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The Museum’s Tenure at Artillery Barracks, Fremantle

Proposal to dispose of the barracks
Save the Barracks campaign - Senate Inquiry
Rejection by State Government of Commonwealth offer
Further negotiations with the Commonwealth

Final Licence Agreement

Proposal to dispose of the barracks

When the Army Museum of WA was relocated to Artillery Barracks at Fremantle in 1995 it was understood that this would be a reasonably stable location in terms of tenure which would enable the museum to develop and expand.

With the announcement by the Department of Defence in early 2000 of its intention to dispose of the Artillery Barracks precinct as surplus to Defence requirements, considerable concern was raised by the Army Museum regarding the future of the museum and the barracks. (From subsequent information received it was confirmed that plans for the sale of the barracks had been put forward as early as 1998 and that the local Fremantle based University of Notre Dame had requested first preference to buy. Notre Dame had made previous approaches to Department of Defence expressing an interest in the barracks during the late 1980's).

Save the Barracks Campaign - Senate Inquiry

As a result of this concern an effective campaign was mounted to make the museum’s supporters and the wider community aware of the situation. The campaign received wide coverage in the local press and certainly both State and Federal Parliament became aware of the issues. This culminated in the initiation in September 2000 of a Senate Inquiry into the disposal of defence property. The terms of reference for this inquiry included, amongst others, the importance and value of the Army Museum of Western Australia and the Fremantle Artillery Barracks, and whether the Fremantle Artillery Barracks was the most appropriate and suitable location for the museum.

Following the Senate Inquiry Committee’s findings, announcements were made early in 2001 that the entire Cantonment Hill precinct containing the Barracks and other adjacent buildings would be handed over to the Western Australian Government by way of a Centenary of Federation gift from the Federal Government. The offer was subsequently clarified to exclude the handing over of Gun House which was to be retained as Defence property. It was not until late 2002 that a Steering Committee, with representatives from the Commonwealth (Defence), the State Government and the City of Fremantle, was formed to develop a future management plan for the site.

Consultants engaged to carry out this feasibility study published their report in July 2003. The report examined a number of options for the future use of the site, all of which involved expenditure in upgrade and maintenance to bring the site up to acceptable standards to manage as an ongoing concern. The report concluded that the cheapest option is the ‘Educational Use’ option as proposed by Notre Dame University, which in effect ‘gifts’ the site to Notre Dame University with the exception of the areas currently occupied by the museum. (Notre Dame’s submission to the Steering Committee included an offer to upgrade and maintain those portions of the site of interest to it in return for receiving free use of these buildings).

Rejection by State Government of Commonwealth offer

After reviewing the above report and holding further discussions with Fremantle City Council on the future use of the site, the Premier of Western Australia, Dr Geoff Gallop, announced in September 2003 that the Government of WA had formally declined the offer of the site by the Commonwealth. Although supportive of the Army Museum remaining at the site, the Western Australian Government felt that the Commonwealth had a financial obligation to first upgrade the site. Furthermore the City of Fremantle expressed the view that it could not accept control of the site because of inherited cost liability and that no economically viable future use had been found.

When the Commonwealth initially announced its intention to hand over the site to the State the Army Museum of WA felt reasonably optimistic of finding a solution to its tenure problem. However with the decline by the State Government as outlined above the museum’s future in terms of its continuation at the Barracks site once again raised concerns.

Following receipt of the feasibility study report, the Army Museum of WA Foundation developed an alternative proposal for the use of the site, based on part of the original submission it had made to the Steering Committee earlier in 2003. This proposal identified the need for an initial injection of seed capital from both the State and Commonwealth to bring the site up to acceptable standards and that income generated from leasing various other buildings not required for museum purposes would provide for the on-going maintenance.

Further negotiations with the Commonwealth

On 29 October 2003 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, the Hon Fran Bailey MP, visited the Army Museum of WA and met with the Foundation Board. At this meeting an outline of the above proposal was presented, however Fran Bailey put forward an alternative offer that would secure the main Barracks buildings for museum use. In effect this proposal would excise that part of the Cantonment Hill precinct occupied by the Barracks for retention by the Commonwealth with the remaining properties being placed for sale on the open market. The Signal Station and adjacent land were to be offered to Fremantle City Council. Under this arrangement the part of the site retained by the Commonwealth would be leased back to the Army Museum of WA as a 99-year peppercorn lease with some power to sub-let buildings adjacent to the parade ground not required for museum purposes. The Museum Foundation requested that the Naval store building adjacent to Canning Highway be considered for retention by the museum.

It was not until February 2004 that the Army Museum Foundation received a letter from Fran Bailey confirming the above offer and requesting further negotiations to finalise the lease details.   Subsequent meetings and communications between Fran Bailey’s office and the Museum Board over the following months resulted in a commitment by the Department of Defence to allocate a sum of $600,000 for upgrade and maintenance of the site over 3 years plus an additional amount to remove identified asbestos from the site. 

The Foundation Board, although encouraged by this proposal, had a number of concerns, particularly when it emerged that under the proposed lease arrangement the Army Museum of WA would be responsible for its own operating costs such as cleaning, water, electricity, telephone and other infrastructure related costs all currently provided through Department of Defence.  When the draft lease document was forwarded to the Board further obligations by the museum as tenants under the proposed lease agreement gave additional cause for concern.  These included certain obligations relating to insurance and maintenance and repair costs. 

These concerns were outlined to all members of the Army Museum Foundation at a general meeting held at the museum on 30 May.  It was resolved at that meeting that the Foundation continues to negotiate with the Commonwealth to ensure a secure and sustainable future for the Army Museum of Western Australia at this site.  The Board also advised that before finalising any agreement this would be brought before the membership for ratification.  The Foundation Board communicated its concerns back to Fran Bailey by letter on 16 June 2004, also drawing her attention to the significant difference between the $600,000 upgrade costs offered and the total costs identified in the Feasibility report for the site and other assessment reports (Over $2.5 million).

Final Licence Agreement

To try and finally reach an acceptable agreement between the Museum Foundation and Department of Defence, Fran Bailey sent two representatives from her office to meet with Foundation Board representatives on 22 June 2004.   After further negotiations it was finally agreed that the Army Museum could continue at the site under a licence agreement rather than a lease. The previous commitment of $600,000 over 3 years for upgrade/maintenance plus funding for the asbestos removal was also reconfirmed as part of this agreement.

This agreement which covers all of the main barracks precinct (Precinct 6 on the plan) requires the museum to recognise current use of parts of this precinct by Western Australian University Regiment, the Army Reserve unit who share the barracks site with the museum. The licence extends up to 50 years with options to renew after an initial term of 25 years, followed by terms of 15 years then 10 years. The Licence does not include any provision for the museum to sub-let as was the case with the original lease proposal and the Naval Store Building, not being part of Precinct 6 nor currently used by the museum, is excluded from the License.

A key benefit of this arrangement however is that Department of Defence will continue to meet operating costs for the whole site whilst WA University Regiment remains.  The level of this support will be reviewed when the University Regiment are relocated at some stage within the next 3 to 5 years.  This licence agreement was agreed to in principle by the Foundation Board at a meeting held on 22 June, immediately following the above negotiations, and was finally ratified by the members of the Museum Foundation at a Special General Meeting held on Sunday 18 July 2004.


Last updated on: 31/05/08

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