Australian senator calls for sale of Pollock to pay off debt
An Australian senator is facing a backlash for arguing the country should sell the Jackson Pollock masterpiece Blue Poles to pay off national debt.
The trophy painting was controversially bought for A$1.3m in 1973 but this year was valued at A$350m (£214m; $265m).
James Paterson, Australia's youngest senator at 28, also proposed ending state funding for sport and the arts.
The conservative government has expressed little enthusiasm for selling off an "art treasure".
Blue Poles was bought by the government four decades ago for what was a world-record price and one that caused a huge controversy.
Headlines at the time included "Barefoot drunks painted our $1m masterpiece" and "$1.3m for dribs and drabs".
The painting, which has since become a national icon, is currently on loan to the Royal Academy in London.
But the Liberal party senator for Victoria argued on Friday that it held little cultural value for Australia and that it was "not appropriate for the federal government to own a single piece of art worth $350m".
He told ABC News some of the money could be "reinvested in a current Australian artist, or Australian art".
"It's certainly a significant painting, but it's not one that's particularly tied to Australia's cultural heritage."
He later told Melbourne's 3AW radio that this was "not a time when we can really be affording luxury" and Australia should "reassess" its funding of sport and the arts.
"Given that there's a lot of private funding for professional sport, I don't think it's really necessary for us to be funding it from our taxes."
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said selling Blue Poles would be up to the National Gallery of Australia.
"It is a national treasure, and I can't see it being sold," he told Sky News but praised Mr Paterson for "turning his mind to how we can get our budget into a stronger position".
Labor Party frontbencher Brendan O'Connor described Mr Paterson as a "philistine".
Mr Paterson's had a mixed response on his Facebook page, with one commenter saying that "selling assets, in this case a remarkable art piece, is a lazy way out".
"Thank God, you're in our parliament, not the European one, otherwise you'd have sold off the entire cultural fabric of Europe to pay down some debt," said another comment, while one said Mr Paterson likely was "calling for any reduction in parliamentary entitlements".
Others said he was "spot on". "Sell, of course. What a waste of money," said one post.
Political website Crikey branded Mr Paterson's comments "jingoistic dog-whistling" while The Age newspaper published an editorial asking: "Why not sell the Sydney Opera House while we're at it?".
Gerard Vaughan, the director of the National Gallery of Australia, said last month he was delighted to loan the painting to the Royal Academy of Arts.
"It will be a very long time, I think, before Blue Poles leaves Australia again," he had told ABC.
"I think I can say it with absolute certainty there's no way Blue Poles will ever be for sale," he added.