Date:9.51 PM TUESDAY, 23 March 1999
Member:Pendal, Mr Phillip
Page:6900 / 1

way we in Western Australia would never repeat the Percy Markham catastrophe referred to earlier by the Opposition spokesman on the Arts. The idea was that Western Australia would never need to sell its cultural heritage in order to finance its cultural heritage. The main issue at that time was the collection of vintage and veteran cars that Percy Markham had sold, albeit at an advantageous price to the State. The wherewithal that was to be achieved was the creation of an acquisition fund within the Museum of Western Australia; that is, that each year consolidated revenue would make some provision for the museum to acquire new works, artefacts and manuscripts in such a way that it would not be necessary to sell something else to acquire them. It is interesting that six years down the track, I cannot find any evidence that the State of Western Australia has delivered on that promise. Equally ironic is the fact that the Government of Western Australia is prepared to impose on the State things that it never promised; and perhaps we should be grateful that it never promised those things. One of those things is the Bill that is now before the House.

Several major controversies arose during the time of the previous Government and gave rise to what was probably a fairly active policy on the part of the coalition at the 1993 election. One of those controversies was the sale of part of the Percy Markham collection. It was argued at that time that the State might well sell the Percy Markham collection on the grounds that none, or very few, of those vehicles had anything culturally to do with early Western Australia. As I said by way of interjection to the member for Thornlie, that would have been a bit like telling the Museum that it should also put on sale the meteorites that it was so proudly exhibiting on the grounds that those meteorites were not from Western Australia geographically but came from a long way away. That was the argument that was put by, I regret to say, those philistines, who had the view that we could easily dispose of those things that had been entrusted to us whether by direct sale or donation.

The second major controversy that led to the coalition policy at that election was the Government's acquisition of the Louis Allen art collection from the United States for about $1.3m. That created enormous controversy around not only Western Australia but also Australia, because the Minister for the Arts of the day, who was probably one of the best Ministers for the Arts that we have seen in this generation - I am referring to the then member for Fremantle, Hon David Parker - had a genuine interest in the arts, a genuine knowledge of the arts, and a genuine desire to elevate every opportunity for the various branches of the arts. However, one of the serious mistakes that he made was to buy that collection of his own volition, not only without the consent of the Art Gallery and its board, but also without its knowledge. I recall vividly the then director of the Art Gallery, Elizabeth Churcher, speaking in an early morning radio session in 1991 or 1992 and being put in the embarrassing position of having to admit that she knew nothing about that purchase. I am not trying to make a point in this debate about whether in the end the purchase of the Louis Allen art collection was valid, and unfortunately, because of the limited time, I do not have the same opportunity as the lead speaker to canvass some of the issues, but suffice to say those two bad errors in the early 1990s for the arts in Western Australia will be repeated again in Western Australia if this Bill is passed.

It is possible that the decision to dispose of some of the vehicles in the Percy Markham collection was made in order to provide funds to buy more worthy items. That should never have been a political decision. People will argue for many years to come that it was not a political decision but was a decision made by the trustees of the Museum of Western Australia, through the chief executive of the time, John Bannister. I believe in retrospect that it was a decision forced upon the museum by the Government of the day, and that the imperative was the need to raise some funds. The purchase of the Louis Allen collection was another example of the Minister for Arts of the day pre-empting the board and the professional personnel.
I am using those two examples to say enough is enough. We should have learnt from those two examples. I find it somewhat surprising that the current Minister for the Arts, Hon Peter Foss, was one of the loudest in his condemnation of what was happening in those days. In retrospect, people may say that the Museum trustees were not strong enough to stand up to the minister of the day; or the board of the Art Gallery was too strong, and that is why the minister did not refer to it the purchase of the Louis Allen art collection. However, in both cases, there is good reason to maintain a strong, independent board of commissioners - call it what we may - that will stand as a bulwark between the arts community and the minister of the day, and that is one of the great values that we have, yet that is effectively what this Bill is seeking to undo. I believe that what the minister is doing, whether consciously or unconsciously, is opening the door to provide greater opportunities for himself on the very issues on which he condemned past Governments.

I went back today to look at the arts policy that was produced by the coalition prior to the 1993 election.

Mr Barnett: Who was its author?

Mr PENDAL: A very distinguished parliamentarian of the day; everyone has forgotten his name, so I will not mention it. The policy outlines at page 24 the sort of departmental structure that a coalition Government was proposing. The current minister wrote one-third of the policy, because he took over as shadow Minister for the Arts in May of 1992, but the policy was substantially written prior to that, and he was happy to acknowledge that publicly prior to the election. The policy states at page 24 that -
      We are committed to a minimum bureaucracy in the administration of the arts, so that the maximum of financial resources gets to the arts community itself.