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

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 (and compiler of this campaign diary)
  • Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Key documents

Heritage Guardians analysis of the Memorial’s Final Preliminary Documentation on Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act heritage aspects

Heritage Guardians submission on EPBC Act heritage aspects

Heritage Guardians submission to Public Works Committee inquiry

Eighty-two Australians sign collective submission to Public Works Committee inquiry


15 October 2020: Canberra Times editorial, project opponent letter, and local TV news

The editorial (pdf from our subscription) has a bit both ways – the project will happen but there are concerns – after giving too much space to standard Brendan Nelson emotive anecdote. The letter (our pdf) is from project opponent and former Memorial officer, Stewart Mitchell. WIN TV had a piece on the project last night, featuring the Australian Institute of Architects and Director Anderson.

9 October 2020: Analysis of the War Memorial’s document dump (‘Final Preliminary Documentation’) on heritage aspects of its $498m extension project

The post looks mainly at some places where the Memorial’s plans have changed in response to the 167 public submissions it received, presents some statistics relating to those submissions, and – because Honest History and Heritage Guardians have long opposed this project – draws attention to some notable submissions against it.

5 October 2020 updated: Government’s principal heritage adviser dumps a bucket on Memorial project

Tom McIlroy in the Financial Review reports on the Australian Heritage Council submission to the War Memorial’s EPBC Act process. The AHC is chaired by former Liberal Cabinet Minister, David Kemp AC. The Council’s final paragraph: ‘Regrettably the council cannot support the conclusion that the proposed redevelopment will not have a serious impact on the listed heritage values of the site and recommends that the matters above be given serious attention’.

Updated 14 October 2020: Sarah Basford Canales in Canberra Times contrasts AHC view with AWM’s (paid for) heritage impact statement. Pdf from our subscription.

30 September 2020: State of play report

Where we are up to with the Memorial and the heritage people working on the heritage aspects of the Memorial project. Includes a link to a Parliamentary Library paper on the project.

23 September 2020 updated: Director Anderson recycles Nelsonian arguments, flaws and all

Telling the stories is what the $498m extension project is all about, says Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, interviewed by City News, a Canberra paper available free in shopping centres. Heritage Guardians responded thus:

David Stephens, Convener, Heritage Guardians

Mr Anderson repeats and recycles arguments made familiar by the former Director, Dr Nelson. Two points he fails to confront, however: (1) every cultural institution in the world has to make hard decisions about how much of its collection can be on display at any one time; very few can display more than 5-10 per cent of their collection; to cover recent conflicts, the Memorial could repurpose the rarely visited Colonial Conflicts area on its lower floor and use the extensive Memorial building at Mitchell; (2) as Jack Waterford said in the Canberra Times at the weekend [below, entry for 21 September], the Memorial is primarily about commemorating the service and sacrifice of volunteer soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, not about ‘telling the stories’ of professional ADF members in the last couple of decades; the story-telling function is one for regimental museums and military theme parks, which is what the Memorial will look increasingly like if the current plans come to fruition.

There is more on these and other arguments here: http://honesthistory.net.au/wp/petition-on-change-org-against-proposed-war-memorial-extensions/ David Stephens, convener, Heritage Guardians; editor Honest History website.

Peter Stanley, Research Professor, UNSW Canberra

Sadly, Matt Anderson is not telling the whole story here. The AWM needs to tell more and new stories, but given the techniques and technologies available here, he doesn’t need more space to do it. That is simply not true. The AWM has huge amounts of space available to re-organise and re-prioritise its displays to emphasise recent conflicts, if that’s what it wants to do. Mr Anderson has been saddled with the unenviable job of selling the unsellable – that is, to plead that the AWM ‘needs’ $498m at a time when other cultural institutions are denied even operating expenses (eg the National Museum having just had to shed 12 positions) and when the economy and society are reeling from the effects of the 2019020 bushfires and the covid-related depression. And he wants to demolish a perfectly good, 18-year-old building! This is an unconscionable platform, and not one a responsible government should countenance.

