An Australian art magazine has reignited the debate over the use of children in art by publishing a photo of a naked young girl on the front cover of its July issue.

Art Monthly Australia's front cover features a nude girl — believed to be six years old, according to editor Maurice O'Riordan — sitting with her left leg bent and arms around the bent leg. The background is a painted seaside with cliffs.

'We need to be clever enough to distinguish art from other types of images' —Artist Polixeni Papapetrou, whose photo is used on the cover

"Maybe this is bold, but I don't see the need to give in to that sort of hysteria or the prospect of complaint," O'Riordan told the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper.

The girl is believed to be the daughter of Melbourne artist Polixeni Papapetrou, who said she supported the use of her work on the magazine cover: "We need to be clever enough to distinguish art from other types of images."

Inside the magazine, more photos of the child are featured posing with jewellery in addition to the nude child photos by Bill Henson which created such a furor and national debate in May.

In early June, Australian police dropped their obscenity investigation of the photographer after complaints about his exhibit at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Sydney.

Many art critics and gallery officials came to Henson's defence, including actress Cate Blanchett.  In the end, a government board certified Henson's photographs as non-pornographic.

O'Riordan called the controversy a "farce" and says his magazine wants to make a statement about the valid use of nude children in art.

New South Wales Minister for Community Services Kevin Green says the images are distasteful and inappropriate.

"We've now reached a sad point where naked six-year-olds are being used to make some sort of artistic comment," he said.

O'Riordan says he does not fear that public funding for his magazine, which amounts to about $50,000 annually, would be pulled.