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Thursday, 24 October 1974
Page: 1928

Senator TOWNLEY (TASMANIA) -Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister able to inform the Senate what high priced art works in the category of 'Blue Poles' are under consideration for purchase by the Australian National Gallery? Are such works to be bought through private negotiation?

Senator MURPHY - I have some notes on the National Gallery's acquisition program. I am informed that $4.6m has been allocated for acquisitions during 1974-75. Compared with the total national budget, this is a small sum to give towards developing a national heritage. Referring the Senate to an answer I gave to an earlier question, I point out that the Australian public consumes 141 litres per capita of beer a year. If my arithmetic is correct, that means that we consume approximately 2,000 million litres of beer, which would probably involve the expenditure of something in the order of $ 1 billion a year. One can compare that item of our national expenditure with the $4.6m allocated for acquisitions by the National Gallery.'

If the Gallery does not seek the best, whatever its origin, its role as an educator and developer of standards of taste and appreciation will be diminished; it cannot hope to be anything better than a pale reflection of other galleries, either here or abroad, and it will be unlikely ever to attain a truly national stature and command national respect and pride as well as international regard. The Gallery and its collections are not only for present generations but also for future generations of Australians. Those people who do not appreciate this and what we have inherited from past generations have no sense of history. Prices for the finest works of art have always been thought to be high in their time. They have usually not been thought to be so in retrospect. Purchases of great works of art may be negotiated over very long periods, and missed opportunities are rarely repeated. Therefore they cannot be planned to coincide with favourable moves in the trade cycle. In the notes provided to me there is a quotation which reads: 'When you pay high for the priceless you are getting it cheap'.

I am unable to say whether the purchases will be by way of private negotiation. I would assume that those responsible for the acquisitions would be endeavouring to get them in the best way they could. Sometimes this might be by way of auction but, judging from our experience of the past, it is often by way of private negotiation.

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