arts Economy report compiled by Deloitte and commissioned by a group of Western Sydney councils. Deloitte also found that taxpayers spend more than four times more money on subsidising each visitor to venues in Sydney's central business district compared with Western Sydney. The Deloitte report on the significant imbalance of arts funding demonstrates the cultural funding inequality and puts to bed the loud objections of inner city arts activists. They are pulling no punches opposing the Government's decision, including accusations of a developer driven sale of the Powerhouse site—the dollars in that conspiracy just do not add up—and pork-barrelling of the marginal seat of Parramatta.

Apart from the insult to the outstanding member for Parramatta, Dr Geoffrey Lee, who does not need pork-barrelling to get himself re-elected, when did reforming funding for the arts in favour of a critical region where the bulk of Sydney's population actually live constitute pork-barrelling? The member for Parramatta has quite rightly hit back at suggestions that Parramatta should have a small annexe of the Powerhouse and has said:

We are not the little brother or the poor cousin of Sydney CBD; we will not accept second best.

The site of a former David Jones car park on the banks of the Parramatta River and the early design concepts show that the Baird Government is thinking creatively about how this building will connect Western Sydney locals and especially young students to culture and the arts. The Minister for the Arts in the other place has already said the museum will be aiming to attract a million annual visits by 2030 and will exhibit 40 per cent more of the Powerhouse's collection than the current site does. The relocated Powerhouse will become part of a new $30 million arts and cultural package for Western Sydney over the next four years. During construction of the new museum between 3,000 and 3,200 jobs will come online in Parramatta alone. Some suggest that Western Sydney does not need a cultural museum; some suggest they do not care about culture outside of their own football teams.

The Hon. Greg Donnelly: That is not true.

The Hon. SHAYNE M ALLARD: I accept that. My experience is that that is completely untrue. There is a great hunger for arts in Western Sydney. It has always been there and I am reminded of the wonderful Lewers Bequest gallery at Penrith where I grew up or the many theatres that have come and gone over the years. Opponents of the relocation should take a train trip to see the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre which operates at an extremely high standard and on the smell of an oily rag in Western Sydney. I was there recently representing the Minister for the Arts at the Blake Prize, one of Australia's oldest art prizes that celebrates art of a religious or spiritual nature. It is also an international arts prize. The prize is open to all faiths and cultures. It is no surprise that it fits perfectly within the dynamic and fast-growing cultural hub of Liverpool in south-west Sydney.

In my time at Liverpool before entering this place I witnessed the vibrant arts culture of Western Sydney—the emerging unique art of the Dharrug people of the Eora nation through to the recent and not so recent stories of migrant Australians. We know that museums in communities like Liverpool and Parramatta represent more than just sheds in which to hang a few artworks. They are a vital cultural infrastructure of which the community takes ownership. In my childhood a school excursion to the art gallery or museum in Sydney was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We hear from schools in Western Sydney that it is simply not possible to do such trips owing to factors such as traffic congestion, time and cost. I think all members would agree that a visit to an art gallery or cultural facility as a student can be—for the lucky few—a life-changing moment. The relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta will open up a huge range of opportunities for the young and students of Western Sydney—opportunities available to their fellow students in the inner city, the north and the east. To me, this alone justifies the move.

The 2013-14 annual report from Powerhouse Museum shows total annual visitation is 16.1 per cent lower than the 10-year average. I acknowledge there has been a slight increase in this past year. Even more important is the change in the origin of visitors. In the same report, the proportion of Sydneysiders visiting the museum was at 55 per cent and this year it has increased to 61 per cent. This is evidence that the museum needs Sydney-based visitation to survive. At the end of the day it is simply not enough to build rail and roads to serve employment and growth corridors. It is not enough to decentralise government workers and departments and to support new education facilities. If we want to be a truly world-class, future-proof, polycentric city—a city of cities, a city of social equity and a city of vision and ideas—these places need cultural investment too.