I am a military historian, a former member of the AWM staff and a member of the Heritage Alliance which is dedicated to saving the AWM from grievously damaging itself by these unnecessary and destructive changes.

Richard Llewellyn, former AWM officer

Matt Anderson is – as Peter Stanley says -‘ saddled with the unenviable job of selling the unsellable’. Indeed, it was explicit in the advertising for a successor to Nelson that the successful applicant would ‘have a passion for the Memorial’.

Per se, there is nothing wrong with that. However, I doubt that any reasonable person would expect Mr. Anderson to defend to the hilt the AWM case for what is, and has plainly been, a construct based upon false and unsupportable premises, insufficient observance of even basic governmental requirements for financial prudence in large project spending and a glaring case of monument-building by both Nelson and Stokes.

The detailed and forensic-level evidence for this is readily available on the Honest History website: see the Heritage Guardians section, 22 July 2019, and many, many other examples to be found there.

The original purpose of the Memorial is – as expressed by David Stephens – NOT to be a glorified ‘Unit History’ museum.

Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War

The AWM should indeed tell human stories related to war service. Why then is the AWM management planning to spend vast sums on floor space to distract our attention to weaponry rather than the impacts of war? And where are the human stories of the veterans suicides, the questions about why they are happening, and the stories of the terrible impacts on veterans’ families for decades after wars finish?

The AWM continues the ridiculous claim that their proposal – which they speak of as a done deal, despite the ongoing processes that will decide whether the project proceeds or not – has the support of most Australians. They ignore every bit of evidence of strong opposition, and report only the answers to their own highly leading questions.

There was also a response from former AWM officer, Stewart Mitchell, which said this:

Who would want the unique qualities of that extraordinary site damaged by an ill-considered development plan – but that is what is proposed. This is simply, heritage vandalism. In any case, the additional space can be achieved without the irreversible damage to the heritage site that this development proposal represents. As for ANZAC Hall – it is suitable for adaptive re-use. Mr Anderson doesn’t seem to know there are existing costed and engineered plans that show that.

And concluded thus: ‘Mr Anderson needs to stop the rhetoric and get on with achieving what we all want – the best outcome for veterans, the Memorial, and Australian architecture and heritage’.

21 September 2020: Two strong pieces touch on arguments against Memorial project

William De Maria in Pearls and Irritations and Jack Waterford in Canberra Times. A telling argument from Waterford:  ‘Purists, indeed, would insist that the AWM really is about mass civilian military service in all-out war, not deployment of professional soldiers’, like those who went to Afghanistan. Yet, a strong theme of the current push for the $498m extensions is to tell the stories of professional soldiers.

17 September 2020: Choose Option 4 in Memorial consultation on heritage!

The ponderous process on the Memorial’s big build continues. After a mix-up over emails, the Memorial is asking the commenters on the heritage aspects of the build to choose how they want their comments disclosed.

It’s complicated – more than it needed to be – but here are the details. Choose Option 4, folks! (Public disclosure: Your submission will be published with only your contact details redacted, your name will be made public.) Deadline 22 September but flexible.

11 September 2020: Heritage Guardians supports Architects on Anzac Hall – and calls out Memorial’s lax accountability performance

In the Canberra Times today, David Stephens of Heritage Guardians supports Julia Cambage of the Architects (entry for 4 September below) and notes that the War Memorial has questionable form on accountability: suppression of 2019 draft heritage management plan; obfuscation before a parliamentary inquiry; dodgy survey methodology. Pdf from our subscription.

4 September 2020: Some clarification on stumbling War Memorial heritage process – but Architects call out careless statements by Director Anderson

We noted previously the unhelpful addition to the Memorial’s website of ‘a list of comment authors’, which turned out not be quite that but a list of 156 submissions marked ‘Personal submission’ plus 11 from named organisations including Heritage Guardians, Medical Association for Prevention of War and the Australian Institute of Architects. Puzzled, we checked with the Memorial and were told the reason for this coyness was ‘privacy’. This puzzled us more because we knew the Memorial had committed to publishing the full text of comments received. How could names be sensitive when publication of full content was imminent?

