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Govt "cultural cringe" slammed as contracts leave SA

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In a week in which its public focus has been on talking up local jobs, the State Government is under fire for outsourcing lucrative contracts to interstate and overseas firms, with a prominent architect lamenting the “cultural cringe” that is leaving South Australian firms on the outer.

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Tomorrow is “I Choose SA Day”, a date on which the State Government urges South Australians to “celebrates everything great” about their state by spending money on local produce.

But the Opposition says the Government should put its money where its mouth is, with lucrative contracts going to interstate and overseas agencies, despite a keen rhetorical emphasis on local jobs in the lead-up to today’s Holden closure.

Architecture contracts listed on the SA Government’s website include a $627,726 deal for early works on the Adelaide Festival Centre Plaza with Melbourne-based Buchan Group, while other precinct upgrade contracts totalling more than $3 million have gone to Ashton Raggatt McDougall, also in Melbourne.

Award-winning architect Guy Maron, a member of the Order of Australia who designed the Bicentennial Conservatory, told InDaily “a lot of architectural firms here really need work”.

“They’re looking for work and there’s not a lot around [because] a lot of work has in fact gone interstate,” he said.

“Most of the work on the riverbank is going interstate… I really want to know why is this necessary. We’ve got professionals here, good architects in this state, who can make a good fist of it.

“What’s the cultural cringe that’s causing this to happen?

“It’s very irritating, very annoying and very insulting to the local profession.”

Meanwhile, the international design competition to establish plans for a new Adelaide Contemporary Art Gallery on the old Royal Adelaide site is being overseen by a London-based “competition specialist”, Malcolm Reading Consultants.

The company bills itself as having been “responsible for a number of high-level international searches such as those for the V&A London, Mumbai City Museum and the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art”.

In a statement this week, competition director Malcolm Reading described Adelaide as “poised between the Southern Ocean and the Outback”.

“Adelaide is one of the most fascinating cities in Australia, and Adelaide Contemporary will be a new cultural and tourist drawcard for the city and South Australia,” he said.

Opposition Infrastructure spokesman David Pisoni blamed “the Government’s penchant for sending lucrative contracts interstate and overseas”.

“Apparently South Australians are incapable of even organising a competition for the design of a new contemporary art gallery… it’s an insult to South Australian professionals that Jay Weatherill has gone straight to London to manage what is potentially one of SA’s most iconic projects,” he said.

“The Weatherill Government’s snub of South Australian architects and urban planners robs the potentially iconic Plaza project of critical local insight and expertise.”

He said it was also “a sign that the hundreds of South Australian architecture, engineering and urban planning students better be looking interstate for work”.

“When Labor promised the Festival Plaza project would create 2500 jobs during construction, I don’t think anybody expected the jobs to be in Melbourne,” Pisoni told InDaily.

Maron said there had been recent stipulations about including local firms in design work, but lamented “the big wheel is from somewhere else”.

“The talent and intellect is from somewhere else,” he said.

But a Government spokesperson said it “always seeks to maximise South Australian involvement in government contracts”.

“The Industry Participation Policy sets targets for major projects including a minimum of 90 per cent of hours to be completed by South Australians and we are on track with the Festival Plaza,” a statement said.

“Hassell Studios has a significant presence in Adelaide and is engaged on the Festival Plaza site.

“In addition other contractors working on the project are national or international companies with a significant presence in Adelaide employing South Australians.”

These include Aurecon, Bestech, Rider Levett Bucknall and Schiavello.

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