THE Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) is Ballarat’s white elephant in the room.
Handed to the City of Ballarat by the Bracks Government, MADE has failed to fulfill expectations and it has been left to the current council to sort out it’s future.
City of Ballarat Mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh said the feasibility study has come up with a number of different options but a certain amount of that is in confidential business and can’t be discussed as yet.
“We have continually pursued state and federal funding, which other museums, like MADE, actually do seek and secure federal funding,” she said.
“At the moment our museum is funded by council and its costing ratepayers $1M a year.” In 2011 a business case was put to Council which suggested 125,000 visitors per year at an approximate cost to the City of Ballarat being $264,000.
“Currently we are spending $1M each year to offset significant operating losses and that is the reason why we have called it in,” Cr McIntosh said.
“We have, on numerous occasions, called it in and asked for the Board and operations to consider other options and better ways forward and we did, as people would know, last year, ask for a similar process.
“In April council agreed to extend the general services agreement with MADE for another 12 months to allow time for them to conduct a feasibility study, designed to explore a range of future options for the museum.” While the Eureka story is local to Ballarat, it’s a story that has impact on the entire nation and is known internationally, as well, the local community has not supported MADE as much as was anticipated.
An average of 60,000 visitors per annum (approximately 30,000 are un-paying) falls short of the estimated number in 2011.
“There has been a lot of conversation around the title of the centre being referred to as a ‘Museum’ and the cost implications the minute you put a title ‘museum’ means there are a whole lot of requirements that are expensive,” Cr McIntosh said.
“So the name of the centre is being questioned and the reason for that is if it was the Eureka Centre, as it used to be referred to, you haven’t got the same requirements in terms of the environmental issues and the likes to maintain a museum standard facility.
“It makes quite a big difference to the running costs; if it’s to remain as a museum then it definitely needs state and federal funding.’ Federal Member for Ballarat Catherine King made a speech in Parliament last week in which she described Council’s plan to withdraw funding as a “breach of faith”.
“After having lobbied me, the council secured funding under a Labor Government of $5 million and a further $5 million from state,” she said.
“If they vote to abandon their commitment to MADE, it makes it very hard to treat any funding requests by the city seriously.” Cr McIntosh said it was disappointing that any State or Federal member would threaten Council in this manner.
“I just find it inappropriate. We will listen to our community, we will listen to those who are advising us, we will look into the different feasibility studies and we will make a decision on behalf of our community in the most informed manner,” she said.
“We will not be flippant, we will take into consideration a much broader perspective, a much more mature approach and it is important that we protect the history and the story.
“That story is a big part of whom we are as a city and our place in the nation and that is paramount for us. It’s a matter of making sure we have a feasible way forward.” Currently the Eureka flag is housed at MADE, on loan from the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
“The Eureka flag is in a temperature controlled space, it has museum standard protection,” Cr McIntosh said.
“The flag could still be housed there but the facility could operate in a slightly different manner, as the Eureka Centre for instance.
“We have not made any decision as to what that will be and those decisions will be formalized at a council meeting next week.
“I have great confidence that our councilors’ have considered an enormous load of information, they are very caring and knowledgeable in this area and they know how important the story is.”