Friday’s Canberra Times carries a story about the $50 million blowout in the cost of the Australian War Memorial extensions project, for which the then government budgeted $498 million. There were hints in the last two Budget papers that costs were rising. There are hints, too, in the quoted comments of Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, that there will be more cost increases.
The letter below to the Federal Treasurer and Minister for Finance urges the government to put a cap on spending on the Memorial project and to look closely at possible savings. The project, originally a ‘captain’s pick’ under pressure from a billionaire and an ex-politician looking to leave a legacy, has escaped proper scrutiny behind the protective ‘Anzac cloak’. It is time to rein it in.
Update 11 July 2022: Karen Barlow in the Canberra Times provides a comprehensive round-up of the cost blowout. Minister is watching Memorial closely; Memorial is being cagey.
And this from Don Watson in an article in The Monthly (July 2022), ‘How to be a Prime Minister’, setting out an agenda for the Albanese government:
By contrast, the ideas of an open society and a liberal democracy, held in common by Bob Hawke and a real Tory, Malcolm Fraser, made for a “good” multicultural Australia. And for Robert Menzies, a conservative philosophy was no impediment to creating and generously funding public institutions essential to any country’s flourishing and worth, which recent Coalition governments have made a point of running down. Labor, which began the rot with its “efficiency dividends” in 1986, should make it a priority to run them back up again. It could begin small: call off the $500 million “extension” to the Australian War Memorial and give it back its solemn dignity. With 20 of the 500 million dollars, add the Frontier Wars to all the others it memorialises, and use the balance to pay down debt or rebuild the institutions where all the other – non-military – parts of Australia’s story can be found.
Update 8 July 2022: A non-committal reply has been received from a mid-level public servant in the Department of Finance on behalf of Minister Gallagher.
The Hon. Dr Jim Chalmers MP
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Senator the Hon. Katy Gallagher
Minister for Finance
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Congratulations on your appointments. I am writing to you in connection with your joint role to review government expenditure prior to the Budget later in the year.
You will be aware of the commitment by the former government of $498 million to build extensions to the Australian War Memorial. This project is well under way, notably with the demolition of Anzac Hall, the destruction of dozens of trees, and the excavation of large holes. According to the Director of the Memorial, quoted in yesterday’s Canberra Times, the project costs have already blown out $50 million beyond the original figure, and there are strong hints that further cost increases are to be expected. While the Director admits this amount of $50 million came from the then government in March this year, Budget papers for the past two years show there have been increased capital injections to the Memorial totalling $308 million.
I am writing to you as editor of the Honest History website (nine years arguing that Australia is more than Anzac and always has been) and on behalf of the Heritage Guardians group, which campaigned against the Memorial extensions project. We do not believe – despite the demolitions and excavations – it is too late to change the project’s direction. I urge you to:
- cap expenditure on the War Memorial project – that is, to make no further capital injections to the Memorial nor any other subventions that might go towards the project;
- closely investigate where savings might be made on the project, up to and including scrapping some or all proposed new construction;
- require the Memorial to account, publicly and annually, separate from the Budget process, for how the amount of (now) $548 million is being spent.
Only through such accountability can the Memorial live within its means and Australians, opponents and supporters of the project alike, be satisfied that the Memorial can continue to be an institution worthy of those whose names are inscribed on its Roll of Honour.
In view of the importance of this matter, I have copied this letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
(Dr) David Stephens
Editor, Honest History website; on behalf of Heritage Guardians
2 July 2022