‘The Australian War Memorial extensions: a critique of the design choice‘, Honest History, 24 June 2019
Richard Llewellyn held the senior position of Registrar at the Australian War Memorial from 1986 to 1995. His paper (almost 8700 words) forensically examines two key documents the Memorial placed on its website during March 2019 – an August 2017 consultancy report (the Options Assessment Report) assessing options for extensions to the Memorial, and the Design Options paper put to the Memorial Council in July 2018.
Llewellyn’s paper (pdf here) has an executive summary and a conclusion. Following are some key points. There is an accompanying media release. Llewellyn’s paper should be read in conjunction with the letter from former War Memorial Director, Brendon Kelson, to the Prime Minister. See also Canberra Times story. Earlier material in the Heritage Guardians campaign.
The Australian War Memorial belongs to the whole nation, but its future is being settled in the shadows by a small group. We do not even know at what level of government the project was approved. If the funding went through the Budget process, why was it announced in November 2018 rather than in the Budget five months later?
The Memorial’s future space requirements are vaguely expressed – essentially an ambit claim – and seem to be driven mainly by the need to find space to ‘park’ superannuated military equipment taken on from the Department of Defence. The need to provide recent veterans with a ‘therapeutic milieu’, sometimes stressed by the Director of the Memorial, appears nowhere in either of the documents released.
At one point in the Options Assessment Report, a ‘nominal’ space requirement of 10 000 square metres for the expansion of exhibitions is entirely unsupported by reasons, or information about the use that would be made of this space, beyond the generality of telling ‘the story’ or stories. The Memorial’s promotional video shows a number of aircraft located in generous space. How many of the stories are about these space-gobbling machines?
Then, how does the financing of the project connect with the assessment of space requirements? It appears (from the evidence available in the released documents and in Senate Estimates transcripts) that government approval for funding was given based upon documentation developed only to a cost confidence level of 50 per cent (P50), rather than 80 per cent (P80), as required by Department of Finance rules. The Detailed Business Case (costs at P80) was not delivered to the Government until 21 December 2018, after the Prime Minister had announced on 1 November that the Government had agreed to funding of $498 million.
Moreover, the availability of funding of around $500 million was in the public domain many months before November. This might suggest that the Memorial’s space claim was developed as a ‘What can we do with this budget?’ exercise. In other words that the dollar figure came first.
Llewellyn says the Options Assessment Report lacks assessment against metrics, and is subjective (including a subjective assessment against subjective criteria) and often emotive and evidence-free. The Report is a good example of a consultant’s report prepared to fit a predetermined conclusion.
The deletion of the existing Anzac Hall, late in the process and for obscure reasons, is symptomatic of a flawed process. The ‘new’ two level Anzac Hall is an extremely poor idea, fraught with difficulties regarding point loadings, access and drainage.
Llewellyn’s case study of the Options Assessment Report’s treatment of options (looking at the option to use the Memorial’s Mitchell facility) shows the Report fails to meet Department of Finance criteria that options ‘must be comparable and assessed objectively and consistently’. The Report dismissed the Mitchell option, but the reasons for excluding it from further consideration are highly suspect.
The extent to which the Mitchell site is used and open to the public is a Memorial management decision, not driven by deficiencies at Mitchell. Mitchell is well located for transport. Development of already acquired land adjacent to the Mitchell centre deserves close consideration.