Advice from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), responsible for heritage, has made things clearer, for which we are grateful. DAWE advises that the publication in full of comments received by the Memorial is more than the usual practice and more than the Act requires, but the Memorial has agreed to it.

This raised a question of privacy and commenters are being asked individually if they would prefer to have material redacted from their comment before publication. This might be simply an email address or phone number but might extend as far as redacting the commenter’s name and other identifying material – what is released is up to the person who provided the submission.

The work involved in contacting 167 commenters is considerable and will contribute to the slippage already identified in the process. The Department was unable to comment on the timeframe for this process.

Heritage Guardians made the points to the department that (1) the power of many comments would derive from including the name and curriculum vitae of the commenter and (2) most commenters would have no difficulty with the publication of their details.

Meanwhile, in other news, Julia Cambage, CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects, has a letter in the Canberra Times (pdf from our subscription) calling out some careless or misinformed statements by Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, on heritage aspects of the project, particularly to do with the destruction of Anzac Hall, when it is highlighted in the Memorial’s Heritage Management Plan.

The AWM board and management do not appear willing [Ms Cambage says] to concede that their processes have been grossly deficient, or even acknowledge the broad-based community concern over this project. The Australian people deserve better from the custodians of this unique institution and hugely significant site.

Protecting Anzac Hall has been a key theme also of the Heritage Guardians campaign. We have also noted deficiencies in public statements by Director Anderson and Memorial staff. See particularly our supplementary submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry (Submission No. 40.1), where we said, ‘For a public institution, the Memorial attains surprisingly low standards in the accountability sphere’.

David Stephens

2 September 2020: Former Memorial officer calls out current Memorial director on Memorial redevelopment program

Today’s Financial Review (paywall) has a letter (pdf from our subscription) from Stewart Mitchell, former head of buildings and services at the Australian War Memorial. Mitchell responds to an earlier letter from Director Anderson and concludes thus:

The memorial is one of the most important sites in the country. Please stop the rhetoric and look into why many are objecting to the proposal. This development must achieve what we all want – the best outcome for veterans, the memorial, and Australian architecture and heritage.

27 August 2020: Noel Turnbull scathing on government’s misplaced priorities; an emotional look at Brendan Nelson

Veteran PR man and commentator, Noel Turnbull, on things the government would be better doing rather than splurging on commemorative bricks and mortar. David Stephens examines the rhetorical shtick of former War Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson, one of Australia’s great performers – on a par with Turkish battlefield guides at Gallipoli.

23 August 2020 updated: Architects – and maybe some politicians – against the Memorial vanity project

Tom McIlroy reports in the Financial Review on the open letter from Australia’s architects against the Memorial project and adds that some MPs have strong reservations about the project. Director Anderson responds.

21 August 2020: Monuments body, architects, professional historians make strong statements on Memorial project

Summarised. Plus Brisbane’s Jim McKay on ‘toys for the boys’ at the Memorial.

18 August 2020: War Memorial $498m redevelopment project: accountability round-up – Public Works Committee and EPBC Act

Up to date as at afternoon 18 August but Memorial is working on the next iteration. Unhelpful update of 20 August.

16 August 2020: Nine Newspapers has a detailed story canvassing views on both sides of the Memorial controversy

Katina Curtis writes. Mentions or quotes include Memorial Council member Susan Neuhaus, former Directors Brendon Kelson and Steve Gower, former soldier and RSL official, James Brown, Admiral Chris Barrie, and historian Joan Beaumont.

12 August 2020: Major General Gower, former Memorial Director, responds to criticism from former Director Nelson; article in Canberra City News

Letter to the Financial Review. Canberra writer, Paul Costigan, says that the Memorial is about people, not war machines.

