Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 Marbles.

  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.

May 2000

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