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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2404

Senator JESSOP (South Australia) -The matter we are discussing has been the subject of a considerable amount of public comment and adverse criticism at a time when the economy is in a turbulent state. It is quite natural for people to question whether we should be paying millions of dollars for paintings for the national art collection. I think it is a proper subject to be fully discussed. It was for that reason that I initiated the question to Mr Mollison with respect to what art works were contemplated under this Une of the estimates. He gave me, I believe, a thoughtful answer to my question. Although this was a public hearing and he preferred not to divulge the precise nature of the paintings he may have in mind for the national art collection, he pointed out the dangers of giving the Committee specific details and the effect that it could have on the purchase of such paintings. He pointed out that it may result in the withdrawal of certain works or them being placed beyond the reach of the national collection. I was satisfied with that and did not pursue that line of questioning any further.

But I was very keen to find out whether any other advice was obtained or whether he was the only person to decide what art works should be purchased. I learned that there was some consultation carried out and that there was an item of expenditure to cover that consultation. It was item 05 for the sum of $94,400. 1 wanted to find out just how much of that sum was paid to consultants and who the consultants were. Also I was anxious to determine the commissions that were paid in respect of such purchases and to whom these commissions were paid. I think it would be helpful if the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) could give us an example. We have purchased 2 paintings, 'Blue Poles' and 'Woman V'.I would like an idea of the proportion that is allowed for commissions on these purchases. What are the details in respect of those 2 paintings? How much were the commissions and to whom were they paid? I think Mr Mollison told me that commissions varied considerably. The commission for dealers promoting a painting by a famous artist could be as low as 2 per cent or 3 per cent, but in the case of an unknown artist the figure could be up to 80 per cent. I think this is significant and I would like the details to be provided.

If information concerning which paintings are being considered for the National Art Collection was provided in committee there could be a possibility of its being leaked and that could be of detriment to the Government. That is the attitude I adopted. Unfortunately Senator Greenwood initiated a similar line of questioning and took a different point of view. That is his business and I respect him for that attitude if he cares to take it. I certainly would have no wish to protect the Minister. I certainly did not take that line in order to protect the Minister; I took it purely and simply as a businessman. Having said that, I hope the Minister can help me by providing the details I have requested. I think it proper that this information be provided in view of the public interest in this subject.

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