11 August 2020 updated: Former Chief of Defence Force against War Memorial build; PM’s funding furphy

A flurry of media this morning includes a strong statement from former CDF, Admiral Chris Barrie, that the War Memorial building money would be better spent on looking after veterans suffering from PTSD. (It comes from his submission No. 37 to the Public Works Committee inquiry. The Riot Act.) The Prime Minister, meanwhile, trotted out the old furphy that ‘not a cent’ of the money for the Memorial project is coming from the veterans’ mental health budget.

Yes, but basic opportunity cost economics means that a dollar spent in one spot cannot be spent in another. The government made a decision to spend $500m on the Memorial and that meant the money could not be spent somewhere else, for example, on supporting veterans suffering from PTSD and supporting their families coping with veteran suicide.

The PM’s remarks came at an announcement of a posthumous Victoria Cross going to sailor Teddy Sheean. Former Memorial Director Brendan Nelson, chair of the Sheean committee, was also present and cast aspersions on the motives of opponents of the War Memorial project.

Nine newspapers. Canberra Times. Australian Financial Review. (Pdf from our subscription.)

Transcript of PM’s presser. The section on the Memorial is below:

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Dr Nelson has remade the case for the expansion of the War Memorial, $500 million. Are you at all concerned about the risk to the heritage of that institution, you know, one of the great places of Australia? Are you aware of community concern about the size and scope of the work that you support?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it’s a tremendous project and I think it honours all of those who’ve served Australia and will serve Australia. And particularly those who have served Australia in more recent conflicts, which was the passion of the project that was brought to me by the War Memorial Board at the time that Dr Nelson was its director.

We do need to tell all the stories of Australia’s service. And there needs to be room and space and appropriate facilities there to recognise and reflect that. And I think the designs and the project that has been put together achieves that. And that’s why the government supports it. We’ll continue to work through if there are any other issues there as we consult, as you always do with a project of great sensitivity. But this will be the most significant improvement to the War Memorial since it was first built.

And that is not at the expense of resources being available for veterans, I hasten to add. Not one cent will be spent on that memorial that would otherwise be spent on support for veterans. The best memorial we can provide to our veterans is to ensure they’re well supported with their daily struggles. And that’s certainly what we’re seeking to do.

10 August 2020: Public Works Committee hearing transcript and supplementary submissions.

These are on the PWC website.

5 August 2020: Australian War Memorial is not just for recent veterans but for all Australians, says former Memorial officer

Michael Piggott’s submission to the current EPBC process argues that the Memorial under recent management is being turned into something that it was not intended to be. He makes suggestions for alternative futures.

The author believes the Memorial’s push for more space is based on a particular view of the function of the institution. ‘Who is the Memorial for now?’ he asks.

The short answer is and should be “all Australians”. A slightly longer answer would add “including those who have a family connection to a name on the Roll of Honour”. Not anymore. Now, apparently, the AWM is essentially, primarily, for a much narrower section of the community. In recent decades, the AWM Council and senior management have signalled to current and former members of the ADF that, first and foremost, it is for them.

4 August 2020: Queensland heritage experts say a project like the War Memorial build would not be permitted in Queensland; Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) EPBC submission

Queensland heritage experts, Judith McKay and Don Watson, have sent a submission to the War Memorial on heritage aspects of the Memorial project. Their submission is on the Honest History site and it is a scathing critique in detail and in general of the Memorial project. Among other things, the authors say this:

As professionals with considerable experience of heritage protection in Queensland, we believe that the proposed additions would not be permitted to a comparable building here; and that, if approved, would indicate a serious deficiency in heritage controls at a national level.

Also posted today, a link to resources on the MAPW site, including analysis of the human rights records of arms company donors to the War Memorial, and MAPW submissions to the Public Works Committee and EPBC processes on the Memorial building project.

