Launch of the Parliamentary Friends of the Parthenon, Wednesday 14th October


The Greek state has for many years called on Britain to redress this cultural wrong. The former Greek culture minister, Melina Mercouri, famously confronted the director of the British Museum in the early 1980s demanding their return. Despite further diplomatic initiatives, including a formal approach by UNESCO in 2014 to mediate this celebrated cultural dispute, the British Museum has steadfastly refused to co-operate. Indeed, the museum argues that the sculptures are mere art objects which are now detached, both historically and artistically, from the Parthenon and tell a different narrative in London.              

In 2009, a new state-of-the-art Acropolis museum was completed to house all of the sculptures and artefacts from the Parthenon within proximity of the Parthenon and in expectation of the return of the Marbles. I am informed that the current Greek government has received comprehensive legal opinion from a team of eminent lawyers, led by Australia's own Geoffrey Robertson QC, who has urged the Greeks to consider legal action in the international courts if cultural diplomacy and political pressure fails. As Robertson puts it:              

It is vital not only to Greece, but to the world, that this unique representation of the beginnings of civilised human life should be put back together, in the Acropolis Museum, within sight of the Parthenon and under a blue attic sky.              

Australia has been at the forefront in this campaign. Former Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and John Howard have all spoken in favour of the return of the Parthenon Marbles. Indeed, a number of members of parliament, both past and currently serving, have also eloquently restated the Greek case for reunification of the sculptures from time to time.              

In 2000, a passionate submission was made to the UK House of Commons select committee inquiry into illicit cultural property by our former colleagues Lindsay Tanner, the member for Melbourne, and Petro Georgiou, the member for Cooyong. The memorandum was signed by 44 members of the Australian parliament. This evening, I especially wish to acknowledge the members who are still serving in this parliament and were signatories to the submission: Senator Marise Payne; the member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese; the member for Menzies, Kevin Andrews; the member for Fisher, Mal Brough; the member for Chisholm, Anna Burke; the member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek; and the member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson.              

The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, consisting of some 17 national committees worldwide, is currently chaired by the former chairman of the ABC, David Hill. As David has said:              

This is a great cultural and historical wrong that can be righted. After 200 years the time has come for Philhellenes around the world to renew the campaign for return.  Australia as a young democracy and with links to both Britain and Greece through migration and shared wartime experiences is well placed to take the lead and I commend the Parliamentary Friendship Group for this initiative.              

I would like to finish by acknowledging the support of my parliamentary colleagues and co-convenors of the group, the member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent; the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt; and Senator Nick Xenophon.