A public art gallery manager is being slammed for spending thousands of dollars on fancy meals, alcohol and other expenses he billed taxpayers during the Covid pandemic.
NSW Art Gallery manager Michael Brand put meals costing more than $1,000 along with hundreds of dollars of separate wine purchases and other expenses on his government credit card.
Radio host Ben Fordham called Dr Brand a “fat cat” who was “laughing at our expense” on 2GB on Tuesday morning.
NSW Art Gallery manager Michael Brand has regularly paid more than $1,000 of taxpayers’ money to eat at some of Sydney’s best restaurants, even as Covid has reduced gallery visitors
“I think people in NSW will say, ‘this guy is kidding himself,'” Fordham said, pointing out that Dr Brand’s salary of $450,000 a year is higher than NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s. .
Fordham called the list of restaurants Dr. Brand visited at taxpayer expense “like something out of the Good Food Guide.”
Receipts discovered by a The telegraph of the day Freedom of Information request shows Dr. Brand paid $1,180 to eat at Otto, $1,043 at now-defunct Lucio’s, $1,033 at Firedoor and $779 at Franca Brasserie – all restaurants upscale downtown Sydney.
Dr Brand spent $779 at Franca Brasserie in Potts Point (pictured) in January, but that’s modest compared to the $1,000 meals he’s enjoyed at other high-end Sydney restaurants such as Otto and Firedoor.
His taxpayer-funded largesse didn’t end there, however, as in August 2021 he lost $708 at Canberra’s Raku Dining before racking up $532 at Sydney’s downtown restaurant, Foreign Return, a few days later.
Dr. Brand also didn’t hesitate to use his Citibank government credit card for alcohol purchases.
A favorite bottle was Elizabeth Bay Cellars in Sydney, where he made tax-funded purchases worth $718 in August 2020, followed by $212 the following month and $550 in December 2021.
During that same month, he also spent $254 with an American company, Vintage Liquors.
The Art Gallery of NSW has defended Dr Brand’s taxpayer-funded largesse as hospitality, saying he helped raise $109million for its expansion and other projects.
Other expenses chosen by the taxpayer include a taxi ride of $420 this year, $447.50 at the Sit Back and Relax furniture store and $59 at the outdoor clothing store in Kathmandu.
Fordham noted that much of the spending took place during a time of widespread hardship.
“It was during the (Covid) shutdowns when a million people lost their jobs and hundreds of businesses went bankrupt,” he said.
“It was a time of financial crisis, but not for art gallery boss Michael Brand.”
During the Covid period, gallery visitors plunged by nearly two-thirds, from 1,587,386 to 666,572.
A spokeswoman for the Art Gallery of NSW has defended Dr Brand’s spending as hospitality to raise money from partners and donors.
Radio host Ben Fordham argues that Dr Brand’s expenses, which included big booze purchases, furniture and a $450 cab ride, don’t pass the ‘pub test’ in times of Covid hardship
“This commitment has enabled the art gallery to raise $109 million through its philanthropic fundraising campaign for its major expansion, the Sydney Modern Project, which will open in December,” the spokeswoman said.
“Credit card expenses incurred by the director are authorized by the delegated officers and the chairman of the board of directors. These expenses are within approved limits and relate directly to the role and responsibilities.
Fordham said at a time when the NSW government is under pressure to find more money for nurses, paramedics and teachers, this defense would not pass ‘the pub test’.
“When you’re working for the taxpayer, your spending has to match the expectations of the community,” Fordham said.
He did not suggest that Dr. Brand had broken the rules, as determined by the gallery’s board, but rather that the rules needed to change.