2 August 2020: Heritage Guardians submission on EPBC heritage process: Memorial’s case is based on false premises, glosses over crucial design issues, and uses dodgy ‘survey’ methodology – and Kerry Stokes gets another 12 months on Memorial Council

The Heritage Guardians submission, with a handy summary. Kerry Stokes renewed on Memorial Council for 12 months, but will he still be Chair?

28 July 2020 updated: War Memorial clamps down on volunteers

War Memorial directive to volunteers not to speak out on public controversies. Apparently, ‘for we are young and free’, the Memorial’s latest slogan, only goes so far. Update 1 September 2020: Paddy Gourley writes in Canberra Times Public Sector Informant (paywall but copy of our subscription pdf).

23 July 2020: Vietnam veteran comes out against Memorial build, in favour of direct benefits to veterans

Kevin Gill, Vietnam veteran and former national president of the Vietnam Veterans Association, has a letter in the Canberra Times today saying there are ‘many, many veterans’ who object to the Memorial project. Many more feel the money would be better spent on direct benefit programs for veterans. And the destruction of Anzac Hall is unwarranted. There are other letters in today’s Canberra Times against the project.

18 July 2020: War Memorial consultation process marked by dodgy questions

Heritage Guardians is continuing to work through the 700 or so pages of the War Memorial’s ‘final preliminary documentation’ under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The material on the Memorial’s public consultation is particularly interesting, given remarks to the Public Works Committee (PWC) this week by the Memorial’s Director about the degree of public support he claims the project has.

In submission No. 40 to the PWC, Heritage Guardians said this (para 62):

The Executive Program Director of the Memorial project told Senate Estimates in March this year (page 148) that people attending the December consultation sessions were “[o]verwhelmingly … supportive” and that “a stakeholder engagement survey … went out to 512 Australians, of which four out of five were supportive of what we’re doing”.

Four months after that statement, and five to seven months after the ‘survey’, we can see the ‘survey’ results in the Memorial’s EPBC documentation. We’ll have more to say in our response to the Memorial on the documentation, but we endorse the initial reaction of Dr Sue Wareham, President of Medical Association for Prevention of War and member of the Heritage Guardians committee, after her first look at the ‘survey’:

Respondents were told, “The time has come to modernise and expand the Australian War Memorial’s galleries and buildings so it can tell the continuing story of Australia’s involvement in modern conflicts”, and they were shown some images. There was nothing about the cost, nothing about the huge controversy surrounding the proposal, none of the many arguments against it, nothing about other ways to achieve the stated goals, and nothing about the plans to politicise the Memorial with live ADF feed.

The sentence quoted by Dr Wareham was included in words that ‘survey’ respondents were asked to read. Then followed a brief description of the elements of the project and this concluding sentence: ‘Sensitively connected to the existing landscape, the detailed plans will ensure the heritage facade remains unchanged’. Questions pitched like that are bound to lead to favourable responses. The phrase, ‘They would say that, wouldn’t they?’, comes to mind.

The word ‘feedback’, which the Memorial uses at some points in its documentation, is a more accurate description of what it has done, or rather what its consultant, Faster Horses, has done for it. The 514 (not 512) people were asked to provide feedback on selected favourably worded statements about the Memorial’s role and about the project.

As for the accuracy of the statements, particularly the one above that ‘the heritage facade remains unchanged’, readers are urged to consider the pictures below, showing the facade as it is now and as it will look after the development is completed. Australians deserve a higher standard of public administration than this stuff from the Memorial.

Some ideas about making a submission to the Memorial on heritage matters.


David Stephens

15 July 2020 updated: Media coverage of Public Works Committee hearing

A roundup. More added over a number of days.

13 July 2020 updated: Financial Review previews Public Works Committee hearings on War Memorial building project

Tom McIlroy quotes former Directors Gower and Kelson and Heritage Guardians’ David Stephens.

