Honest History’s submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Canberra’s National Institutions – and the proposed $500m extension to the Australian War Memorial

Note: This post has grown since it began and now covers two closely related matters: the Honest History submission to the parliamentary inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions; the proposed $500m extension of the Australian War Memorial – an underground project irreverently known by some observers as ‘the Brendanbunker’. In their own ways, the parliamentary inquiry and the bunker proposal both address issues of cultural policy.

The proposed extension of the Australian War Memorial in the context of funding national institutions

Update 10 June 2018: War Memorial Director Nelson interviewed on the ABC’s National Wrap (from approx. mark 15.00), mentions donations policy and the plans for the extension. Minister Chester earlier in the program also mentions he has received briefing from the Memorial about its approach to donations.

Update 7 June 2018: Hansard Estimates transcript from 30 May has Memorial Director Nelson making the case for money for his planned extension, just $500 million over seven years (from page 75 of pdf).

An apposite cartoon from David Pope.

It is important to place the Memorial’s proposal in the broader context of funding Australia’s national cultural institutions, particularly the funding of digitisation. The Honest History submission (see below) said this:

[I]t would surely be bizarre if the Australian War Memorial’s bid for $500 million to pay for an extra 5000 square metres, most of which would be used as parking space for large pieces of military kit, were to reduce the funding available to other national institutions for digitisation …

Occasionally, the Australian War Memorial attracts the adjective “sacred” [but no] national institution is “sacred”; they all deserve to be cherished and nurtured.

Appearing at Estimates, Director Nelson made these points:

DR NELSON: Certainly, the biggest constraint on the Australian War Memorial, in terms of telling the stories of recent operations and peacekeeping operations, telling the stories that are to be told and as well as incorporating an area for reflection and a facility to be used by non-government military organisations to support veterans, is a lack of space.

We put a proposal to the Australian government early last year, following two years of development, for funding in support of an initial business case, which was supported by the government in the 2017-18 budget with a $5 million allocation to the Australian War Memorial, and then in the MYEFO, the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, in late 2017 the government allocated another $11.4 million, in two tranches over this and the next financial year, for development and completion of a detailed business case. We are well advanced in this process.

We appointed in January this year GHD Pty Ltd, a major project management company, to oversee this. We appointed an internal project manager, Mr Tim Wise, from Xact Project Consultants. He, by the way, has extensive experience in the Department of Finance managing the property portfolio there as well as in the private sector.

We are simultaneously developing a site, precinct and building masterplan at the same time as a gallery masterplan—in other words, what will go in the expanded building. We are about to appoint a public consultation manager in order to see the process through.

We will be developing three proposals for consideration, one of which will be developed to 30 per cent confidence, and we will complete this process by the end of this year. Until the process is completed, Senator Gallacher, we don’t know precisely what it will cost. We saw reports in the media, as you suggest, of $500 million over seven years, which at least was reported as being from a source here in parliament. But beyond that, I think it’s fair to say, based on the work that we’ve already done, that it’s in the order of that, and certainly no more, over a seven-year period. (pages 75-76)

HH comment: This passage mentions a number of uses for the proposed space. When will we see a breakdown of space allocation? Given the size of the military vehicles likely to be housed in the space (for example, fighter jets and helicopters) won’t the space mostly be taken up with these items? They are not mentioned in Dr Nelson’s list here but they have been mentioned in previous reports (for example, here).

DR NELSON: Our minister, of course, is Minister Chester, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, but we have briefed the Prime Minister. We have briefed the finance minister. We gave an earlier briefing to the Minister for Defence and to the Treasurer. We have also, at a very high level, spoken to the Leader of the Opposition about it, but not in full detail, shall I say.

We’ve also spoken at a very high level to the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs. At this stage, that’s as far as it’s gone. I, by the way, am chairing an interdepartmental committee, and we’ve had two meetings. That includes the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance, Treasury, Defence, the National Capital Authority, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the agencies that are obviously important in this.

Senator GALLACHER: The direct line of responsibility is to Minister Chester; there’s not a huge amount of discretionary funding in that department. So, by necessity, you’ve expanded your influence or, at least, your efforts. You’ve captured the Treasurer, the Prime Minister, Finance and Defence, and they’ve all been apprised of the work that you’re endeavouring to undertake.

Dr NELSON: We have apprised them of the reasons why we need to expand and what we would propose to do with the expanded space in the broad. It is to their satisfaction to the extent of the government making funding available to us to seriously examine an expansion of the memorial. They have been supportive, and your own leader [Mr Shorten] has been also very supportive in principle, without knowing the detail of what I’ve just said to you. (page 76)

More updates at the foot of this post.

