THE issues facing the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) must be resolved as soon as possible so the facility can assume its important position of telling Ballarat’s significant role in our nation’s story – and so the facility can be the centrepiece of the 160th anniversary of Eureka this December.
It is important to recognise that Eureka receives bipartisan support from both of the major parties in the Victorian Parliament. Initially, the Eureka Centre was a Kennett government initiative, which was subsequently supported by the Bracks and Brumby governments, then the Baillieu and Napthine governments.
M.A.D.E was opened in May last year by Premier Denis Napthine. I also applaud the statements this week from Premier Denis Napthine and Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews of their continuing support for Eureka and M.A.D.E.
The redevelopment of the former Eureka Centre was a project funded between Ballarat City Council and the state and federal governments for an initial outlay of $11 million – $1 million, $5 million and $5 million from each respectively.
M.A.D.E was scheduled to open on December 3, 2011, to coincide with the 157th anniversary of Eureka. However, under council CEO Anthony Schinck’s watch, the opening was delayed until May 2013 after its construction was completed with a capital cost overrun of $3 million. The day-to-day operational and utilities costs have also increased significantly compared to those of the former Eureka Centre.
"This unsatisfactory situation is a telling indication of the council’s, Mr Schinck’s and others’ indifference..."
The new centre has not even been built in accordance with the original Eureka Centre management report and the subsequent feasibility study and business cases that were prepared by the reputable companies SKM, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst and Young.
These original reports and studies formed the basis of the successful negotiations with the federal and state governments to obtain the $10 million in funding for the centre’s redevelopment.
However, the council’s less than enthusiastic commitment to the new centre saw the redevelopment proceed without reference to this strategic work and the Eureka story being consequently marginalised.
The original intention was that Eureka/M.A.D.E was to be a major tourism infrastructure initiative for Ballarat to complement Ballarat’s existing premier attractions.
The redevelopment was also to have embraced improved connectivity between the centre and the broader historic precinct and allow for commercial developments to be built on the wider site that would introduce new revenue streams for the centre.
For example, a boutique themed hotel and function/conference centre to complement M.A.D.E were proposed to replace the pool and caravan park, with the latter facilities being relocated to a nearby greenfields site.
I also note that the architectural design of the current building has no outstanding features, as opposed to the national award-winning design of the original centre. There is also no sense of arrival – even the entrance to the facility is difficult to find.
Had the council been diligent in managing this development in accordance with the original recommendations, a sustainable, interactive and multifunctional regional facility of national significance would have been created that would have attracted Australian and international patronage.
It would also have substantially reduced operating costs to the council, as was the aim of the original redevelopment proposals.
Ballarat’s council must now provide the community with an independently audited statement in relation to all of the expenditure of the $14 million which, given that the new centre is the modification of a previous building, seems unjustifiable.
There must be a transparent inquiry into the mismanagement of public monies and the associated processes and governance, in order to understand what has happened, and finally bring those responsible to account.
This unsatisfactory situation is a telling indication of the council’s, Mr Schinck’s and others’ indifference towards Eureka, which is Ballarat’s iconic point of difference and was responsible for galvanising the nation’s march towards democracy.
The current management of the centre is not to blame for this debacle. The centre staff, appointed at the eleventh hour, unfortunately inherited a basket-case.
"Given...council’s general lack of support and commitment to M.A.D.E, one can’t help but feel that the ultimate intention is to close M.A.D.E in its current form."
They are doing a fine job under very difficult circumstances and deserve all the support we can provide.
The ‘M.A.D.E Update’ report to the council on April 9, 2014, is short-sighted and its recommendations will only worsen the centre’s current parlous situation.
The suggestion to close the centre one day a week and limit its marketing and public relations functions will have a serious effect on its future viability.
These functions should in fact be increased to enhance the centre’s profile and increase its visitation.
An interesting aspect of this report was the exploration of the idea of establishing an archive facility at the centre.
Although discounted by the council in the end, such a resource and reference centre to be co-located with the building was a concept that was proposed in the original redevelopment reports.
Such an extension would allow for an increase in the building’s footprint so as to rectify the lack of public areas in M.A.D.E and widen its functionality and attraction for temporary exhibitions and events.
Unfortunately, given the general thrust of the report and the council’s general lack of support and commitment to M.A.D.E, one can’t help but feel that the ultimate intention is to close M.A.D.E in its current form.
This would be unacceptable and would be a travesty of our unique Eureka story that needs to be told at this national heritage-listed site.
Ron Egeberg, is former director of The Eureka Centre 2002 to 2008.