Ballet chief defends multi-million dollar mansion budget buy

The chairman of the Australian Ballet School says the decision to purchase a $4.7 million Melbourne mansion, part-funded by $1 million in the Federal Budget, was part of the institution's "duty of care" to its students.

Leigh Johns, who posted a photograph of Federal Arts Minister George Brandis standing with Australian Ballet School representatives outside the 'sold' sign in front of the Parkville mansion, said the grant was recognition of years' of hard work.

Mr Johns denied that former Liberal Arts Minister Rod Kemp (now chairman of right-wing lobby group the Institute of Public Affairs), whose wife Daniele is on the Ballet School's board, had anything to do with the funding announced in the budget. 

''We have raised funds for many years and had a $1 million donation from a benefactor," Mr Johns said. "I can assure you that Ms Kemp played no individual role in securing the government funding."

The Queen Anne mansion boasts sweeping views of Royal Park Golf Course, a pool and gardens. 

Mr Brandis was pictured outside the 2025-square metre Parkville mansion in a photo posted to Twitter by Mr Johns on May 30.

The minister visited the site while in Melbourne on other Commonwealth engagements.

“Senator Brandis frequently visits arts organisations including training institutions in his capacity as Minister for the Arts," his spokesman for the Arts Minister said.

Earlier, Senator Brandis told Fairfax Media he had taken a close interest in the school and had visited its existing facility in February.

"The School has been seeking government support for a student residence from successive governments for many years and indicated that without the contribution of $1 million the acquisition of the property would not have been possible.

"The Government’s funding will also help to attract further funds through fundraising campaigns to prepare the property as a student residence.

"The new student residence will ensure regional and interstate students (80 per cent) can be provided the appropriate duty of care for young people, some as young as 14, living away from home and the necessary away-from-home support.

"The Government is committed to world-class arts training and this funding will better enable the Australian Ballet School to compete with international schools offering residency facilities and recruit the very best dancers."

The funding for the school was announced in the Federal Budget on May 14. The school was the only winner in an arts budget that saw Screen Australia cut by $25.1 million and the Australia Council lose $28.2 million. 

The property was auctioned on May 24. Bidding started at $4 million and the property was sold after it passed in at auction at $4.7 million, listing agent Ryan Currie of Jellis Craig Kensington said. 

Mr Currie said it was among the top residential sales in the suburb and that the buyer would have paid a premium for its location, two street frontages and the uniqueness of the property. 

“There are not many homes greater than 1000-square-metres left in Parkville,” he said. “It was very liveable inside, not renovated, but every single period detail that was ever put into the home was still there.”

Substantial renovations will be required to turn the six-bedroom home into a boarding residence, housing 28 students enrolled at the school.

The Australian Ballet School is based at Southbank. It shares premises with the Australian Ballet but is a separate organisation to the dance company.

with Debbie Cuthbertson and Christina Zhou

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