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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1776

Senator WOOD (Queensland) - I have listened to this debate with a great deal of interest. I propose to speak on the point Senator Wright brought forth about that piece of shickery art. But firstly I wish to comment on the contribution made by Senator Byrne. We should derive a lot of satisfaction from what Senator Byrne said because I think that his contribution today from a purely parliamentary point of view was first rate. It indicated clearly the rights and responsibilities of this Senate. One of the things that people forget, particularly the juvenile Press that we have about the country today, is that this Senate derives its constitution from the people of this country and it derives its election from the votes of the people of this country- the same people who elect members to the other chamber. The Senate was specially designed not only to look after the interests of the States but also to review legislation. It has always been the contention that the Senate should give a more deliberate consideration to the legislation of this country. If the Senate is doing that, as I believe it is, it is fulfilling its proper role. But in certain respects the idiotic Press and other sections of the media which continually castigate the Senate because of some alteration of legislation, some delay for further consideration or for some rejection of legislation, forget that it is the right and the responsibility of the Senate to do so if it so desires.

Those of us who have a true sense of public duty believe that no one should do these things capriciously; that members of the Senate should act because they believe sincerely in what they are doing. If the Senate chamber takes action, instead of being criticised it should be complimented for doing its job properly. There is no question that a great amount of legislation is being poured through the other place almost as though through a sausage machine. Legislation is being forced through that chamber but there is no reason why the Senate should not take a reasonable time to examine it. The quantity of legislation coming from the other place is such that it defies proper examination. Why, even the staff who bring us Bills and other documents these days say: 'Here is another bundle. I do not know how you can read it all.' A man would need a reading machine to get through a fraction of what is coming into his office these days.

Senator McLaren - Mr McMahon'sautocue might be a help.

Senator WOOD - I do not know whether that would be so. If we had something automatic that could assimilate this information we may be able to overcome this problem. But for human beings the position is impossible. Therefore, as a senator, I thank Senator Byrne for raising this matter and making such a fine contribution with respect to the Senate and its work.

Senator Wrightreferred to an item in the Supply Bill (No. 3) 1973 relating to an appropriation of $1,959,500 for the acquisition of art. I have already entered into the controversy about this piece of shickery art known as 'Blue Poles'. I have always called it shickery art because I think that people who paint in this manner must be a bit under the weather. It has been made clear from contributions that we have had in this place- the man who makes this assertion insists that he is right- that Pollock, with the support of a cobber, walked about in a drunken stupor, stamped on paint on a canvas and ultimately produced the painting 'Blue Poles'. It was even stated that Pollock had a knife, indicating that he may have been going to commit suicide. This recalls to my mind what I have often thought about people who indulge in this so-called art- they must be a little bit off balance if not shickered to create such work. Despite all we have heard about it, we find that this painting has been purchased by Australia for such a remarkably high price.

It was rather interesting to hear Senator Turnbull 's contribution in this regard. He referred to comments by various people in the United States of America. There is no question that we have been made to look a bunch of suckers in falling for this purchase. I know that all manner of statements have been made, including the comment that the man who sold it would like to buy it back. But, of course, anybody who knows anything about selling knows that glamour stories are circulated to make it appear that purchases are sensible. It is suggested that Australia was sensible when it bought this painting for $US2m. To my way of thinking expenditure of this amount of money on the painting 'Blue Poles' is absolutely disgraceful. We are an Australian people and there is no reason why we cannot have an international outlook on such things as art, but I believe that primarily the national Parliament should encourage the development of Australian artists. The amount spent on this one item would have gone a long way to assisting the purchase of a great number of Australian pieces of art and encouraging Australian artists. This would have meant much more to this country than this piece of art. I know that a lot of passion is involved in these matters. Some people love to say: 'Oh, isn't it wonderful', and so on.

Senator Little - Something has only to be different to be a work of art.

Senator WOOD - That is right- it has to be something different. Yet if one asked the majority of these people what some of these works of art meant, they would not know. Just to show honourable senators what happens, if I remember rightly it was in this city of Canberra, or somewhere not very far away, that a young child was fooling around with paints on a canvas. He was just mucking around. What happened? As a joke one of the parents put it into a competition. It won the prize. I cannot remember what the judges said about it, but quite possibly they said: 'This person has great ability'. But it was put in as a joke and it won.

Senator McLaren - The child might have had ability.

Senator WOOD - It is a rather strange ability when someone is fooling around with something, does not know what he is doing, and has it called a work of art. Recently one of these great contemporary works of art was put into an exhibition. The people who hung it apparently were great art critics and said it was something good. When the artist came along he found that it was hung upside down. It goes to show that there is a lot of nonsense about a lot of this so called contemporary art. For us as a nation to fall for this sort of stuff is a great shame from the national point of view. It is a great shame that we have spent this amount of money in bringing 'Blue Poles' to this country. We could have done a great deal in the encouragement of our own Australian artists if we had concentrated on building up a first class selection of Australian works of art so that we, at least, in our national Parliament could make our people feel that there is an art consciousness among our artists. Therefore I support Senator Wright's contention that this item should be postponed.

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