See also, a puff piece on Channel 7, owned by Kerry Stokes, also Chair of the War Memorial. Unless you blink at the wrong instant, you will see a Heritage Guardians spokesperson, making a six word comment. ABC 666 Local Radio Canberra, 14 July (from the beginning) (and here, towards the end) also had interviews with Brendon Kelson, Peter Stanley, David Stephens, Sue Wareham and lots of comments against the project.

12 July 2020: Running heritage and Public Works Committee accountability processes simultaneously is bad form

Our post looks at timing for the consideration of heritage aspects and argues that this process should not be running at the same time as the Public Works Committee inquiry.

9 July 2020: Canberra paper The Riot Act on the Public Works Committee hearings: Former directors line up to oppose War Memorial redevelopment at parliamentary hearing

Ian Bushnell writes, noting the background of witnesses at the PWC and the predominance of submissions against the development. Comments lean against the development. Quotes from Heritage Guardians material on how the Memorial is treating the development as a fait accompli, in advance of approvals.

8 July 2020: Public Works Committee public hearing 14 July on War Memorial project

Timetable and witnesses. Listen live to teleconference.

7 July 2020 updated: What the War Memorial project means for the trees on the Campbell site; and another matter

Heritage Guardians and Honest History have started to work through the masses of material on the War Memorial website (under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act) looking at heritage aspects of the Memorial’s proposed $498m project. One element is the impact on trees, many of which are decades old. Table 6.1 on page 46 of the Memorial’s submission looks at six project areas and describes tree removals and ‘net gains’ from new plantings.

Then there’s this. Para 1.1 of the submission says this:

The scope of the Project is to construct additional exhibition spaces to enable the Memorial to continue to comply with the Australian War Memorial Act 1980; to equitably tell the stories of all Australian servicemen and servicewomen who have served overseas in conflicts and operations.

By the time we get to Para 3.1 we have this:

The Memorial’s Council considers that the Memorial currently does not adequately tell the stories of those servicemen and servicewomen who have served Australia in more recent conflicts and operations on an equitable basis as required by the Australian War Memorial Act 1980. (Emphasis added.)

We are searching the Act to find the reference to ‘equitable basis’. Update 13 July 2020: We asked the Memorial to help, but found the answer it provided rather confusing. We are looking further into the matter.

6 July 2020: E-newsletter on how to provide feedback to War Memorial on heritage matters under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

Public input is possible until 31 July. This newsletter links to an explanatory post, providing a guide to the Memorial’s EPBC Act documentation.

Many readers will have provided submissions to the concurrent Public Works Committee inquiry. While the EPBC exercise is separate from the PWC inquiry, the PWC will take note of the public feedback received on the Memorial’s documentation. It is important for interested readers to be involved in both processes. The Memorial has consistently made exaggerated claims about the degree of public support for this project and the best way to meet these claims is with evidence of opposition.

Direct link to the explanatory post.

6 July 2020: Two forceful letters to Canberra Times opposing the War Memorial’s extravagant project

Eric Hunter of Cook takes War Memorial Director Anderson to task for his recent letter (below, 28 June) stressing the tourism and economic spin-offs of the project. Heritage Guardians’ Sue Wareham is critical of the Memorial’s close links with companies that make huge profits from war and with the proposed live feed from current conflicts.

4 July 2020: A guide to providing feedback on heritage aspects of the War Memorial project

This initial pass summarises some arguments against the project and points to key parts of the Memorial’s extensive documentation required under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Many readers will have provided submissions to the concurrent Public Works Committee inquiry. While the EPBC exercise is separate from the PWC inquiry, the PWC will take note of the public feedback received on the Memorial’s documentation. It is important for interested readers to be involved in both processes. The Memorial has consistently made exaggerated claims about the degree of public support for this project and the best way to meet these claims is with evidence of opposition.

3 July 2020 updated: Paul Daley in Guardian Australia on better ways of spending the War Memorial money – on living veterans and their needs

A roundup of one argument against the $498m Memorial project. ‘The statistics about veterans with post-traumatic stress are disturbing. Helping them would be worth spending $500m on.’ Just over 24 hours after the piece was posted we could not find one of 167 comments on it that supported the project.

