Today was the day when Geoffrey Smith and the National Gallery of Victoria were supposed to try and sort out their differences in a court-ordered mediation session.

But on the eve of the confidential talks, Smith’s lawyers threw a grenade into the NGV bunker in the form of a notice of motion demanding that the gallery hand over a swag of documents and that it stop denying the suspended curator access to his workplace.

Smith was suspended from duty a month ago over conflict-of-interest claims and he has taken the NGV to the Federal Court to be reinstated in his post and to stop the gallery’s internal investigation into his involvement in the commercial gallery business of his ex-partner Robert Gould.

Late yesterday the NGV received a letter from Smith’s solicitors, Holding Redlich, giving notice that it will be seeking fresh orders from Justice Marshall at a public hearing scheduled for next Monday.

Most of the orders being sought in the notice of motion appear to merely restate the orders issued by the judge earlier this month, including instructions that the gallery hand over an extensive list of documents and allow Smith access to his office to recover personal belongings. However Smith is now also demanding that the NGV stop denying him access to the gallery’s public exhibition spaces and that it not reallocate his office to other members of staff.

According to reports in both The Australian and the The Age, the NGV was “angered and shocked” to receive the notice of motion.

In a statement sent to Crikey this morning, the NGV’s director Gerard Vaughan indicated his displeasure at receiving Smith’s notice of motion, saying that the gallery would attending the mediation “in good faith”.

Vaughan said the NGV had told Smith’s lawyers that if settlement could not be reached, the gallery would institute its own motion to deal with a number of unresolved issues relating to the suspended curator.

“However, the NGV considered it inappropriate to issue its own motion before the conclusion of the mediation,” Vaughan said.

Peter Fray

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