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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 1015

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (6.13 p.m.) —Madam Acting Deputy President, today at question time Senator Gareth Evans made a very dismissive response to a question from Senator Kemp about the Australiana Fund. That is the fund that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) in his arrogance has decided is no longer needed despite the fact that there are many projects planned for the official establishments—Government House, Kirribilli House, Admiralty House and the Lodge—which will require the sort of support that the Australiana Fund has given in the past.

  Despite that, this Prime Minister has decided that because the Australiana Fund had the hide to stand up to him to prevent him getting his own way with the Thai teak table—because of the fund's independence and its standing up for principle—in his usual petty and arrogant way the Prime Minister has removed from that fund its capacity to hold open days at the official establishments in order to raise money to proceed with its activities.

  Coincidentally, the annual report of the Official Establishments Trust released this afternoon reveals that there is a whole range of new projects to get under way at the official establishments. Yet the justification that the Prime Minister gave for getting rid of the Australiana Fund by removing its capacity to raise money is that there was no further need for it.

  This kind of pettiness is absurd and is in fascinating contrast with what the Official Establishments Trust tells us in its latest report about the Australiana Fund. It states:

  The Trust maintained through 1993-94 its close relationship with the Australiana Fund, which was established to encourage direct public participation in the acquisition of works of Australian art, furnishings and history for the Official Residences.

  Fund membership includes representatives from throughout Australia. The Chairman and one other member (Mrs Penelope Seidler) of the Trust are ex-officio Deputy Presidents of the Fund. Fund income is derived by way of donations of cash and items of interest from the private and corporate sectors. In addition, Open Days at the official residences have augmented the Fund's income considerably: the Open Days in October 1993 contributed a net $25,652 and the Trust's work in preserving and presenting the houses was appreciated by approximately 15,000 members of the public who visited the official establishments on the Open Days.

They certainly will not be visiting them any more; the Prime Minister will not let them because the Australiana Fund has had the hide to stand in the way of his whims. In fact, last year the Australiana Fund added a number of important items to its collection, including—and I quote from the report:

a bronze sculpture by Sir Bertram Mackennal entitled "Truth";

a cedar work table (circa 1825), formerly the property of Professor Leslie Wilkinson;

No doubt the Prime Minister would not like something genuine like that in any official establishment when, with a little more expense, he can have a Thai teak table—a genuine reproduction one. The report continues:

a Sunderland lustre jug featuring an illustration of the emigrant ship "The Great Australia"; and

four sterling silver salts (1800) by John Edwards featuring the coat of arms of Thomas Townsend, first Viscount Sydney.

Those sorts of arrangements are no longer to be made. No doubt Senator Kemp will deal with the clear need for the trust in the future, based on the enormous amount of work to be done. There are even suggestions of replacing The Lodge. Obviously, there is enormous scope for the Australiana Fund in that sort of situation which is still under review.

  It is worth pointing out that Mrs Margaret Betteridge was the woman who effectively stood up to the Prime Minister and told him that it was inappropriate to have his Thai teak table. Let us recognise that the Official Establishments Trust had taken the strong view that the historical theme adopted for The Lodge was a 1920s style redecoration. I do not know whether the Thai teak table fits into that. It certainly did not fit into the criteria that Mrs Betteridge as fine arts adviser had recommended. The thing is she was effectively forced to resign. It is interesting to note that the Official Establishments Trust makes special mention of her and commends her in its annual report. It states:

Trust members also wish to express their appreciation of the professional and devoted service provided to them by three former members of the Official Establishments Secretariat staff—Mr Peter Luck and Mrs Margaret Betteridge (both of whom left the Trust Secretariat in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in October 1993 after many years in the Official Establishments Section, Mrs Betteridge as Fine Arts Adviser and Mr Luck providing Secretariat services to the Trust) and Mr Bryan Hoffmann, who was Comptroller of The Lodge and Kirribilli House for eight years.

So on the one hand the Official Establishments Trust expressed its appreciation of the professional and devoted service provided by Mrs Betteridge. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, has made certain that she was obliged basically to resign because she stood up to him and would not let him have his way, which was inappropriate and wrong. I must say I am overjoyed to see that the Official Establishments Trust is prepared to stand up to the Prime Minister also to say how much it commends Mrs Betteridge for her service.

  It is a pity we do not have more Mrs Betteridges around the place to stand up to this arrogant Prime Minister. Maybe, of course, he would run out of people to sack or to force into resigning from the Public Service. No doubt there is a clear need for people not to be stood over by this man. I am glad to say that the Official Establishments Trust has refused to be stood over in this way.