THE HERALD'S OPINION: $244m to Sydney but nothing for Newcastle

IN March this year, the NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin, breathed fresh life into long-held hopes for the redevelopment of Newcastle Art Gallery when he said he wanted to hear more about Newcastle City Council’s proposal for this key civic attraction.

Whatever has transpired since then, it does not appear to have been enough to sway the Berejiklian government, because a spokesman for Mr Harwin – a member of the upper house who also holds the Resources and Energy and Utilities portfolios – indicated on Wednesday that there was no funding announcement planned for the Newcastle gallery.

This is extremely disappointing, because even taking into account the funding and governance controversies that dogged this project when Jeff McCloy was lord mayor, there are good reasons why the state government should fund most, if not all, of the cost of the gallery’s redevelopment.

What’s more, given that the government is reportedly to announce a $100 million Regional Cultural Fund in Tuesday’s state budget, it appears that Macquarie Street has ample earmarked money to do the job.

The apparent refusal to move quickly on the Newcastle gallery – former Liberal MP Tim Owen supported it in parliament in 2011 – is all the more galling when we hear Treasurer Dominic Perrottet confirming that the Art Gallery of NSW will receive $244 million in Tuesday’s budget, or almost 10 times the $26 million cost now attached to the Newcastle project.

The money for the Sydney gallery is coming from a $600 million culture and arts fund established using the proceeds of the government’s “poles and wires” electricity privatisations.

In March, when Mr Harwin was describing regional NSW and western Sydney as “high priorities”, there was some $250 million left in the kitty. At that stage, $202 million had been allocated to the Sydney Opera House and $139 million to Sydney Harbour’s Walsh Bay precinct.

The Art Gallery of NSW grant would appear to almost exhaust that fund. Neither regional NSW nor western Sydney appear to have fared too well.

As the situation stands now, it seems the Berejiklian government – or elements of it, at least – believe that culture stops at Hornsby. The minister might say that regional NSW is a priority, but the spending decisions revealed so far show a massive bias to Sydney.

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