Australia Parliament on guard against MP art theft

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CANBERRA, Nov 28 (Reuters) Officials at Australia's Parliament House today took down valuable artworks to keep lawmakers dumped in weekend elections from stealing them as they began packing up offices.

''We do make sure we take out all our artworks, all the Parliament House's art collection that are in people's offices, before too much disappears,'' said Hillary Penfold, the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services.

Labor Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd on Saturday swept aside 11 years of conservative rule under John Howard. Dumped ministers and lawmakers from both sides of the political divide were today vacating offices and removing classified files for disposal.

Penfold said many offices in the sprawling Parliament house were hung with significant artworks belonging to the national collection and on loan to MPs to decorate offices.

Pictures could also be inadvertently taken in the cleanup, she told local radio.

Around 500 ministerial staff have lost their jobs in the wake of last Saturday's election, making them unemployed less than a month from Christmas.

REUTERS SW KD KP1042

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