Protests grow against Powerhouse Museum sell-off

April 15, 2016

The Powerhouse Museum in inner-city Ultimo is a great place to take the kids for an educational and enlightening experience. The NSW Coalition government's plan to sell off the museum building to private developers and shift the collection to Parramatta in Western Sydney is facing growing opposition.

Premier Mike Baird confirmed on April 11 the government's decision to shift the museum, to be constructed on the old David Jones car park site on the banks of the Parramatta River. Construction is due to begin in 2018 and finish by 2022.

He refused to spell out details of the future use of the existing Powerhouse site, saying: "I can't guarantee anything in terms of what the site will be at this stage". However, he confirmed that while the site would be "multi-use," the prime aim would be to raise funds through privatisation.

The Baird government originally proposed to sell the museum for private apartment development in February. The government said it expected the sale of the Ultimo site to fetch $150–$200 million, to be used to relocate the museum to Parramatta.

An open letter signed by 170 prominent people in Sydney, published in February, was headlined: "Please don't destroy the Powerhouse." The letter, signed by actor Cate Blanchett, and leaders of the arts, political and business worlds, described the proposal as "folly" and argued that the community's investment in the museum would be wasted if the site were sold to developers.

Former Powerhouse trustee Nick Pappas said: "Make no mistake: this is a museum demolition plan, involving the unprecedented sale of public cultural assets."

Greens MP Jamie Parker said: "The proposal to sell the Powerhouse building came from Infrastructure NSW, where the museum was simply a piece of public property to be privatised."

A petition that gained more than 10,000 signatures against the sell-off of the Powerhouse triggered a debate in State Parliament on February 26. The parliamentary public gallery was full with opponents of the museum sell-off.

Paul Farrell wrote in the April 11 Guardian: "It remains unclear why a new museum entirely couldn't be constructed in Parramatta, while saving the old Powerhouse site. The sheer cost of moving the exhibits themselves will be staggering; some estimates have it at over $500 million, more than double what the sale itself is expected to bring in."

It is clear that the Baird government is determined to sell off the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, irrespective of economic or cultural factors, in pursuit of its neoliberal ideological agenda to privatise all available public assets, in the interests of its corporate backers.

The community opposition to the destruction of the existing Powerhouse Museum must become part of a major campaign to defend public land and facilities in NSW.

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