29 June 2020: Roundup of War Memorial project news – as Public Works and heritage examinations crank up

Articles and letters around and after the weekend contrast the financial treatment of the War Memorial with that of other cultural institutions – and give an airing to the views of new Memorial Director, Matt Anderson.

24 June 2020: ACT Chief Minister critical of War Memorial spend

The Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, contrasted the efficiency dividend-caused straits of the National Gallery with the royal road afforded the War Memorial.

18 June 2020: Is the War Memorial playing funny buggers or are they really just looking after some rusting guns? (They do have form.)

An item provoked by some shuffling of military vehicles and guns near Anzac Hall at the Australian War Memorial. There is a link to the Heritage Guardians submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry, which submission provides evidence of where the Memorial has treated their big proposal as a fait accompli, in advance of necessary approvals.

17 June 2020: Heritage Guardians submission to Public Works Committee inquiry on Australian War Memorial project

Heritage Guardians’ submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry on the Australian War Memorial project has been posted on the PWC site as Submission No. 40. It opens thus:

The Memorial can meet its obligations without continuing with the project.

The Memorial should manage within its existing space – and make hard decisions about how to use it.

The Memorial’s ambition to provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for recent veterans is inappropriate and misguided – and a smokescreen for its demand for space to display planes, helicopters, and other retired military equipment.

The post includes links to commentary on the submissions received.

16 June 2020: Eighty-two signatories on Heritage Guardians collective submission against War Memorial project

Christopher Knaus in Guardian Australia on this submission. Link to the submission (No. 15).

1 June 2020: Notable slippage in War Memorial extension approval processes

Paragraph 4.13.1 of the War Memorial’s submission to the parliamentary Public Works Committee inquiry into the Memorial’s $498m extensions project includes these words:

The Memorial has commenced the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) approval process. This has included the submission of the Referral under the EPBC Act including the Heritage Impact Assessment. The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment [DAWE] have assessed the action as a controlled action, which met the Memorial’s expectations … The Memorial expects that a decision [by the delegate of the Department] on the proposed design will be handed down by the end of May 2020.

Well, here we are past the end of May and there has been no such decision from DAWE. DAWE and the Memorial have been engaged in an ‘iterative process’ for more than three months (see post of 19 May below and linked post) but ‘final preliminary documentation’ from the Memorial has still not even appeared on the DAWE site. What is going on, one wonders.

19 May 2020: Can these messy, overlapping approvals processes deliver good outcomes for the $498m War Memorial extensions?

Analyses the current states of play in heritage approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (delayed) and Public Works Committee approval (charging ahead).

All in all, this is an exceedingly odd piece of public administration. Heritage Guardians has already drawn attention to the many unsatisfactory aspects of the process, but it rolls on, protected by ‘bipartisan support’ – although Labor under Shorten may have been told rather less about the project than the government was – and by the sacred status of the Memorial. (‘It is sacred to us all’, the Prime Minister said at the launch.) The murky genesis of the extensions project will haunt it, even as the new walls and cavernous exhibition spaces (to be stacked with retired machinery of war) emerge from the limestone plains at the foot of Mount Ainslie.

12 May 2020: Sue Wareham of Medical Association for Prevention of War skewers spurious spin from War Memorial on consultation (Canberra Times today)

AWM obfuscation

Well may Wayne Hitches, director of the redevelopment at the Australian War Memorial, say (Letters, May 8) that they are looking forward to demonstrating to the federal Public Works Committee (PWC) the importance of this project.

No doubt they are looking forward to moving on to a smaller audience, in the form of a government-controlled committee, having utterly failed to demonstrate the importance of the project to most people thus far.

Hitches has still not produced evidence to back up astonishing claims of public support for the project (Letters, April 24). The tactic seems to be to eventually bury any figures about “consultation” in a much longer document which few people will read. The whole process has been a disgrace.

