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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yesterday the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was good enough to reply to a question which I had placed on the parliamentary notice paper and which was headed 'Australian National Gallery: Loan of Paintings to Governor-General'. In his reply the Prime Minister provided information about the paintings and other works of art which have been made available to the present Governor-General in the short period in which he has been in office. It is very plain from the answer that was given that the Governor-General is monopolising works of art from the Australian National Gallery which should be available for the enjoyment of the Australian community. Since Sir John took office the number of paintings loaned to Yarralumla has more than doubled. Information provided by the Prime Minister in yesterday 's Hansard shows that some of Australia's most valuable art treasures are included in the 69 paintings and 3 Aboriginal paintings now on loan to Government House. The works include paintings by Arthur Boyd entitled 'The Rabbiter', "The Valley', 'Unicorn and Figure in a Tree', and 'Rosebud Landscape'. They include the famous work of art by William Dobell, 'Regent's Park London', and the Russell Drysdale paintings 'Halfcaste Woman' and 'Country Boy' and others. Also contained in the collection is Sidney Nolan's 'Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringy bark Creek'.

It is a marvellous list. I do not blame the Governor-General for wanting to have these paintings displayed in his residence. But there are 69 treasures of Australia's art collection there. In addition, the Government House collection includes at least 11 ceramics, 4 pieces of sculpture and 2 tapestries, all acquired during His Excellency's period of office. Moderate utilisation would be accepted as reasonable but I regard this over-indulgence as reprehensible. It would be more in keeping with the role of the National Gallery to put this unique collection on circuit as was done with 'Blue Poles'. The collection should be put into the universities of Australia, into the colleges of advanced education, into the art galleries in the great cities, the country towns and the provincial cities and in civic centres and art galleries all around Australia to let the people who paid for them draw some inspiration from them.

I do not want to question the need for works of art to be displayed at Government House. I realise that His Excellency's wife has a great appreciation of art and is very actively involved in this area. But one can engage in excesses. I do not know the value of these works of art because the Prime Minister declined to answer that part of my question. It could well be that works of art worth millions of dollars have accumulated at Government House. I regard that as unreasonable. The entire community would benefit if the collection was exhibited on a circulating basis to the places that I have mentioned.

I have no doubt that the Prime Minister's refusal to provide information about the value of this Yarralumla collection is an indication of his embarrassment. Even to cite original acquisition costs, as could easily have been done, would have shown that the Governor-General is wallowing in a luxurious art arsenal rivalled only by a handful of eccentric millionaire art collectors of international notoriety. I put it to the Prime Minister that the Government has a responsibility to take action and to limit the degree of luxury enjoyed by the Governor-General in this regard. These works or art should be placed among the people of Australia, among the young students who also have an appreciation of the aesthetic things in life.

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