Canberra Times exchange shows War Memorial extensions issues still unresolved

Heritage Guardians campaign diary follows the story from early 2019 of the campaign against the Memorial project

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The letters column of the Canberra Times has always been an arena of contest on live issues in the national capital – which are often issues for the nation as a whole.

Yesterday’s paper included this letter:

AWM referral normal

Re: “Australian War Memorial redevelopment referred to parliamentary inquiry” (canberratimes.com.au, May 6).

The referral of the Memorial’s development project to the Parliamentary Works Committee (PWC) is a normal part of the approvals and oversight of all major government funded projects.

It is a planned step in the progression of the project and we look forward to demonstrating to the committee members the importance of this project to contemporary veterans, their families and to the broader Australian populace through this process.

We would encourage The Canberra Times readers to be part of this process by making submissions to the PWC through their website or by contacting the Committee at pwc@aph.gov.au.

Wayne Hitches, executive project director, Australian War Memorial

Mr Hitches apparently felt the Canberra Times article might have given the impression that the referral by the Governor-General (in Executive Council, which was probably just the Governor-General and the Vice President of the Council, Senator Cormann) was out of the ordinary, which, of course, it was, though entirely legal.

David Stephens (for the Heritage Guardians group, opposed to the Memorial project) set the record straight in a letter published in the paper this morning:

Process unusual

In my opinion Wayne Hitches of the Australian War Memorial (Letters, May 8) stretches a point when he describes as “normal” the referral of the AWM project to the Parliamentary Public Works Committee.

While the PWC always has a role in projects like this, the referral from the Governor-General, rather than by a resolution of the Parliament – an occurrence described as “rare” by the PWC, is because the AWM has locked itself in to a rapid building timetable in advance of receiving necessary approvals.

It could not wait till Parliament resumed.

Meanwhile, the AWM still has not completed the necessary heritage approval process with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. The “normal” process is for PWC referral to follow heritage approval. My understanding is the AWM has not even lodged the relevant heritage documentation with DAWE.

It would also be “normal” for the submission to the PWC not to include loose ends. The AWM’s submission admits design work is incomplete, and that costs may blow out beyond the $498.7 million estimate.

D Stephens, Heritage Guardians, Bruce

We have bolded two egregious insertions by the paper’s letters editor; in the second case, it was not just ‘my understanding’, but a statement of fact based on a check of the relevant DAWE webpage. The letters editor also left out the final paragraph of the letter as submitted:

Finally, it would be “normal” – or at least desirable – for the proponent to be transparent about the public comments it has received on its project. The Memorial has been very cagey about the degree of support it has received (to the extent of removing unfavourable evidence from its website), run a carefully managed “consultation” program, ignored evidence-based opposition, and denigrated opponents.

Heritage Guardians has evidence for each of the claims in this paragraph and has offered to provide it to the paper. Meanwhile, opponents of the War Memorial project who wish to make their views known to the Public Works Committee can do so here, making use of the evidence in the Heritage Guardians campaign diary.

On the point about the two processes, note that there will be 20 business days for public comment on ‘final preliminary documentation’ from the War Memorial on heritage aspects of the project, followed  by time to allow a decision by the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, or her delegate. Even if the War Memorial documentation is posted on Monday next, that timetable will extend well into June. Meanwhile, the Public Works Committee wants submissions to be in by 17 June. These compressed and overlapping timetables are a blot on good public administration.

David Stephens

9 May 2020

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2 comments on “Canberra Times exchange shows War Memorial extensions issues still unresolved
  1. Leighton View says:

    David, Very pertinent and succinct observations. Sounds as though the AWM is attempting to go full steam ahead through this very unsettling period in order to have the extensions become a fait accompli before most people know what is happening. Sounds like the same technique being used for far too many projects in Sydney and New South Wales in general as described in a recent Sydney Morning Herald column written by Elizabeth Farrelley. Keep up the good work. S.

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