$400-$600 million new quote for Aboriginal cultural centre

Premier Peter Malinauskas says it will cost up to half a billion dollars or more to build an “internationally significant” Tarrkarri Aboriginal cultural centre on North Terrace – up to triple the $200m budgeted.

May 15, 2023, updated May 15, 2023
Advertising for the stalled Aboriginal cultural centre on North Terrace. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Advertising for the stalled Aboriginal cultural centre on North Terrace. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Construction of the planned $200m Tarrkarri Centre for First Nations Cultures at Lot Fourteen on the site of the former Royal Adelaide Hospital was put on hold in October, after the project’s managing contractor advised of a $50 million cost blow-out, warning the building would only be of “local state-level standard”.

The state government then appointed a panel led by former Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt, former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr and Reserve Bank board member Carolyn Hewson to review the project, which said it would require a “big capital cost”.

Their report was handed to state cabinet in April, with the Premier saying he faced a “big decision” on whether to boost project funding.

Today, Malinauskas revealed the panel recommended spending “in the range of multitudes of $200m”.

Asked on ABC Radio Adelaide if it was two or three times more than $200m, Malinauskas said: “Approximately, yes.”

Asked if it was as much money as the state government plans to invest in a hydrogen power plant in Whyalla ($593m), Malinauskas said: “more or less, yes”.

“What the government is turning its mind to, is can we fit that within in the budget or who can we partner with to achieve that objective,” he said.

“Between Botanic Gardens and the Railway Station is our premier cultural precinct along North Terrace there, particularly on the northern side.

“There is no other parcel of land that is coming up along that boulevard in the next 100 years apart from this one.

“So, my firm view is whatever goes there has to be of a high enough standard to befit that precinct.”

Malinauskas also said Tarrkarri has “got to be good enough to make someone get on a plane to come to Adelaide to see it”.

“Whatever we do has to be good enough to be able to meet that standard,” he said.

“Otherwise, why do it at all?

“I think the worst outcome would be to spend an amount of money that’s significant but doesn’t really sit well with everything else that we’ve got along that boulevard.”

The comments raise further doubt over the Malinauskas Government’s commitment to funding the gallery, which was an initiative of the former Marshall Government.

I think any way that we can mitigate the expense to the state government so we continue to focus on other priorities we’ve got, whether it be hydrogen, three-year-old preschool or unprecedented investments in health, that’s a good thing.

There is currently $85 million in federal government funding on the table for the project under a “city deal” signed between the Marshall and Morrison governments in 2019.

The state government was set to fund the remaining $115 million before the cost blowout was revealed last October.

Opposition arts spokesperson John Gardner told InDaily: “The biggest contributor to cost blow-outs on the project has been Premier Malinauskas’ delays and postponements after the election.

“For weeks he’s been talking about the park lands like a real estate agent, and he still hasn’t ruled out returning to Labor’s old plan of building apartments on the site.”

The state budget is due to be handed down on June 15.

Malinauskas cast doubt over the project’s future earlier this month when he told parliament that government policy “as it stands” was to pursue Tarrkarri, but cabinet was “turning its mind to any opportunities to attract other revenue in the event that the project goes ahead at all”.

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Asked today if he had $600m to spend on the project, Malinauskas said: “There are always opportunities within the state budget to be able to afford investments provided you’re very clear eyed about what it is you’re seeking to achieve.

“But I would much prefer a situation… where in something of that size, that we have a partnership with the federal government or indeed potentially private contributors.

“These are the elements that are being actively considered in the context of the report that we’ve also received from the expert panel.”

Asked if he wanted a philanthropist to donate $200m to $300m towards the centre, Malinauskas said: “Well that’s not unprecedented, yeah.”

“In fact, many parts of that precinct itself has been funded by private contributors in great philanthropists in the state’s history,” he said, noting the contribution of Sir John Bonython to Bonython Hall in the University of Adelaide.

Asked if the project would not go ahead if the state government could not find a partner, Malinauskas said: “I think any way that we can mitigate the expense to the state government so we continue to focus on other priorities we got, whether it be hydrogen, three-year-old preschool or unprecedented investments in health, that’s a good thing.”

Tarrkarri Centre for First Nations Cultures ambassador David Rathman told InDaily this month that he would “devastated” if the project did not go ahead.

Adelaide Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith has also said that it would be “unthinkable” to scrap the project.

The intended site for the Aboriginal cultural centre. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Former Premier Steven Marshall revealed plans to build an “Australian National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery” at Lot Fourteen ahead of the 2018 state election, at the time saying it would be “the jewel in the crown” of the Liberals’ plan for the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

But the Marshall Government later dropped the word “national” from the centre’s title, with the then Premier conceding that there was “further consultation that’s required and approvals needed at the federal level when you’re going to start naming things as national centres and we just thought it wasn’t necessary”.

The centre was scheduled to open in early 2025 and was expected to display pieces sourced from the SA Museum, Art Gallery and State Library collections – the majority of which is currently kept in storage – alongside new digital and performing arts displays that would tell the story of Australia’s First Nations peoples.

Original plans showed the building would span 12,500 square metres over three levels, which would make it bigger than the SA Museum and Art Gallery combined and one of Australia’s largest cultural institutions.

The former government estimated between 485,000 and 581,000 people would visit the centre in its first year, with the figure estimated to increase to up to 665,000 people by 2040.

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