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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 74

Senator RIDGEWAY (3:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. The minister would no doubt be aware that on 17 February ATSIC/ATSIS offices across the country were raided and the ATSIC art collection seized. Minister, has the collection seized from the 28 offices across the country been appropriately rehoused in one location? Where is the collection currently being held? Is the collection being appropriately maintained by curatorial staff or is it being housed in some unknown warehouse gathering dust?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I do not know that I would agree with your description of ATSIC/ATSIS offices being raided and artworks seized, but you can put whatever colour on it you choose in that context. The artworks were in fact ‘secured’, which is the word I would use.

Senator Carr —Seized!

Senator VANSTONE —I acknowledge the interjection by Senator Carr, who of course is so out of touch with Indigenous affairs that, to the best of my knowledge, not one state or territory government agrees with him, which has of course put his colleagues in a very awkward position. In any event, Senator Ridgeway, I take your question to be genuine. There was a clear indication that these artworks may not be kept as one collection, that they may be at risk and that they may be dispersed around Australia to a range of communities.

I support the decision to secure the artworks so that a decision can be made in the cold light of day as to what should be done with the whole collection. This collection is not a collection that was put together by ATSIC; it is a collection that was added to by successive ATSIC boards, but it was not started by them. It belongs to all Australians and, in particular, we all have an obligation to Indigenous Australia to make sure that this collection is protected, preserved and maintained. I intend to see that that happens. I cannot give you the specific location of each and every individual artwork at this point, but the intention in going to the offices and securing those artworks that were available was so that they could be preserved.

Senator RIDGEWAY —Mr President, I thank the minister for her answer and ask a supplementary question. Given that the government has relied so much on recognising that it is a valuable collection—numerous quotes have valued it at somewhere between $3 million and $4 million, and most of the pieces have a value of less than $500 each—is the government aware whether those pieces of artwork that have been collected have been put in one location as one normal collection? Are appropriate conditions being provided in terms of curatorial support? How much did the government pay for that to occur right across the country, given that the value of most pieces of the artwork is less than $500 each? What is now being done to protect them and to make sure that they are housed as one collection?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator Ridgeway, I will get you the answers with respect to where the artworks are at this point, the cost of securing them and the conditions under which they are now kept. It is my view that it would be better if the collection was kept in one place, with one body responsible for the curatorial aspects, which is not to say that that body might not come to an agreement with other bodies to allow parts of the collection, for example, to travel Australia to go on show or to be held in other places. I have seen a suggestion that it should be handed to the National Gallery for preservation, not to be available for sale, and another was that it should go to IATSIS. A range of people have views about what ought to happen, but I have yet to meet someone who thinks that this collection should be left to be broken up by the dying embers of ATSIC.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.