***

Honest History’s submission to the parliamentary committee

Update 5 July 2018: Hansard of the public hearing held on 22 June. The committee chose not to hear from the great bulk of public submitters.

Update 23 June 2018: Canberra Times report of the public hearing.

Update 15 June 2018: timetable for the public hearing, 22 June, with the inquiry to hear from only 11 submitters out of 76, and these mostly institutions. Users of the institutions are not represented.

The Committee secretariat says this in advice to two submitters:

Currently the public hearing scheduled on 22 June is the only hearing scheduled for the Committee’s inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions. The Committee may choose to schedule further hearings at a later date … The Committee decide on the witnesses that will appear at hearings.

Honest History made a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories’ Inquiry into Canberra’s National Institutions, submissions to which closed on 8 May 2018. The submission is No. 14 here.

At 31 May, the Inquiry had posted 76 submissions on the Inquiry website.

A discussion of issues relevant to the Inquiry.

Summary of the Honest History Submission

National institutions should be managed efficiently and effectively, treated equitably by government, and be properly accountable to the Parliament for their actions.

The Inquiry should avoid recommending the replication of strategies across institutions unless it first undertakes a thorough examination of how these strategies are working at present.

While ambitious public outreach programming is commendable, it has the risk that institutions undertaking it lose sight of, or lack the resources to properly carry out, their core functions.

Marketing also risks over-claiming. This has been evident in the slogans used by the Australian War Memorial.

There are clearly benefits in Canberra-based institutions joining forces in ‘roadshows’, making carefully selected and complementary exhibits available outside the capital.

It would be bizarre if the Australian War Memorial’s bid for $500 million to pay for an extra 5000 square metres, most of which would be parking space for large pieces of military kit, were to reduce the funding available to other national institutions for digitisation.

It will be important to have agreed methodology for measuring the success of funding efforts. Misleading figures should not be used to support a funding case.

National institutions should each develop and publish a code of practice for public and corporate donations to the institution.

It would be worth exploring the feasibility of a government guarantee of a set proportion of government funding for national institutions.

There is a need to regularly review the appropriateness of the placement of institutions within portfolios. The Australian War Memorial should be returned to the Arts portfolio.

Governments need to regularly review the appropriateness of the membership of governing councils and the consonance of institutions’ holdings with today’s multicultural Australia.

The corporate planning process should not be used to narrow or broaden the institution’s remit as set out in its enabling legislation.

There is a need to ensure accountability to Parliament, through accurate Annual Reports and adequate consideration of institutions in Estimates Committees.

There is no justification for allocating funding between national institutions on the grounds that some are more worthy, or more crucial to the national psyche, or more ‘sacred’, than others.

Recommendations in the Honest History Submission

RECOMMENDATION I: Government should require each national institution to develop and publish a code of practice for public and corporate donations to the institution (paras 19-21).

RECOMMENDATION II: Government should explore the feasibility of a government guarantee of a set proportion of government funding for national institutions (para 22).

RECOMMENDATION III: Government should regularly review the appropriateness of the placement of institutions within portfolios (paras 23-26).

RECOMMENDATION IV: Government should return the Australian War Memorial to the Arts portfolio (para 27).

RECOMMENDATION V: Governments should regularly review the appropriateness of the membership of governing councils and the consonance of institutions’ holdings with today’s multicultural Australia (paras 28-29).

RECOMMENDATION VI: Portfolio ministers should ensure that the corporate planning process is not used to narrow or broaden the institution’s remit as set out in its enabling legislation (para 30).

RECOMMENDATION VII: Parliament should pay particular attention to the accuracy of institutions’ annual reports (para 31).

RECOMMENDATION VIII: Estimates Committees should extend the time they devote to national institutions (paras 32-33).

RECOMMENDATION IX: The JSCNET should explicitly reject the notion that some national institutions are more ‘sacred’ than others (paras 36-38).

RECOMMENDATION X: The JSCNET should state the principle of equity between national institutions, with institutions’  funding differing only according to how efficiently the institution has spent its money, how well it is achieving its objectives, and the probity of its activities (para 38).

Update 13 May 2018: comment in Fairfax.

Update 15 May 2018: a handy private donation to the National Museum of Australia.

Update 21 May 2018: Sally Whyte in the Canberra Times on the submission from Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Update 23 May 2018: comment in Guardian Australia.

Update 2 June 2018: National Archives wants more money.

Update 7 June 2018: Senator Seselja wants the Memorial to get its $500 million.

Update 13 June 2018: Nic Stuart in Fairfax on a range of related issues.

11 May 2018 updated

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