Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Slug could become the new Te Papa

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The fanzone duties are over and the Slug now sits empty and alone at the end of Queens Wharf. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The fanzone duties are over and the Slug now sits empty and alone at the end of Queens Wharf. Photo / Sarah Ivey

How boring of Christchurch Anglicans to splurge $5 million on a papier mache lookalike of their munted cathedral's nave. Instead of seeking solace in a temporary substitute for the real thing, a more charitable and practical use of the money would have been to fund temporary housing for refugees from the red zone.

Not that I'm begrudging them a central place of worship. We generous Aucklanders have already offered them a much more spacious alternative, going free - moving costs to be negotiated. Before the Rugby World Cup last year, Waterfront Auckland chairman Bob Harvey told Cantabrians the $9.3 million Queen's Wharf McCully Slug was theirs once its fanzone duties were completed. At the time, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker called the gesture "inspired", saying it "could be the solution for some of the issues we are faced with".

That was in June. But a month or so later, he went all soft at the knees at the thought of celebrity Japanese architect Shigeru Ban adding Christchurch to his honour roll of disaster cities with a cardboard cathedral.

With a new toy on offer, the Slug was forgotten.

Sitting alone at the end of Queen's Wharf, I'm sure it is still available to a good home for next to nothing. With seating for 6000 it also has plenty of room for congregational expansion - or division into a veritable tunnel of Babel, able to cater for every faith going. Still, if Christchurch doesn't want our Slug, another occupant now springs to mind. In recent days, the good burghers of the self-proclaimed culture capital of the land have given a royal two-finger salute to their big cultural drawcard, Te Papa, the national museum and art gallery.

Te Papa opened in 1998 at a cost to taxpayers of $317 million. Annual government funding has moved around a bit over the years, but in 2011 was $23.574 million, the same as 2010. In other words, Aucklanders pay around $8 million in taxes for the yearly running of Wellington's main museum/art gallery institution, and its biggest tourist drawcard. Wellingtonians, their taxes aside, begrudgingly pay a little additional "sponsorship" through their rates. But in recent days, as councillors look for ways to trim the annual budget, they zeroed in on the city's already token contribution to its golden goose.

This year, Wellington City contributed $2.25 million to Te Papa's costs, less than a third the amount Aucklanders contribute through their taxes. Wellington councillors have now slashed this to a miserly $1 million. Some wanted it chopped entirely. Te Papa's public servants have struck back with an unprecedented "Save our Services" campaign, with posters in the museum lobby threatening that Wellington "could miss out" and of "reduced services to Wellington ratepayers" if the grant was slashed.

Could I suggest that if Te Papa staff want to give the Wellington ingrates a real fright, they come north to check out the Slug, which is sitting here empty, available to a good tenant. It could be an emergency refuge for the national collection, away from the Philistines in the capital who obviously don't appreciate the treasure the rest of New Zealand has entrusted them with.

Museum Hotel owner Chris Parkin is of no doubts about the significance of Te Papa to the local economy. He told the local paper "Te Papa is Wellington's biggest tourist attraction by about a million miles". A just released economic impact report completed for the museum by Market Economics backs the hotelier's gut response. Referring to it as "a major tourist attraction" with "more than 50 per cent of all visitors to Wellington visit[ing] Te Papa" the report says it "plays a significant role in attracting domestic and international visitors to Wellington, and it's through this role that it makes a significant contribution to the Wellington and national economies".

Last year Te Papa spent $37 million with suppliers and paid $29 million in wages. Of this $38 million was spent in Wellington City and another $7.8 million in the rest of the region. On top of that was what tourists spent, the report estimating that "some $59 million of direct tourist spend can be attributed to Te Papa's presence". At the $2.25 million level of annual funding, Wellington ratepayers "are receiving a return on this contribution of almost $41 for every dollar of ratepayer money spent".

The report also points out that of Te Papa's 1.38 million visitors a year, 328,500 were Wellington City residents and a further 144,620 came from elsewhere in the region. In other words, Te Papa not only "plays a significant role in attracting domestic and international visitors to Wellington" and makes "a significant contribution to the Wellington" economy, but it is also a major cultural and entertainment hub for Wellingtonians. One they get on the cheap.

You'd think Wellington councillors would appreciate how lucky they are. But obviously they've suckled at the taxpayers' teat so long, they don't appreciate their good fortune.

Good luck to Te Papa's campaign to shame Wellingtonians.

And don't let them forget, the Slug is available.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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