Heritage Guardians: a campaign against the proposed $498m extensions to the Australian War Memorial

Campaign latest

16 April: A small victory for people power: War Memorial quietly posts some material relevant to its decision-making on the $498m extensions project

One of the criticisms of the way the War Memorial has gone about promoting its plans to spend $498m of your money on extending its premises is that it has done so behind closed doors. The big launch on 1 November followed provisions in a couple of Budgets for scoping studies and some broad hints from Director Nelson in Senate Estimates. Consultation with the public was minimal and gathered ‘feedback’ from just 134 individuals. Director Nelson has been criticised in the Canberra Times (see below 14 April) for his failure to engage with critics.

This has changed. Following the recent open letter and petition against the plans, the Memorial has seen fit to post on its website a 2017 consultant’s report (GHD) on options plus an Agenda Paper for a July 2018 Council meeting which discussed options. We’ll be reading this material closely, as will other people who are interested in the project.

15 April: This is why the $498m AWM extensions should not go ahead: The Riot Act article today

The Memorial has traded on its ‘sacred’ status to achieve better financial outcomes than other national cultural institutions. It has suffered less from the efficiency dividend than have other institutions and it gets an easy run through accountability mechanisms like Senate Estimates and annual reporting. It needs to be held to account more rigorously than it has been.

14 April: Canberra Times editorial critical of War Memorial’s failure to engage

When people in powerful positions choose to not provide their side of the story, our readers are poorer for it, as are the people who refuse to provide it …

Dr Nelson has been approached for comment for each and every story we’ve published. But as it stands, Dr Nelson has opted against responding to many of the specific complaints. He was offered the opportunity to explain via an opinion piece why the half-a-billion-dollar redevelopment was needed, however he declined …

Of course you’ll rarely have full agreement on any project, minor or major. But more engagement with those who have expressed their concerns or opposition would strengthen the memorial’s case that it enjoys broad public support.

13 April: Canberra Times poll says two-thirds are not comfortable with the Australian War Memorial receiving funding from ‘gun-runners’

Today’s Canberra Times – hard copy p. 35, hard to find online – says 64 per cent of those polled answered ‘No’ to the question ‘Are you comfortable with the Australian War Memorial receiving funding from companies which make weapons’. ‘Yes’ tallied 28 per cent and ‘Unsure’ 8 per cent. There were 403 respondents to this Canberra Times Insider poll, members of a panel of readers who give feedback each week.

Two respondents’ comments:

It sickens me that the War Memorial’s major theatre should honour BAE Systems, a merchant of war that has been creating so much death and misery in Yemen and elsewhere.

It is quite wrong for the memorial to seek and accept funding from the so-called gun-runners. I suggest its administration has lost its moral compass.

Explanation: (1) Honest History sees the issue of arms company funding of the Memorial as closely related to the campaign against the Memorial’s extensions. In both instances, the Memorial shows a disregard for public opinion. (2) ‘Gun-runners’ is a term used by senior Australian Defence Force officers to describe arms manufacturers.

David Stephens

12 April: This sort of hyperbole calls for a sartorial response

During his ABC Radio Canberra interview this week, War Memorial Director Brendan Nelson claimed that, of the 83 signatories to the open letter against the extensions, he had only ever seen three of us at the Memorial. This is hyperbole of the highest Nelsonian calibre. For example, I have visited the Memorial more than two dozen times in the six and a bit years since Dr Nelson took the job and, from a quick skim through the list of 83, I can see many others whose professional work, let alone private interests, would have taken them there also. Clearly, the signatories need to identify themselves, perhaps with a tee-shirt looking something like this.


David Stephens

12 April: The architects dig in against the extensions, while the War Memorial shifts ground, and the ABC offers a strange perspective. An extract:

The War Memorial belongs to all Australians, not just ‘veterans and current service men and women’, yet its future seems to have been hijacked after minimal public consultation – just 134 individuals provided feedback to the Memorial’s consultation process last year – and on the basis of confused and inconsistent arguments. As Mr [Philip] Leeson [ACT Chapter President, AIA] said in the AIA statement, ‘If the Australian War Memorial’s management thought our and the community’s opposition to their destructive plans would simply fade away, they have grossly miscalculated’.

11 April: A comment on War Memorial Director Nelson’s interview with ABC Radio Canberra, plus what didn’t happen at Senate Estimates, and some close analysis of what constitutes a naming right. Here’s an extract:

Some donors in other museums and public sites get “naming rights” – the peace bell in Canberra, for example, is officially the Canberra Rotary Peace Bell. But, Dr Nelson said, the arms companies which donate do not insist or get those rights. “There’s nothing like that at the Australian War Memorial,” he said. (Emphasis added.)

Nothing like that? Exhibit 1. The War Memorial’s theatre is the BAE Systems Theatre. ‘During the year a successful sponsorship agreement was reached with BAE Systems for the Memorial’s theatre’, says the Memorial’s Annual Report for 2008-09 at page 48. The agreement was renewed in 2013 and here is a picture of a wreath laying ceremony in the theatre in 2016. There is another picture of the theatre on the Memorial’s ‘Venue Hire’ page, in which the BAE Systems logo appears in a place of honour above the War Memorial logo. BAE Systems’ name also appears in large letters above the door of the theatre, so those who enter have no doubt whose largesse they are enjoying.

More to come soon on naming rights. Anyone heard of the Kingold Education and Media Centre?

The petition

Our petition on change.org against the proposed $498m extensions to the Australian War Memorial closed on 7 April 2019. It received 1236 signatures and we will now take steps to bring it to the attention of Bill Shorten and other relevant people. Of those who signed, 224 (18 per cent) made comments. We launched the petition following the extraordinary support received on Twitter after the front page story on 23 March in the Canberra Times and online in Nine (Fairfax) papers.

9 April 2019

What the petition said

Oppose the Australian War Memorial’s plan for $498m extensions

  • The money would be better spent on direct benefits to veterans and their families, other cultural institutions, overseas aid to war-torn countries, or other areas of pressing need.

  • The extensions favour the Memorial over other national institutions, even though it presents only a small part of our rich national history.

  • The extensions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall.

  • Much of the extended space will be taken up with a grandiose foyer and space for decommissioned planes and helicopters which do little to promote an understanding of Australia’s wars.

  • The planned direct feed on current Defence Department activities is totally inappropriate in a war memorial.

  • The plan has been pushed through with a minimum of public consultation.

The petition analysed

David Stephens reports on the petition and what it showed.

For people of my generation – I was born in 1949 and had relatives killed in both world wars – commemoration is not speeches by politicians, or parades and wreaths and children waving flags, or even emotive tours [of the War Memorial] with Dr Nelson; instead, it is something families live every day and every week, forever and down through the generations. People – of my generation or any generation – who grasp that fact do not need coaching in commemoration from Dr Nelson. And they do not need a bigger War Memorial.

Earlier posts

Heritage Guardians

The campaign is being wrangled by Heritage Guardians, a small committee. The members of the committee are:

  • Brendon Kelson, former Director, Australian War Memorial
  • Dr Charlotte Palmer, committee member, Medical Association for Prevention of War (ACT Branch)
  • Professor Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra
  • Dr David Stephens, Editor, Honest History website
  • Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War.

24 March 2019 updated


Heritage Guardians: coordinating community action on the War Memorial extensions

‘[It should] … not be colossal in scale but rather a gem of its kind’ (Charles Bean and the Australian War Museum Committee, 11 October 1923, on the proposed building and collection)

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