Amid cries of “Hindenboob’’, the ACT Government has been accused of subjecting the national capital to ridicule by commissioning the controversial Skywhale balloon artwork to mark Canberra’s Centenary.
Just a few kilometres from Parliament House, where attention was focussed on the federal budget, the ACT’s Parliament turned its attention to the balloon, which cost territory taxpayers $300,000.
During a fiery question time, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher defended the Government’s decision not to keep the balloon in territory ownership at the end of the Centenary year, arguing that this would have required taxpayers to fund ongoing maintenance and a pilot.
Ms Gallagher said that at the end of the Centenary, Skywhale would remain in the custody of Melbourne-based Global Ballooning.
The balloon had a life expectancy of about 100 flights.
‘‘Once that agreement expires, we hope the Skywhale lives a long and happy life. And yes we hope she comes back and visits us from time to time in the short life expectancy that the Skywhale has,’’ Ms Gallagher said.
When Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson interjected a query about whether the balloon was a she, Ms Gallagher responded: “Mr Hanson you have a look at the Skywhale, I assume it’s she.’’
Liberal MLA Andrew Wall said the 34-metre by 23-metre balloon had caused national ridicule to be heaped on Canberra and asked what plans the Government had to rescue the city’s reputation.
Ms Gallagher dismissed Mr Wall’s concerns and said Skywhale had helped develop national and international attention to Canberra and would continue to do so through interstate flights.
“The role of the art is to project Canberra outwards to Australia, not just here in the ACT,’’ she said.
Ms Gallagher said the Government had spent $24.5 million on commissioning a range of Centenary events and attractions to meet different tastes, including $500,000 on an international one-day cricket match, $300,000 on fireworks and $160,000 each on Canberra Symphony and ballet performances.
‘The Centenary is a broad-based festival of our city and our city’s history. And right back to the founding fathers, when they established this city, they wanted this city not just to be the home of politics, they wanted this to be the city of arts,’’ she said.
Ms Gallagher said that after taking advice from the Government Solicitor, it had been decided not to retain ownership of the Skywhale.
‘‘If we had retained ownership of the balloon it would have required that we retained an operating budget for that balloon, including ongoing maintenance of the balloon, a pilot for the balloon,’’ she said.