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Council insist on formal GIPA to release the Mackay Park Cultural Grant application

The revelation that the grant of $8 million dollars for the Mackay Park Arts centre was declared a winner six months in advance of the grant opening, let alone being scrutinised by a panel of independents, came as a surprise and a disappointment to many in the community who realised that the Mackay Park project was now tainted by the Arts Rorts scandal that saw two State Ministers over-rule their expert and instead, it is alleged, award grants based on LNP held electorates. The Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, appeared to have a crystal ball at hand when he announced in March 2018 that the Mackay Park project was to receive $8 million from the Regional Cultural Grant six months out from Round Two applications being open and seven months out from the winners being announced. In October 2018, much to no-ones surprise, the Mackay Park theatre was Number 1 on the list, with the highest grant awarded in the state. In leaked documents obtained by the ABC it turns out however that in the expert opinion of the grants review panel the Mackay Park project came in at number 72. The Beagle requested a copy of the Grant Application from Eurobodalla Council. The request was a simple request based on the knowledge that the application was readily at hand due to the fact that a Council officer had only quoted from it a few days before. A single document.... simply emailed without the formality of a GIPA request. In good faith, in openness and transparency. The Grant had been awarded. It was now a historical record that would show Council's intent of using the grant and provide evidence of its ability to deliver on the project if the grant was awarded. Much like the grant application that was requested for the pool component of the project. That request saw Council attempt to block a formal GIPA request on three occasions, escalating it to a point where they were instructed to release it. All the while the council staff had given no advice to councillors of the games they were playing in their purposeful obstructions. Now that we have discovered the association of the Cultural Grant application is embroiled in the Arts Rorts it is of public interest to look closely at the application as it is now evident that, in being awarded the grant in March 2018 it would have been impossible for the application to have come under any scrutiny in regards to its business case. It has been revealed on many occasions publicly and in Council chambers via public forum presentations that the business case for the theatre and arts space is flawed and proven to be a financial burden from Day 1 to the extent of half a million dollars per year, to be borne by ratepayers. The ABC reported that there were more than 150 eligible applications for funding as part of the Regional Cultural Grants scheme with an expert panel ranking the projects in the order they should be funded.

Documents obtained by the ABC under freedom of information laws reveal the Bega project was overlooked in favour of an $8 million investment to help build the Mackay Park Aquatic, Arts and Cultural Centre. ABC reported that "of the six-person Regional Cultural Fund assessors who made the recommendations about where the money should be sent, four were independent members from the state's arts sector. An executive from the State Government agency Create NSW and a representative from the Department of Premier and Cabinet were also on the panel.

They met for three days in late September 2018, then extended their meeting for a fourth day so each of the 116 successful projects — with a total value of $135 million — could be ranked. The assessors acknowledged only $47 million was available but ranked all the eligible projects so as to allow some ministerial discretion. Of the 159 applications, seven were deemed ineligible because they did not meet the complex entry criteria. Another 35 projects were not recommended for funding for reasons including concerns they lacked community support or were not a genuine arts and cultural project." Of interest in the above is that the the Mackay Park project had already been approved and announced six months earlier in March 2018. That being the case the "complex entry criteria" would not have been an issue, nor evidence of financial sustainability. The Eurobodalla grant application had been given The Nod that it would be in Round Two, six months before the panel met to review the 159 applications. Liz Innes' reply to Sophie Longden on ABC when questioned about the Cultural grant being awarded to Eurobodalla rather than Bega was "that we had a great business case". (listen here at the 7:54 min mark) It is known that the only business case that existed at the time was the Otium Business Case that warned not to use it for grant applications. When the failed grant application to the Office of Sport was finally released, though heavily redacted, it revealed that Council had used the Otium Business Case. This was most likely the very thing they were afraid would be revealed.

Above: the text from the Otium Business case Source (page 6)

The Mayor appears to be naive to the fact that the Otium Business case is flawed and the projected revenues and turnstyle figures are highly questionable. Fortunately three of the councillors, being Mayne, McGinlay and Constable, are aware of the questions being put around the financial affordability of a community asset that has alarm bells ringing for all to hear. It is of interest that the grant documents, seen by ABC, did not mention a pool was attached to the Eurobodalla Shire Council theatre project. ABC reported "A spokesperson for Eurobodalla Council later clarified that its original funding submission "repeatedly identified" the arts centre was part of a larger facility." The Beagle will now make a formal application for the Grant Application to be made public so that we can look at it more closely and discover for our selves just what the "great business case" the Mayor claims detailed.

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