Memorandum submitted by Mr Steve Bracks,
MP, Premier of Victoria
On behalf of the Victorian Government, I am
responding to your Committee's call for submissions on the inquiry
into "Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade".
I note the inquiry's terms of reference and
in particular your Committee's willingness to receive submissions
on individual cases, and not just on "general policies towards
return and the illicit trade". It is in this context that
my Government wishes to address the specific matter of the Parthenon
As you will be fully aware, it is not common
for an Australian state government to make direct submissions
to foreign government inquiries. However, your inquiry and the
ongoing matter of the Parthenon Marbles present a special and
unique set of circumstances for the Victorian Government. It is
a measure of the importance of these circumstances which requires
me, on behalf of the Victorian Government and people of Victoria,
to place our views to you directly.
Melbourne is regarded as the largest Greek speaking
Australian city. It is estimated that there are up to 200,000
Greek speaking Melburnians, making Melbourne a significant centre
of Hellenism outside Greece. The Greek community's contribution
to Victoria, and in particular its impact on Melbourne, is well
appreciated and supported by all Victorians.
Victoria's commitment to the arts and cultural
organisations, and its leadership role in developing local product
and infrastructure as a central part of Government's economic
policy, is well known. You will be aware, for example of the major
new cultural organisation developments under construction in Melbourne
(eg the new Melbourne Museum, Federation Square, the National
Gallery redevelopment, etc), and the Victorian Government's involvement
in developing export quality arts product. As part of this major
cultural infrastructure building program, the Immigration and
Hellenic Archaeological Museums were opened last year. The Victorian
Government's credentials on the arts and cultural issues are unchallenged.
Given Victoria's ethnic diversity and strong
cultural credentials, the international debate relating to the
British Museum's ownership of the Marbles and the issue of their
return to Greece, is of significance to the Victorian Government,
and all Victorians.
The Victorian Government submits that Her Majesty's
Government should facilitate the return of the Marbles to the
Greek people. We further submit that the Marbles should be returned
in time for them to be incorporated into a proposed new museum
on the site of the Acropolis, and the 2004 Olympic Games.
It is my Government's view that the Parthenon
Marbles are a special case.
Her Majesty's Government will, no doubt, accept
the enormous significance of the Parthenon to Greek culture and
national identity. The integrity of the Parthenon should be supported
by the return of the Marbles to Greece so that these major symbols
of Hellenic cultural heritage are together.
The Marbles are unique, and as an individual
priceless and irreplaceable work, they are distinct from other
cultural items found in larger quantities. In our view, this makes
them a special case in the debate on the return of cultural property.
It is noted that there is some concern that
the return of the Marbles by your Government, could create an
international precedent for the return of other artefacts and
cultural items. In our opinion, the very uniqueness of the Marbles,
and the broad international understanding of their special status,
negates this concern. The British Government could remove the
return of the Marbles from the wider debate on the return of cultural
property, and the related legal ownership issues, by simply gifting
them to Greece. Such a gesture of international goodwill would
bring Her Majesty's Government and the British people, wide overseas
approval and support.
I congratulate your Committee for tackling the
important issue of the return and illicit trade in cultural property,
and look forward to your report.