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Governments get to make the decisions, not bureaucracies : Constance

Andrew Constance response to the NSW Arts Rorts, as revealed by ABC, has met with dismay and disillusionment of the grant application process across the region. "There is nothing wrong with what's happened here. Governments get to make the decision, not bureaucracies" Andrew Constance May 26th 2020

It appears from the Member for Bega's response to the now exposed Arts Rorts that there is little if any reason at all for communities to labour over grant applications, collect and collate documents to show eligibility, pour worryingly over endless forms and then wait to see if a grant application has succeeded in passing muster under the watchful eyes of an independent expert panel. It appears that it is simply a "captains call". John Barilaro says of the decision to call him Pork Barilaro and that he makes no apology. ABC reports that "Bega gallery was rated the top funding priority in a regional arts grants scheme but missed out while a nearby aquatic and cultural centre, ranked 72nd, got $8 million.

"Independent assessors praised Bega Valley Regional Gallery's application for $3 million to fund its renovations as part of the NSW Government's $47 million Regional Cultural Fund." ABC revealed that rather than awarding the highest ranking Bega Regional Gallery Upgrade the funding request a "Captains Call" decision was made by Deputy Premier John Barilaro and then-arts minister Don Harwin to award instead a low ranking application from the Eurobodalla Council for the Mackay Park, Batemans Bay, theatrette adding that the grant documents seen by ABC, did not mention a pool was attached to the Eurobodalla Shire Council theatre project.

"A spokesperson for Eurobodalla Council later clarified that its original funding submission "repeatedly identified" the arts centre was part of a larger facility." ABC reported. A GIPA request has now been lodged with Eurobodalla Council by the Beagle to access their Regional Cultural Grant application. It is expected that the Eurobodalla Council will either refuse to provide it or provide a heavily redacted copy as the official application to the Office of Sports for the Mackay Park pool grant application was met on three occasions by Eurobodalla Council purposefully blocking the document being released. When it was finally released the application revealed that the Council had submitted a draft consultants business case that clearly advised it was not to be used for such a purpose. That business case clearly projected operating cost over runs and was overly generous in its anticipated pool and wet area turn-style projected incomes. The Otium Business case, submitted to the Office of Sport as a supporting document ALSO clearly advises of the Theatre component that while the projected income in the first year would be $286,414 (page 27 Table 3.) the projected expenditure would be $599,176 rising to $787,610 by year 10.

The business case also projects 38,720 visitors to the 350 seat theatre in the first year which equates to 110 sell out performances. Yet the business case offers for their projected income "The venue presents a theatre/ event season (entrepreneurial program) consisting of 12 productions over 12 months" (page 74 assumptions) "For the purpose of budget analysis the following criteria was used: • 12 productions • 55% of capacity sold for each performance at an average ticket price of $35 full and $22 concession of the total sold 30% full price and 25% concession." If it was 12 productions that would see 3,226 (38,720/12) theatre goers attend each production (with a capacity of 350 seats this would require each production to sell out for 9.2 days each). Yet Otium suggest that only 55% of tickets might be sold. It is more than evident that the Draft Otium Business case for the projected theatre income is highly questionable. As such it would not have passed the scrutiny of the a team of experts had in 2018 been appointed to assess more than 150 applications for the Regional Cultural Fund grants. The flaws around the business plan have been clearly conveyed to Eurobodalla councillors yet they have chosen not to act or pursue further investigations. The Assessment criteria (Criteria 3). for the Regional Cultural Fund grant required evidence that an "appropriate analysis has been undertaken (i.e. a financial and/or economic appraisal), the cost-benefit analysis supports the recommended option and the ongoing feasibility is shown to be viable" As can be seen from the above figures the Theatre component of the Mackay Park project would not pass muster and by the figures given the ongoing feasibility is shown to be UNviable (contrary to the assessment criteria). But it did go ahead.... and was listed as a Round 2 recipient Mackay Park Arts and Cultural Centre ($8,000,000) The Mackay Park Arts and Cultural Centre in Batemans Bay will be a purpose-built exhibition, workshop, rehearsal and performance centre and storage space that will service the region’s art, theatre and dance groups as well as the broader community. The facility will have a flexible auditorium with retractable seating for 500 people; rehearsal and dressing rooms, green room and exhibition space and storage. The site will also play an important role as the gateway into focal new recreation, community and tourism precinct for the town. Keeping in mind that Round Two of the Regional Cultural Fund opened on 1st July 2018 and closed on Friday 21 September 2018 it is of interest that on 26th March 2018 The Bay Post reported "The $26 million in funding includes $18 million for the aquatic centre, and $8 million for the arts and cultural facilities." Then in October 2018 it makes its formal presence in the list of Round 2 recipients. The Member for Bega was fully aware that the grant applications for both the pool and the theatre were lodged by Council in February 2018. He may well have also been aware that the pool project had failed to qualify as it had no sporting component under the criteria of SPORT as it was a NSW Sporting Grant by the Office of Sport that had no interest in funding a 25m pool in a leisure centre. But the call was made to grant the theatre with the shortfall of $18m coming from the NSW Government’s $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund as announced by the Bay Post March 26th 2018. "There is nothing wrong with what's happened here. Governments get to make the decision, not bureaucracies" Andrew Constance May 26th 2020 The ABC reported on May 25th, 2020 that "A team of experts had in 2018 been appointed to assess more than 150 applications for the Regional Cultural Fund grants and ranked the 116 successful projects in the order they should be funded.

Documents obtained by the ABC under freedom of information laws reveal their advice was largely ignored and instead all but $3 million was spent on projects in Coalition seats.

The documents reveal Mr Barilaro and Mr Harwin even signed off on cash for at least eight projects that were not recommended for funding. A total of 56 projects were funded in 23 electorates, of which 20 were held by the Coalition." Does this pass anybodies Pub Test ? The question now is how involved is the Council with all of this? How much did they know , when did they know it and who knew it. At some point the local member would have had to explain to the Mayor and Councillors that the grant application for the Regional Cultural Fund had succeeded in being a recipient in Round Two long before it was closed. The members announcement was made in March 2018. And how would a Regional Cultural application with such a poor business case pass muster of a panel of experts when it failed dismally in Assessment Criteria 3. Was this failure overlooked by the panel members? What did, and does, the Member for Bega know of the "captains calls" being made by members of his own cabinet, in his electorate?

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