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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1771

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) -I refer to division 430, subdivision 3, item 06, under the heading 'Administrative', 'Other services' in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is captioned 'acquisition of works for, and conservation of, the National Collection', and the amount is $ 1.959m. We have seen an extraordinary increase in the appropriation asked for the Australian Council for the Arts, including acquisitions for the National Collection. I think the appropriation was increased from some $4m to nearly $14m. During the dealing by the Parliament with the appropriations a transaction of extraordinary significance and uniqueness has been disclosed in that we are told the National Collection has purchased an object of art- that is the best way I can describe it- called 'Blue Poles' for $ A 1.3 7m or US$2m. We are told also that members of the public, whom we are supposed to represent here, are being asked to pay $100,000 commission for the skilful and subtle brokers who arranged that purchase.

Two aspects of the matter seem to me to indicate a certain contempt for this Parliament in the submission of this item to us for passage. The first is that we in an Estimates Committee have been engaged in examining this matter over a number of weeks and in the course of that examination we have elicited the fact that the person who is selling that object of art to the National Collection purchased it in 1954 for US$36,000. The seller multiplied his purchase money by 60 times and arrived before a duped government of 1973 that is willing to purchase the object of art for $2m. That is the first unique feature.

The second unique feature is that in the course of that examination by the Estimates Committee the Minister who was in charge of the estimates concerned was twice asked to table all the correspondence, all the valuations and all the minutes constituting the transaction by the National Collection. Before doing so the Minister has the effrontery to ask the Parliament to pass a Supply Bill of an emergency supplementary nature including this item. The next unique feature is that in the last week from at least 2 sources of the Senate, according to my recollection, questions of quite a responsible character have been asked as to whether or not the National Collection Committee includes a person associated with Max Hutchinson Galleries, who were the brokers for the purchase, either by way of partnership or on commission or in some other way.

I suggest to the Minister that every dictate of prudent politics should prompt him to rise and say that this item at least will be omitted from this Bill without prejudice to his referring it in the major Bill that we will be considering in the Committee of the Whole. Unless I can get satisfaction upon those matters I propose to move that the House of Representatives be requested to omit this item from the Bill.

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