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The museum's planned shutdown has been declared an act of cultural vandalism by the upper house parliamentary inquiry that is investigating the original Baird decision, and a ''wilful demolition of a world-class museum'' by former museum trustee and consultant curator Kylie Winkworth.

Members of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance have rushed out letters to all MPs, including Mr Foley, who announced last week he was reviewing Labor's support for the museum's relocation to Parramatta.

Fate unclear: Locomotive No. 1.

Photo: Dallas Kilponen

''It would be bitter indeed if Labor in government inherits the demolition of one of its signature cultural achievements,'' Winkworth wrote, ''to build a cut-down version of the museum in Parramatta, on a site which is not just at risk of flood, but whose themes and content bear no relation to Parramattas stated cultural priorities or notable cultural opportunities.''

Opposition arts spokesman Walt Secord said support for the Powerhouse Museum move was “rapidly evaporating”.

“The evidence presented to the parliamentary inquiry into the Powerhouse move revealed that the project has spiralled out of financial control, with costs leaping a thousand-fold from its original 2015 promise of $10 million.

“Rather than creating a world-class cultural institution in western Sydney, the Powerhouse Museum move has turned into a feast for greedy property developers wanting to get their hands on the land and airspace in Ultimo. The Berejiklian government has the wrong priorities.”

If a refit of the two exhibition halls went ahead it would present a range of problems for custodians of the 500,000-plus culturally critical objects contained within the museum's collection, one of the largest in Australia.

The Mars Lab, transport exhibits and any other large interactives and objects would be locked away in the museum's Switch House building. The Harwood Building, the main conservation storage facility next door to the Powerhouse is itself slated for commercial redevelopment. Smaller items would need to be rehoused at the Castle Hill Discovery Centre.

The western side of the museum, where the University of Technology Sydney has a remaining two-year lease on the lecture theatres and the Touring Hall, needs to be left open for the time being.

It is unclear what plans have been finalised for the priceless Boulton & Watt steam engine and the locomotive that hauled Sydney's first passenger train, jewels in the crown of the Powerhouse Museum's collection.

General secretary of the Public Service Association, Stewart Little said a national icon like the Powerhouse Museum should never be treated so shabbily.

“Staff have been left completely demoralised by the shambolic way the state government has approached this issue from day one,'' he said. “I know Powerhouse staff are now feeling shattered at the idea the collection they work so hard to preserve, and present to the public, could be at risk.

“The passionate and dedicated custodians of so much history deserve far better than the treatment they have received from this government.''

Collecting staff comprising registrars, conservators and curators have been instructed to continue all research, documentation and exhibition preparation for all shows scheduled this year including the Akira Isogawa show.

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Linda Morris

Linda Morris is an arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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