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Friday, 24 August 1984
Page: 362

Senator MARTIN —Does the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment recall the Australian Labor Party policy prior to coming to government in relation to the Australian National Gallery? Does the Minister recall promising the abolition of the entrance fee without financial penalty to the Gallery? Why has the Government in contrast pursued policies in the 1983-84 Budget which have seen a dramatic reduction in the National Gallery's funding so that its allocation for 1984-85 is only three-quarters of the real value of its allocation in the Fraser Government's 1982 Budget? In particular, why has the Government reduced the acquisition vote by 14 per cent for this financial year? What effect will this decision have on the Gallery's acquisitions program and on the bicentenary collection? Has the Government been advised that its actions could lead to further loss of senior Gallery personnel?

Senator RYAN —I cannot give detailed answers to the questions Senator Martin has asked. I will refer them to the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment and invite him to answer them as he wishes. I point out, though, that it is a matter of great pleasure and satisfaction to the Government that the Australian National Gallery is flourishing. For example, its recent exhibition of the French impressionist painters was, I believe, the most successful public exhibition on such a scale that we have yet seen in this country. The number of visitors to the Australian Capital Territory who came to see that exhibition was outstanding; I think a record number. The management of an exhibition such as that is evidence that the Gallery is operating at the highest possible standard.

I was very pleased to be able to attend briefly the opening of another major exhibition at the National Gallery last night, this time of one of our finest Australian painters, the late Fred Williams. Again, I place on record my congratulations and appreciation of the very high level of service the Australian National Gallery is able to give the Australian people. I noticed, when I was looking at Fred Williams's collection-a most outstanding collection- that many of the paintings on exhibition had been bought through the acquisitions fund. Quite clearly the Gallery has the capacity, through its various sources of funding, to continue making outstanding acquisitions to add to its collection. It has just done so.

With regard to Senator Martin's reference to the loss of senior Gallery staff, again I will have to refer that matter in detail to Mr Cohen to answer. If Senator Martin is referring, as I think she might be, to the decision of Mr Daniel Thomas to become director of the Gallery of South Australia, all I can say is that I again congratulate Mr Thomas on his new appointment-I can see Senator Teague in the distance looking very pleased about it-which will certainly be to the benefit of all South Australians. Certainly Daniel Thomas is the outstanding curator of Australian art in this country. I am not aware of his decision to make his talents and expertise available to the people of South Australia as having anything to do with the acquisitions fund of the Gallery, as Senator Martin's question seems to imply. I will refer Senator Martin's detailed questions to Mr Cohen. But I must say I believe that the people of Australia are being very well served by the Gallery, in terms of both its exposition of its existing collection and its new acquisitions policy.

Senator MARTIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for answering a range of questions I did not ask. I will repeat a couple of the questions I did ask to which she, having been shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Environment prior to coming to government, would know the answers very well. Does the Minister recall the Australian Labor Party policy, prior to coming to government, in relation to the Australian National Gallery? Does she recall a promise on the abolition of the entrance fee without financial penalty? How can she say that the Gallery is flourishing when not only is government funding cut this year but also, according to its estimates, non- government income will reduce by 15 per cent?

Senator RYAN —I can certainly recall our policy on the entrance fee prior to the election. However, in the light of the huge budgetary deficit we found ourselves facing when we took office, that undertaking had to be reconsidered, as indeed did many other financial commitments. It was simply not possible for us to know in advance of our coming to office of the enormous debt, the financial chaos, that his country was in. I think the whole community has recognised the enormous battle we have had to establish order from chaos. I am pleased to see that the Australian community is very well satisfied with the steps we have taken. I find Senator Martin's claim about a drop in private income very hard to understand given the record number of visitors who have just been to visit the Courtauld exhibition. Detailed answers to those questions are in the domain of Mr Cohen and I will refer the matter to him.