It’s time for the AWM management to stop telling us what’s important in commemorating the memory of our war dead, whose memory does not belong to a redevelopment team, and start listening.

There is one point of agreement with Hitches however: readers should make a submission to the PWC by June 17. Material that might be helpful is available on the Honest History website; look for “Inside track for War Memorial expansion”.

Sue Wareham, president, Medical Association for Prevention of War

9 May 2020: Canberra Times letters exchange on what is ‘normal’ process – and something on the War Memorial’s rush to build

David Stephens of Heritage Guardians responds to War Memorial official, Wayne Hitches on the significance of the Governor-General’s referral of the War Memorial project to the Public Works Committee. Our summary: it is rare but legal; it shows the War Memorial’s desire to push the processes to suit a timetable it has set itself in advance of necessary approvals.

There’s also this on the compressed and overlapping timetables of the Heritage and Public Works Committee:

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 [11 May], 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.

6 May 2020: Public Works Committee inquiry gets under way

Using the outside-Parliamentary sitting period-provisions of the PWC Act, the Governor-General in Council starts the inquiry into the War Memorial project, with submissions due by 17 June. The post includes links to material in this Heritage Guardians campaign diary that may help people wishing to make submissions to the PWC.

4 May 2020: Afghanistan already gets a good run at the Australian War Memorial

War Memorial arguments that recent wars are under-represented at the Memorial is not borne out by the history of its Afghanistan coverage since 2013.

26 April 2020: Much the same tune from new War Memorial Director

New Australian War Memorial head, Matthew Anderson, gave a couple of interviews for Anzac Day (ABC, Canberra Times) which suggest that the previous Memorial lines will be continued on expansion of the place and the importance of corporate donations, including from arms manufacturers.

Update 28 April 2020: Mr Anderson podcast with Defence Connect. Makes clear that the plan under his leadership is ‘steady as she goes’. Notes the potential economic stimulation arising from the expansion program. Mr Anderson says this is ‘the greatest job in the world’ and ‘the greatest honour of my career … This is Australia’s most sacred place.’ The second half of the podcast is particularly interesting, with his emphasis on digitisation.

He sees his ‘key stakeholders’ as particularly defence and ex-defence groups and people:  ‘everyone who wears the uniform or has worn the uniform … [His focus is on] the fabric of the Australian Defence Force and its remarkable achievements over a century’.

As for arms industry funding, Mr Anderson says their support is welcome in telling the story of our experience of war – which they have been part of – but cannot be mentioned in the commemorative areas. It is not entirely clear why this distinction is drawn. We are relentlessly told that the War Memorial is about ‘service and sacrifice’; that is what our experience of war is all about. Why not then let the arms industry be acknowledged in the commemorative areas, too?

The MC of the Podcast did not ask about Mr Anderson’s collected works, three war books for children, nor did Mr Anderson mention them.

13 April 2020 updated: Coronavirus and slippage at the Memorial

Analysis of the effects of coronavirus on the work of government and, in turn, possibly on the progress of the Memorial expansion project.

Update 17 April 2020: couple of things on timing.

Update 20 April 2020: Canberra Times catches up.

Update 21 April 2020: The Riot Act plus a hint on timing from the Memorial.

8 April 2020 (updated): War Memorial varies proposal but still in iterative process with Heritage

Information is available on the Heritage webpage about Referral 2019/8574, the War Memorial project, that the project documentation has been added to, to include ‘extension and refurbishment of the C.E.W. Bean Building, a new Research centre and Public Realm improvement works’. (These were included in the original project, but had been left out of the documentation provided to Heritage.) Key components, notably the demolition of Anzac Hall, remain. The additions have been agreed by Heritage (now part of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment).

We understand, from advice received from Heritage, that the Memorial will now include these additional components in assessment documentation for the redevelopment works (the preliminary documentation). