THE Member for Katherine was told he would not be invited to the opening of Katherine’s new Cultural Precinct after he got into an argument with the Minister for Arts over the building’s funding.
Willem Westra van Holthe said he was staggered by Minister Gerry McCarthy’s suggestion that he might not receive an invitation to the precinct’s official opening, as uncertainty surrounding the facility’s future funding.
Katherine Council members were disturbed to see no specific line item for the ongoing funding of the Cultural Precinct in the Northern Territory Government’s recent budget.
The lack of definitive funding allocation means the future of the project may rely on the broader budget pool of Arts NT.
The budget pool of Arts NT would have its own ramifications for other projects and arts organisations in the region.
“The minister needs to get a grip on exactly what’s required to make the Cultural Precinct a success,” Mr Westra van Holthe said.
“I don’t think he has a grip. He needs to quantify funding.”
Katherine Town Council chief executive David Laugher said while Minister McCarthy had issued an assurance that the project will continue to progress, the funding uncertainty had cast a shadow over the whole project.
“All assurances are that funding will be found if it needs to be found, but Mr McCarthy said all of arts funding is in the budget for Arts NT.”
Speaking after a meeting with Minister McCarthy’s advisor on Tuesday morning, Mr Laugher said the minister’s office only received the funding application from the company on Thursday last week – too late for a concrete provision to be included in the budget.
However, Mr Laugher said that the application was sent off months ago, and even though it was held up by bureaucratic channels, the government should have made provisions for notional funding.
He said the minister’s advisor made assurances that a short-term interim solution can be arrived at, but much still depends on whether the company contracted to run the facility is prepared to stick with it.
Minister McCarthy’s office said the precinct’s official opening was still on track.
“Construction of the $7.4 million Katherine Regional Cultural Precinct project is currently in its final stages.
“The precinct is expected to be officially opened in late June or early July,” a statement said.
“Discussions are ongoing regarding operational funding, and the people of Katherine can be assured the centre will be appropriately funded to ensure the potential of this asset is fully realised.”
The Katherine Times requested an interview with the Minister three times, but he failed to contact the office before the paper went to print.
Former chair of the Cultural Precinct Bill Daw said that after 11 years of involvement with the project, he was crushed.
“I’m surprised, disappointed and disgusted with the funding mess.
“Just when we’re going to have the infrastructure to stop the divide and bring the community together, and now this.
“It’s taken 11 years to happen.
“That one positive light on the horizon is now uncertain.”
In June 2005 then-Chief Minister Clare Martin said in a letter addressed to Mr Daw that she was “happy to provide a clear commitment” from her Government to the project.
“To date we have committed $500 000 to the headworks. In addition to that, Government will commit $6.5 million to the project, including $200 000 to replace the baseball diamond,” Ms Martin wrote in her letter.
“I am particularly pleased to provide this commitment to your group, the Katherine Regional Cultural Precinct Action Group, which has been so effective and committed in determining the feasibility of the project, its design and all the associated business plans.
It is the commitment of people such as yourself ... that has made this project a reality.”