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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1783

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) -After considerable delay and a somewhat discursive debate the Special Minister for State and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) made quite clear my interpretation of this item and confirmed the identification of this vote with the purchase of the painting 'Blue Poles '.

Senator Cotton - He could have said it immediately.

Senator WRIGHT -He could have said it immediately. But the point I want to make out of the fact that the Minister has now confirmed it is that it is idle eyewash for him to say that we can deal with it when dealing with the general appropriation. This vote is here identified with a purchase that has been so roundly condemned. Next, he says that we know the crunch with regard to supply. I do not know when the Government needs this supply. Has it been mentioned?

Senator Willesee - My information, as I said, is that there would be very great difficulty if it had to go back and we had to have an amending Bill.

Senator WRIGHT - If emergencies of that sort are to be relied upon, especially when they are put in the form of a minutary threat to the Opposition, or to some members of the Opposition, they should be quite definitely documented. What is the parliamentary way of dealing with this? Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson was good enough to put his view before the Committee. I want to put mine. We have a Senate Committee to which has been promised- not quite definitely, but promised- the production of all the documents, valuations, correspondence and minutes of the transaction, and we have not yet seen those documents. If a chief clerk of mine concluded a transaction, having been asked for the documents and not having sent them, I would kick him out tonight. That is what I would think of his responsibility to represent a client whom I represented. I told the Committee that it had been responsibly asked in this chamber by 2 senators, one of whom addressed this chamber before me, whether the firm of brokers deriving a not insignificant commission of $100,000 from this purchase has, among those who have a pecuniary interest in the purchase, a member of the collection purchasing committee. That has not been answered. And we have seen what loose methods can do in democracies.

Senator Mulvihill - It sounds like the Fill transaction.

Senator McLaren - That was not even authorised. What about the reports on the F 1 1 1 ?

Senator WRIGHT -That is another matter. Bring it up for debate.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Wilkinson - Order! Senator Wright, will you resume your seat? Will honourable senators please remember that the proceedings are being broadcast. I ask honourable senators to pay attention and not to interject across the chamber. I am not directing that to the senator who is speaking but to those who are interjecting across the chamber. Will you please refrain from doing this.

Senator WRIGHT - I was adverting to the fact that this allegation has been made responsibly in the Senate and to ignore it is, I think, a matter of irresponsibility. That is the most charitable view one could take. Others would say that it is a cowardly attitude not to face up to the requirement that that should be adequately answered and justified before we vote not $ 1.9m or even 90c for a picture that may have been purchased by corrupt means. In those circumstances, having given the Minister the opportunity to defer this item- he could quite easily do that in relation to an emergency Bill without loss of face or other qualification, and he could allow it to come up in the general debate- if my offer is declined I conceive the parliamentary duty to be quite clear; that is, to put the proposition to the vote of the Senate to see whether there are sufficient members in the Senate who are prepared to vote the people's money, a sum of $1.9m, for the purchase of an object of art the papers in respect of which we have not seen, about the integrity of the purchase of which we are not satisfied, and the prudence of which transaction the majority condemns.

In those circumstances I once again invite the Minister to indicate that he would be prepared, having put the specific item before the Senate in that condition of evidence, to defer it. If a motion such as I have indicated is passed, it will go to the House of Representatives for acceptance or rejection; and when it comes back the question will be whether we have been satisfied in the interim both as to these factors associated with the purchase and with the justification of the purchase. In those circumstances I would think that the duty of this place is imperative- that we must not give final sanction to this appropriation this day.

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