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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1781

Senator WILLESEE (Western AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs and Special Minister of State) - I want to reply briefly to the debate. Firstly, I am not going to defer this Bill in any way. If the Senate wants to reject it and send it back to another place it will do so knowing full well what the timetable is. It knows full well that this is not the normal appropriation. Honourable senators know full well that every item they have talked about today will be in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and that they will have the chance to deal with it. They already have dealt with many of these things when they have been brought up in the Estimates committees.

The debate has ranged very wide. There has been criticism of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for going to Peking. There has been criticism of the alleged drinking of some champagne on that trip. What that has to do with the Bill I do not know. I admit immediately that Opposition members have a genuine feeling about the purchase of a painting called 'Blue Poles'. Senator McManus anticipated this debate because yesterday, without any opposition and by means of a formal motion, he moved that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. I quote from Journals of the Senate ' which states:

Reference of Matter Senator McManus, by leave, amended Business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 2, standing in his name, and, pursuant to Notice, moved- That there be referred to the Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts the following matter- Procedures, organisation and action necessary to ensure that the Council for the Arts, and its Boards, properly and effectively carry out their task of over-all promotion of the Arts in Australia.

I suggest that any criticism levelled at the body which bought the painting called 'Blue Poles' should be put before the Committee to see whether, in its view, this has been a bad purchase. I do not know whether it was a bad purchase. I have not seen that painting. I would not be a good judge if I had seen it. I might say in passing that I do not believe that any of the critics have seen 'Blue Poles' either. I do not know that they would be any better judges than I in regard to the purchasing of works of art. Senator Wood in particular lodged criticism and said that 2 men were irresponsible. I do not know those 2 men and I do not know whether Senator Wood knows them. He chose to stand in his place and abuse 2 men who do not have the opportunity of reply.

Senator Wood - I did not.

Senator WILLESEE - Yes, you did. You called them 2 irresponsible men. The honourable senator said that they were buying shickered art. He went on to say that a child was shickered too and he painted the picture, and so on. I do not blame the honourable senator if he has some doubts about it. That is fair enough. However I think he should be fair in his criticism. He should not abuse people who cannot reply. Senator McManus took the proper course yesterday. He feels disturbed about something and is using the committee system to examine the matter. 'Blue Poles' already has been paid for out of the Advance to the Treasurer. This small amount of $2m out of the total $36m to which Senator Wright has referred is to reimburse the Treasurer's Advance. As to one of the general subjects which has been brought up today, I suggest that it can be taken care of in the future by Senator McManus' motion which has been carried by the Senate and which will go to another place. We were told that this Bill would be assisted through this House. We were told, and I understood, that there would be 2 speakers on the Bill who would take a couple of minutes each. Now the Opposition has decided to change its mind, but I make no criticism of that. It is the right of honourable senators to talk if they want to. I merely say that this is quite different from what happened when the then Government was in this situation in 1971. We passed the Bill through the 2 Houses with a total debating time of eight or nine minutes. We did not try to rake over it. We easily could have done that.

Anybody can be a critic. Anybody can go through a mass of figures and start debating them. What the Opposition has done today is to hold up this Bill very much longer than we anticipated and very much longer than we did a similar Bill in 1971. If the Opposition deletes this item and sends the Bill back to the other place, honourable senators know perfectly well that they will jam the Government, the Printer and the bureaucracy which has to handle this matter into a situation where there can be the difficulties which, without any basis, have been rumoured. Honourable senators can embarrass the Public Service in relation to the normal payments incurred for the services, and salaries and the running of the Commonwealth of Australia. If honourable senators do that, it is on their heads. I suggest that if they do, that is an irresponsible action. Honourable senators will have every opportunity to make all the complaints and criticisms which they have made today when the normal Budget proposals come forward, I understand tomorrow and next week. I say to honourable senators that if they choose to reject that Budget, then that is their responsibility and that too will be on their heads.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSON (New South Wales) (5.7)- We are discussing in the Committee of the Whole, Supply Bill (No. 3) which involves an amount of about $36m. I want to speak only in relation to the sum of $ 1 , 959,500 which adverts to the acquisition of works for, and conservation of, the National Gallery. I am glad that the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) has intervened in the debate. lama little sorry that he did not intervene earlier because Senator Wright put a point of view and indicated an intention. Now the Minister, in his response, makes it abundantly clear that the amount of $1,959,500 relates to the purchase of a painting called ' Blue Poles ' by Jackson Pollock. Insofar as the purchase and the method of purchase are concerned, I find myself in complete support of the views put by Senator Wright initially and by other honourable senators during the Committee stage. I realise, as I think we all realise, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What one person gets some satisfaction from, perhaps another cannot see any beauty in. But it is incredible that one can pay US$2m for an item which was purchased previously for some US$36,000.

I was at a private function on Saturday evening last with an Australian painter of renown. I shall not embarrass him by mentioning his name. He was almost beside himself in his concern and rage at the purchase of this painting for the sum mentioned. In addition he has expressed- I have asked him to put them in writing because I feel it is something upon which lay persons should not pontificate- some very critical arguments about the durability of the painting. It is his view, and he is no slouch, that it will need to be refurbished very quickly. That being so, the point made by Senator Willesee is that this is a purchase which the Government has made. In our view, it is a very poor purchase and one made very unwisely. But the decision has been taken. This is a Supply Bill and, as far as I am concerned, the Government must get Supply. The Minister has said that he will not defer the Bill, and I make it abundantly clear that in my view we have to give passage to this Supply Bill because that is the method of Parliament. We can use other forms of the House and we can do other things and make other references to this item. But here we have an item of Supply and the Government requires some $36m.

The Government has to get Supply for this $36m. I make it abundantly clear that that is where I see my duty as much as I deplore the item, as much as I think it was a bad decision and as much as I think the Government will live to regret the decision, both in terms of the painting and of the reaction of the community. The fact is that there will be no National Gallery for many years in which to show the painting. This is a pity in a way because I think that more and more people in Australia would be able to make their judgment sooner. I believe that the Government is entitled to Supply. Under the parliamentary procedures here I believe that it is entitled to it today. As far as I am concerned I will vote accordingly to give Supply.

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