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Mars and beyond: search for the origins of life. National Museum of Australia: speech.

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President of the Senate Margaret Reid, the Chairman of the Museum Tony Staley, Dawn Casey, the Director, His Excellency Mr Leonid Moiseev, Senator Kim Carr and Mr Jim Hassell.

As the curtain comes down on the year-long celebration of Australia's Centenary of Federation, I am delighted to be here tonight to open an exciting international exhibition staged with the assistance of the Commonwealth's Federation Fund-in a museum which itself is perhaps the most visible Commonwealth legacy of the Centenary year.

This is the second major international exhibition to be held in the National Museum's purpose-built temporary exhibition gallery in its first year of operation.

And the opening comes at an invigorating time for Canberra-and for me as Minister for the Arts-with three prestigious exhibitions opening this month in three of the Commonwealth major collecting institutions.

In addition to Mars and Beyond: Search for Origins of Life, last week the National Library of Australia opened Treasures of the World's Great Libraries, while the National Gallery of Australia will open Rodin - A Magnificent Obsession later this week.

It is a mark of the calibre and reputation of our collecting institutions that they are able to attract such events.

The National Museum of Australia may be the youngest of these institutions, but already it is carving a place for itself in the national cultural scene.

More than 670,000 people have visited the Museum since its opening in March-double the anticipated attendance.

The museum is a centrepiece of the Centenary of Federation year. It was built with $147 million of Commonwealth Federation Funding, and every exhibition in its first year of

operation has been supported financially by the Commonwealth.

But the Federation Fund is just part of an integrated and on-going package of support and encouragement for the arts and culture that has been put together by this Government over the past five years.

That support includes direct finance, in the form of Australia Council grants and the recent $92.7 million raft of financial measures to assist the film industry.

And it includes indirect measures like the Art Indemnity program, which has enabled so many world-class exhibitions to be brought to Australia in the past two decades.

It also includes legislative incentives like the Cultural Gifts program, and initiatives like the Australia Business Arts Foundation, that have helped foster a philanthropic spirit in the private sector.

Exhibitions such as the one we will experience tonight are important avenues of enlightenment, education and sheer entertainment.

People have always wondered about the stars.

Ancient cosmologies defined the place of Mankind in the known world and governed the daily lives of many societies

Today, as the awesome immensity of the universe is beginning to be understood, space exploration is on the threshold of finding answers to some profound and complex questions

- Is there or has there been any other form of life or intelligence anywhere?

- Is it feasible for humans and other living things from earth to live elsewhere?

This exhibition looks at space from the earliest dreams and philosophies to present day scientific achievements.

It invites visitors to be part of the future, a future that is limited only by the imagination.

Australia's role in early rocketry at Woomera, our contribution during the space race and our involvement in space technology and exploration today are appropriately recognised in this exhibition

It is wonderful that a number of objects from around the world and within Australia have been loaned by space agencies, museums and individuals for this exhibition

I would like to extend a warm welcome to:

Dr Kulikov, Dr Zaitsev and staff from the Lavochkin Association in Moscow,

Madam Anne Marie Oudin-Christakis from the Musee de L'Holographie in Paris and

Dr Dave Lavery from NASA headquarters for coming from the other side of the world to be with us tonight

A special thank you also to the French, Russian and United States Governments for their

assistance with the exhibition

Exhibitions like To Mars and Beyond do not just happen overnight with years of planning and the support of sponsors, lenders and individuals being essential ingredients for any exhibition

The success of international standard exhibitions depends greatly on financial support above what the government is able to provide.

I would therefore like to personally thank tonight the principal sponsor for this exhibition, Sun Microsystems, and the other major sponsors who have representatives with us tonight:

Fujitsu General Australia; Singapore Airlines; Accor hotels, in particular Novotel Canberra; Ball Solutions Group, WIN Television; and BHPBilliton.

From a Commonwealth perspective, it is great to see the cooperative support that other government organisations have been able to be provide to the National Museum for this exhibition.

Thank you to Geoscience Australia; the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, and the Bureau of Meteorology for their significant contributions.

The role of Art Exhibitions Australia to organise this exhibition in consultation with National Museum staff cannot be overstated.

Like the Museum's opening temporary exhibition, Gold and Civilisation, this space exhibition has been put together through an expert planning committee under the guidance of Art Exhibitions Australia and curator, Professor Malcolm Walter.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Chairman, Robert McKay, and all the staff at Art Exhibitions Australia for their hard work to make this wonderful exhibition come to fruition.

Finally, to the National Museum's Chairman, Tony Staley and Director, Dawn Casey, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Council and the Museum staff to ensure that not only this exhibition, but the Museum generally, will be successful.

The Museum has already vindicated its importance to the Australian people. I am certain that To Mars and Beyond: Search for the Origins of Life will enhance its already high reputation.

It gives me great pleasure to declare the exhibition officially open.

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