The ABC’s Q&A program last night (video; transcript; Twitter; ABC story) tackled a number of questions with compere Virginia Trioli and panellists including Dan Tehan, Minister for a number of things including the Centenary of Anzac and Veterans’ Affairs. Honest History’s David Stephens asked a video question:
Australia is spending $100 million on the Sir John Monash Interpretive Centre at Villers-Bretonneux in France. It’s a high-tech military museum. Wouldn’t this money be better spent on today’s veterans and their families? Why is Australia spending a total of $600 million commemorating World War I, which is far more than any other country that fought in that war?
Minister Tehan seemed not to have heard of the $600 million total spend estimate, though a figure in that ball-park has been in the public domain (and known to his department and ministerial staff) for nearly two years. Honest History sent him an email today to enlighten him – or refresh his memory.
Minister Tehan (centre) at Villers-Bretonneux last month (Twitter)
The Minister’s response to the question about the Monash museum took some time to emerge on Q&A, as he tried to focus instead on the government’s (very welcome) initiatives in veterans’ mental health. Eventually, under some pressure from compere Trioli and guest Dave Hughes, the Minister got close to the point, saying how much the people of Picardy appreciated the help of Australians in the Great War, and that it was important both to look after the veterans of today and recognise the legacy of those of a century ago.
Having noted that 98 per cent of his portfolio’s expenditure was legislated or locked in, the Minister failed to really come to grips with another key point: why so much of the remaining, discretionary part of the portfolio’s money was going on commemoration – remembering the dead rather than looking after the living. Nor did he mention that $90 million of the Monash museum spend was actually coming, not from the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio, but from the Defence budget.
The Minister did say that the decision about the Monash museum was made before he became minister. Obviously, as minister, he could not say he disagreed with the decision (though, privately, he may well regret it for opportunity cost reasons). On the other hand, he seemed to enjoy his recent visit to Villers-Bretonneux, to the Dawn Service, to exchange gifts (see below) with the local mayor on the occasion of the re-opening after refurbishment of the long-standing Franco-Australian museum in the village (a different, smaller museum, not the new Monash one being built), and to welcome the aborting of a decision to build a wind turbine farm next door to the Australian memorial.
All in all, we should welcome what seems to be an implicit shift away from gung-ho support for boastful commemorative bricks and mortar towards a focus on things that matter much more. It’s just a pity that the shift could not have occurred sooner; Anzackery, like other anachronisms, does not expire easily – and there’s still that squandered money.
Note: Honest History’s research on the overall commemoration spend can be viewed at the links in the attached pdf; our work on the Monash museum can be reached through our search engine, using the terms ‘Monash’, ‘boondoggle’, ‘boastful’, ‘whizzo’, and ‘immersive’.
9 May 2017
Le ministre australien des anciens combattants, Dan Tehan, et le maire de Villers-Bretonneux, Patrick Simon, s’échangeant des cadeaux (Le Courrier-Picard, Amiens)