Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Parthenon Sculptures

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:30): After speaking at length in this chamber on my motion calling for the return of the Parthenon sculptures, one irritated member in a hurry to get home snapped at me, 'Who cares what happened thousands of miles away on the other side of the world?' I will tell you who cares: the Mayor of Athens, Kosta Bakoyiannis; Dr Christos Dimas, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Development and Investments; and Professor Nikolaos Stampolidis, the director of the fabulous Acropolis Museum in Athens, a city which over their summer welcomed more than 40 million tourists. To put that into perspective: Australia gets around nine million. And then there is the powerful international movement advocating for the return of the sculptures.

During my absence in October, I visited Qatar, Madrid and Greece, where I had extremely valuable meetings with businesspeople and officials while helping promote our state. I will speak about Doha later, but I will also speak about my experience in Madrid when the topic of trains and rail arises, but back to Greece.

I delivered copies of the letter the President of this chamber wrote to the British Museum, the Prime Minister—it happened to be the unfortunate Liz Truss at the time—and the Mayor of London, urging Britain to engage with Greece and return the Parthenon sculptures, brazenly hacked and stolen from the Parthenon's Temple of Athena in the 19th century by English opportunist Lord Elgin. They now sit in a dingy room in the British Museum. Meanwhile, the remnants of that magnificent set of sculptures are lined up in the Acropolis Museum, with spaces representing the ones held by the British.

Professor Stampolidis, one of the world's most renowned archaeologists for his work excavating ancient civilisations in places like Crete, was quite moved by the contents of the President's letter and the will of this chamber. He was appreciative that I had taken the time to meet with him personally, and I am grateful he had the time for me in his own busy schedule.

Professor Stampolidis said what this council, what this parliament, has done in relation to the return of those ancient relics, should not be underestimated and he considered it extremely important on a global scale because Australia has cordial relations with Britain. He believes it will add significant political weight to the pressure being applied to Britain and the British Museum to return or reunify the sculptures to their rightful home. He prefers reunification, emphasising the heritage significance of these prized relics compared with countless other items stolen or sold off by plunderers over the centuries and in private collections.

He said the difference here is that the Parthenon is their rightful home, and that their home still stands on the Acropolis. Think about it. If someone came pinching a piece of this place, we would want it back, too. 'This is why they must be reunified,' he said. 'Their home is still here today but they are missing.' He said he wanted me to convey his sincere thanks to the Legislative Council and to the President for the initiative, as we are the first commonwealth parliament to make such a forceful demand on the British.

My visit coincided with the return to Greece of a small piece of the Parthenon by the Italian government. This is the first of the relics to be willingly and officially returned by a government. In recognition of that gesture, the Greek government and the Acropolis Museum presented the Italians with a valuable ancient statue of the God Athena, which would be housed on loan in Sicily.

As I have pointed out previously, many museums and institutions are now returning items stolen or taken by their countries in their period of colonisation. Both mayor Bakoyiannis and Dr Dimas expressed their appreciation for the support shown by South Australia, and recognise the strong cultural links between our two countries and our city, which I pointed out was also dubbed the 'Athens of the South' by the late Labor Premier, Don Dunstan. They are keen to strengthen ties further, particularly in view of the free trade agreement about to be finalised between Australia and the European Union.

Dr Dimas is extremely interested to learn more, and perhaps even come here to see the exciting and dynamic science and innovation environment at Lot Fourteen. There are certainly ample opportunities for trade, tourism and economic investment between the two nations. So, we should care about what others are doing and thinking thousands of miles away.