The $25million price tag to fly the Aboriginal flag atop the Sydney Harbor Bridge included a ‘healthy contingency’

New South Wales officials revealed they fired from the hip when they claimed it would cost $25million to place the Aboriginal flag on the Sydney Harbor Bridge – a hefty price tag that surprised many when it was revealed in June.

In the end, the state government opted for a much cheaper option: permanently replacing one of the two flags atop the bridge, instead of installing a mast for a third.

On Wednesday, officials revealed they had no idea of ​​the true cost of installing a third mast and that the proposed budget of $25 million included a “healthy contingency” because no one knew exactly what the works would involve.

“Most of the cost was not associated with the flagpole at all – it was really temporary work and access to put it up,” said Camilla Drover, assistant secretary of transportation for infrastructure. and NSW Square, during a Budget Estimates hearing.

“There was also a requirement to reinforce the structure of the heritage bridge… it was not designed to have a flagpole in its vulnerable part, at the top of the bridge.

“So a lot of the costs…were associated with safe access.”

Transport Secretary for NSW Rob Sharp said bureaucrats had suggested a price which would give them some leeway in case installation proved difficult.

“(It would have been) quite a complex and specific engineering job; a healthy contingency on the basis that we hadn’t put a post in the middle of the bridge before,” he said.

Activist Cheree Toka, a woman from Kamilaroi who led a long campaign to fly the red, black and yellow flag over the bridge, said officials should have been more transparent about the project’s budget from the start.

Putting such a high price on the installation of the flag, she argued, would risk eroding support for First Nations initiatives.

“The fact that there was laughter in the room after the issue was disputed proves how unrealistic and unwarranted the budget was,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“If the government continues to impose an extremely high cost to support symbolic change for First Nations people, the nation will not continue to support these meaningful initiatives.

“People will oppose it simply because it costs too much. It’s hard enough having to fight so long for a simple yet powerful change.

Even the Premier of NSW thought the award was laughable when presented to him by department officials in June.

Dominic Perrottet laughed when journalists asked him why it had to cost so much.

“I don’t know…I don’t know, but it does, apparently,” he said.

Mr Perrottet announced in July, towards the end of NAIDOC week, that the Aboriginal flag would permanently replace the state flag that flew alongside the Australian flag.

The $25 million will instead be allocated to the Closing the Gap Indigenous Initiative, a national strategy to reduce the disadvantages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ms Toka said she hoped there would be more transparency around the money in the future.

“The Closing the Gap report needs to be able to quantify the $25 million spent to ensure it is allocated to this initiative,” she said.

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Richard L. Militello