With the Parramatta Powerhouse yet to be approved, Public Service Association assistant secretary Troy Wright said there was no reason to close the Ultimo museum unless it was to stymie opposition to a deeply unpopular project as happened with Allianz Stadium.
The move comes as an internal email, headed Powerhouse Consultant budget, reported “costs to date of $45m up to the end of 2019”. This included $2.7 million spent by Create NSW and $2.3 million running the architect’s design competition.
Labor’s treasury spokesman Walter Secord said the consultants’ budget was equal to that for a new Sydney primary school.
“No one has seen the avalanche of construction jobs as promised; weve only seen consultants in offices getting richer,” he said. “It is not too late to end this farce and re-direct the $1.5 billion to stimulus projects to create jobs for unemployed men and women across NSW.”
But this figure does not capture the full costs of the Parramatta Powerhouse’s Environment Impact Statement and planning for the redevelopment of Ultimo all due this calendar year, nor the winning architect’s multi-million dollar fee.
The email between project officers forms part of several boxes of documents released by parliamentary order ahead of a reconvened Upper House inquiry into the museum relocation.
The NSW Premier recently reaffirmed her government’s commitment to proceed with the $1.17 billion project despite the misgivings of some Cabinet ministers and a worsening Treasury bottom line post-pandemic.
The union estimates up to 90 percent of 54 casuals in visitor services, more than half of the 29 casually employed educators and up to 75 percent of museum programmers face no work, many of them having been employed with the museum for years if not decades.
The Powerhouse employed casual staff for a range of purposes, including supporting various exhibitions, a museum spokesperson said. Where appropriate, the Powerhouse may offer work to casual staff to relocate or digitise the collection.
But neither project would likely sustain staff for a hibernation period lasting five years, Mr Wright said.
While technically casuals could remain on “the books”, without shifts these employees would have no income.
“If the government’s position is that there be one museum why wouldn’t Ultimo be kept operating until a few months before the opening of the Parramatta Powerhouse?, ” Mr Wright said. “The reason for that, we think, is it is an unpopular project.”
Staff say the museum’s floor space at Ultimo has now been reduced to one third or one-quarter of its current size, going from four levels to restricted access over two levels.
Permanent exhibitions including Space, The Wiggles, Mars Lab, Kings Theatre, Steam Revolution have been closed along with the level one courtyard and playground.
“Powerhouse Museum staff are absolutely shattered,” Mr Wright said. “They were looking forward to safely reopening the Powerhouse so that the public could again enjoy the exhibitions. Instead, they’ve been told there’s no job for them in Ultimo, and who knows if there will be one in Parramatta.
“Museum staff love this institution, and they see its value every day. They don’t want to see exhibitions shut away from the public, particularly when the future outlook for the replacement museum is so uncertain.”
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald