14 July 2014
I rise today to voice concern at the lack of agreement between representatives of three major accounting professional organisations regarding the donation of the Black Totem II sculpture to Newcastle City Council by Wendy Whiteley.
It’s an issue that may have broader implications for the Australian Arts Community.
The transaction was recommended by Lowensteins, one of Australia’s leading art taxation specialists, endorsed implicitly by Deloitte’s, as one of their partners, John Meacock, is chair of the Brett Whiteley Foundation, the recipient of a donation from the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation.
Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), however, acting as consultants to Newcastle City Council, have apparently determined that the transaction was likely in breach of the national Cultural Gifts Program.
The issue has led to the dismissal of two senior council staff, including the Gallery Director, Ron Ramsey.
The position taken by Newcastle City Council, acting on PWC advice, has effectively undermined the validity of Lowensteins’ advice to both Mrs Whiteley and the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation, and effectively questions the integrity of the broader Cultural Gift Program.
Given the adverse public perceptions associated with the statements made by Newcastle Council, any donor following similar advice must surely be having second thoughts and future donations may well be jeopardised.
Indeed, I note with regret that the Margaret Olley Art Trust has recently withdrawn a private donation of $500,000 to the Newcastle Art Gallery.
It is only the Australian Tax Office that can resolve this matter and I call on the Commissioner to determine this issue as a matter of urgency and to make that determination public.