Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Parthenon Sculptures

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. F. Pangallo:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges the Parthenon in Greece is an iconic monument of significant Greek cultural heritage and of outstanding universal value as a World Heritage site.

2. Recognises that the Parthenon sculptures—integral parts of the Parthenon—were illicitly removed in an act of archaeological destruction and theft by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, from 1801-1804, transported to London and then sold to the British Government in 1816.

3. Does not recognise the British Museum trustees and the British government’s claims of legal title to the sections of the Panathenaic frieze, pedimental sculptures and the metopes originally belonging to the Parthenon and which were looted by the Earl of Elgin.

4. Recognises the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution introduced by Greece in December 2021 for the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.

5. Supports the recommendation of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) in May 2022, calling on the United Kingdom to urgently enter bona fide dialogue with Greece to reach a satisfactory settlement to return the priceless sculptures.

6. Supports the Greek government, the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and other groups and innumerable individuals from around the world, including Australia, demanding the British Museum returns and reunites its sections of the Parthenon sculptures with those parts on display in the Parthenon Gallery in the magnificent Acropolis Museum, in proximity to and within view of the Parthenon.

7. Calls on the President of the Legislative Council to write to:

(a) the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson;

(b) the Lord Mayor of London, the Rt Hon Vincent Keaveny; and

(c) the Board of Trustees of the British Museum;

to express the views of this council and request that the British Museum and the government of the United Kingdom, in an act of universal goodwill, forthwith take steps to permit the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures to their legitimate permanent historic home, Athens, Greece.

(Continued from 6 July 2022.)

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:08): I place on the record that the government will be supporting this motion.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:08): It should come as no surprise to members that I support this motion not only in my capacity as an SA-Best member—and I thank my honourable colleague for doing so—but also as someone who is very proud of her Greek heritage and culture and knows how important this is to her community both here and abroad. I once again thank my colleague the Hon. Frank Pangallo for raising this issue. Maybe I should have thought to do so, but I did not.

I note that in more recent times there have been all sorts of discussions taking place around this issue and one of those I read recently—I am not sure whether or not my colleague referred to it in his contribution—was this notion of sharing our iconic monuments and perhaps having a split arrangement between Greece and the UK in terms of where they live. I think overwhelmingly it is acknowledged and there is very broad support for those monuments to be returned to their rightful place and rightful place of heritage, and that movement has progressed in terms of ensuring that that happens.

I note in the motion that that also includes writing to the Prime Minister of the UK, writing to the Lord Mayor of London and writing to the Board of Trustees of the British Museum to express the views of this council (and in supporting this motion that is what we are supporting) and requesting that the British Museum and government of the UK, in an act of universal goodwill, takes steps to permit the reunification of those sculptures to their legitimate, permanent historic home, namely, Athens, Greece. That is certainly something that I welcome and support overwhelmingly. I know it is something that Greek Australians are very passionate about, as are Greeks in Greece. People all over the world are passionate about seeing those items reunified with their historic home in Greece.

With those words, I again thank my colleague for putting up this important motion and look forward to its passage through this place. As part of my contribution I will move an amendment standing in my name, namely:

Paragraph 7, subparagraph (a):

Leave out 'Boris Johnson' and insert 'Elizabeth Truss'.

We are changing the name of one Prime Minister with the name of another.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:12): I rise today on behalf of the opposition to speak to the private member's motion moved by the Hon. Frank Pangallo about the Parthenon sculptures housed at the British Museum in London. I acknowledge that the Hon. Frank Pangallo is very passionate about this issue and is calling on the Legislative Council to express its support for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures and demand their return to Greece.

While considering the comprehensive contributions by the Hon. Frank Pangallo and other honourable members, I would like to particularly highlight the South Australian connection to this international issue and acknowledge that the Parthenon in Greece is an iconic monument of significant Greek cultural heritage and of universal value as an outstanding World Heritage site.

In October 2014, the Foundation for Hellenic Studies in South Australia created its first social media campaign to raise awareness about the dispute between Greece and the United Kingdom over the Parthenon sculptures, or the Parthenon Marbles. The Foundation for Hellenic Studies advocated for the return of the Parthenon Marbles with the #returnthemarbles campaign, which received an overwhelming response on Facebook and social media.

As part of the campaign, the foundation also backed a very creative billboard advertisement just a few hundred metres from the British Museum in London. The billboard highlighted the contributions Ancient Greece made to modern democratic life and showed the image of a naked male statue with a strategically placed message saying, 'Please give us back our marbles.' In October 2015, the foundation successfully worked with the Greek government to secure 14 replica pieces to be displayed for 100 days at the Adelaide Festival Centre during the Festival of Arts 2015.

It is important for us to acknowledge that the dispute regarding the Parthenon sculptures remains an emotive and passionate pursuit for the Australian Greek community. On behalf of the Liberal Party, I would like to thank the many community leaders and organisations, such as the Foundation for Hellenic Arts, for their advocacy on this important topic.

I thank the Hon. Frank Pangallo for moving this important motion. I wish to indicate that the opposition will be providing multipartisan support for this motion. We call on the federal Albanese Labor government to join the growing international movement demanding the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (17:15): I would like to thank the two honourable members for their contributions to this motion: the Hon. Connie Bonaros and the Hon. Jing Lee.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Yes, of course, sorry. It was so memorable I forgot.


The Hon. F. PANGALLO: My apologies to the Hon. Clare Scriven.

Members interjecting:


The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I thank both Labor and the opposition for their support for this motion. Somebody remarked to me, 'Why should we care about what's happening thousands of miles away?' There are reasons we should care. This motion is not only about the Parthenon sculptures, it is actually symbolic of the return of relics that had been seized by colonial occupiers—not just in European countries, but in Africa, South America and elsewhere.

We are now starting to see a growing movement where museums and large institutions are beginning to return items that had been taken illegally, stolen, or even bought by collectors, to their rightful homes. It does not get much publicity here, but I have been reading quite a bit about it. In fact, in the United States a wealthy philanthropist who had Greek treasures worth millions of dollars has agreed to have them returned to Greece.

We have seen the Benin sculptures, as I mentioned in my speech, which are now being returned by various countries in Europe that had them. More recently, there was a demand from the Egyptians that the Rosetta Stone be returned to its rightful home. There is a growing movement around the world for relics to be returned.

We also saw—and it was heartening, welcoming and tragic of course to see this had happened more than 100 years ago—the remains of our First Nations descendants that had been transported to museums, particularly in the United Kingdom, have now been returned to Australia. This is heartening to see, and it is just another indication of the way things have changed and the attitudes have changed about relics that have been taken, whether artistic ones or even human remains. I think that particular example, where the remains of thousands of Indigenous people have now been returned to Australia, is perhaps an indicator of why we should be supporting motions like this, and many others.

In closing, I will say that in a month I will be meeting with Professor Stampolidis, who is the General Director of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, to convey the Legislative Council's support for the return of the sculptures. Professor Stampolidis is well aware of what we are doing here today, and they are extremely appreciative and supportive of that. With that, thank you very much.

Amendment carried; motion as amended carried.