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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1785

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) - I should like to speak for a few moments because I feel that this exercise this afternoon has been marked by a great degree of humbug, with honourable senators scoring cheap political points. I should like to put on record the names of the members of the Committee who were responsible for the purchase of this work of art. The Acquisitions Committee is comprised of Mr James Gleeson, art writer, critic and painter, of Sydney; Mr Leonard French, painter, of Melbourne; Mr Clifford Last, sculptor, of Melbourne; Mr Fred Williams, painter and graphic artist, of Melbourne; and the Director of the Gallery, Mr James Mollison.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They were appointed by the previous Government.

Senator O'BYRNE -Yes, I might mention that these distinguished gentlemen were appointed by the previous Government. I wish to inform the Senate of the backgrounds of the members of the Committee. I refer firstly to Mr Fred Williams. ' Who 's Who in Australia ' states:

Williams, Frederick Ronald, Painter and Etcher; National Gallery Sens, (Melb.), Chelsea An Seh. (Lond.); exhibited in London, Switzerland, Asia, Prague, Cracow and Australia; represented in Tate Gallery London, and all Australian galleries; Rubinstein and Dyason; Travelling Scholar in Europe 1963-64; Georges, Wills and Wynne Prizes 1966; publication, Fred Williams Etchings 1968.

The next person who has been condemned and degraded in this debate is Mr James Gleeson. Who 's Who in Australia ' states:

Gleeson, James Timothy, Artist, Author, Critic; ed. Gosford, East Syd. Tech. Coll., Syd. Teachers' Coll.; Lectr. An Syd. Teachers' Coll. 1945-46; studied Lond., Paris, Rome, 1947-49; publications, William Dobell 1964; Masterpieces of Australian Painting 1969.

The next member to whom I wish to refer is Mr Clifford Last. He is one of the advisers who has been criticised in my view so wrongly this afternoon. The Committee members were advisers to this Government and advisers to the previous Government. For the purpose of the record I shall read Clifford Last's curriculum vitae. Who 's Who in Australia ' states:

Last, Clifford Frank, Sculptor, Member C 'wealth Art Advisory Board since 1970; ed. Barrow G.S. (Lanes), City Guilds An School (London), R.M.I.T. (Melb.), E. Syd. Tech., Lectr. Mercer House Teacher Training Coll.; CI. Member. Vic. Sculptors SOCY.; Vic. Univs. & Schs. Examination Bd. Arts & Crafts Standing Cttee. Outside Examiner R.M.I.T.; work in Nat. Art Collection, Canberra, Nat. Galls. Vic. & Malaya, and an galls. Mildura, Ballarat, Newcastle, Launceston & Castlemaine.

Those are the backgrounds of the people who were commissioned or to whom authority was delegated on behalf of the Australian Government to build up our art collection. In art, as in other areas, man does not live by bread alone.

Senator Little - He could not live on selling Blue Poles' either.

Senator O'BYRNE - You would like your 'pornshop' to be full of filthy pictures. I would not. I am saying that to have a collection of artistic works gives students, the artists of the future, an area for comparison. Access to the different styles of paintings is invaluable for teachers of the arts. It is not right for the Senate to spend all this time criticising these very capable people who have devoted a whole lifetime towards achieving and acquiring knowledge. These people are on a Committee that selects these various works of art for our galleries. Perhaps there are members of the Opposition who would be prepared to sell works of art, cash them in and buy a couple more FI 1 ls or some such thing. I should also like to mention that the Chairman of this Committee, Mr Mollison, was appointed by Opposition 's previous Leader, Mr William McMahon. With its background I would say that this Committee stands beyond reproach.

The main reason I rose to speak was that the Government is being condemned. After all, neither Mr Whitlam, Senator Murphy, Senator Douglas McClelland, Senator Mulvihill nor any of us was responsible for choosing this painting but we are certainly supporters of the arts. If we give responsible people the job of choosing the various artists to be represented in our galleries then they are the people to do the job. When we get the tab for the paintings they choose it is our duty and responsibility to pick up that tab. Honourable senators opposite might want to say: Sack them all', but where will we finish? The people who comprise this Committee would possibly be among the 10 best representatives of their profession and of art in the country. Yet here we are spending 2 or 3 hours condemning them. None of us has ever seen the work 'Blue Poles'. None of us knows anything of the background of the artist. Perhaps most of us have too little appreciation of art. After all, the history of Australia has been one of hardship and of colonialism and we were not supposed to appreciate the arts. But we believe that this country has now reached an age of maturity and it should be able to get a little artistic fruit for the sideboard. We should be able to acquire collections similar to those acquired by practically every other civilised country in the world. One can go to the Art galleries and find wonderful paintings of the various artists.

Senator Byrne - But we produced Nolan, Drysdale and Gruner.

Senator O'Byrne - Of course, and Gruner is represented in most of our galleries. The same applies to Norman Lindsay. People in this country such as honourable gentlemen sitting opposite condemned Norman Lindsay because he was way out and avant garde, and he was called everything they could call him. They banned his books and covered up his paintings, but try to acquire a Norman Lindsay painting today. Perhaps in the 1930s one could buy a Norman Lindsay painting for twenty pounds, but today it would cost $ 10,000 or $ 1 5,000.

Senator Wright - Why not $2m?

Senator O'Byrne - I was most impressed with that Senator Turnbull said. I interjected when he asked whether anyone knew of a painting worth $1.3m. I saw a magnificient painting by Renoir in the Phillips Collection in Washington- Renoir is one of my favourite artists- and I inquired the price. The Phillips Collection paid $ 1.25m for this painting in 1 932, in the middle of the depression, when money was very scarce. If one multiplies that amount allowing for the inflation that has occurred in the United States, as it has here- it is not quite as bad here as it is there- one gets an indication that some of these works are priceless and invaluable, not only from the point of view of their material worth but also for the fact that they are examples of a period of history or of a different interpretation of art. Unless we equip our art galleries with the best that money can buy, we will have fewer examples of art and less material available for our future art students. It ill behoves this Senate to put on an exhibition such as this to score a cheap political point on the Government. The Government is simply standing by its Committee. The Committee made this decision and it is sending us the tab. If we are not welshers we will pay it.

Motion (by Senator Willesee) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

Request for amendment negatived.

Bill reported without requests; report adopted.

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