Former premier Mike Baird has been summonsed to explain the planned Powerhouse Museum move after refusing “a series of polite but insistent requests” to give evidence to the state parliament.
A New South Wales upper house committee on Monday said Mr Baird and his former chief of staff, Bay Warburton, would be compelled to give evidence after being given a final invitation last week.
“Both Mr Baird and Mr Warburton have again declined to attend the hearing,” the committee said in a media release on Monday.
“The committee will now issue Mr Baird and Mr Warburton with a summons to attend to give evidence on the Powerhouse Museum issue.”
The Friday hearing was postponed to April 4.
In 2015, then-premier Mr Baird announced plans to relocate the museum from Ultimo in central Sydney to Parramatta without a business plan.
The committee released a scathing interim report into the proposal in December last year, projecting the relocation would cost up to $1.5 billion.
Deputy chair of the committee, Greens MLC David Shoebridge, said it was imperative Mr Baird give evidence.
“The evidence we’ve had from all the witnesses – government and non-government, while interesting – has failed to explain what on earth it was that drove the then-Baird government to blow up the Powerhouse and move it to Parramatta,” Mr Shoebridge told The New Daily.
He said the committee supported Parramatta having its own cultural centre, but said there was no reason to demolish the Ultimo museum.
“We’d had very convincing evidence that Parramatta needs its own unique cultural institution and is worthy of investment, but why on earth destroy one of Australia’s best loved museums to achieve that?” he said.
“It’s a very Sydney story: a former premier, a key concern about property development, and a critical absence of intelligence, and a critical absence of evidence before billions of dollars of public money is spent.”
Committee chair Robert Borsak, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, said he did not understand the secrecy surrounding the proposal.
“We’re talking about an iconic museum, not a nuclear defence facility,” he said on his Facebook page.
Mr Borsak did not respond to a request for comment.
Last Thursday, he said the public deserved to know why the museum was being moved without a prepared business case.
“The decision about relocating the museum appears to have been made before anybody knew how much it would cost or whether it was logically possible,” Mr Borsak said on Facebook.
“Since billions of dollars of money that could be spent elsewhere is on the line, the public deserves to know why.”
Mr Shoebridge said it was “disappointing” that Mr Baird had “refused a series of polite but insistent requests” to give evidence to parliament.
“That’s I think a very disappointing approach from somebody who I would have thought would hold the parliament in higher regard than that,” he said.
Shayne Mallard, a Liberal MLC, criticised the move to summons Mr Baird as “serious overreach”.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also declined invitations to give evidence. She cannot be summonsed while she’s in parliament.
Minister for the Arts Don Harwin, whose portfolio is responsible for the relocation, twice gave evidence to the committee last year.
A government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.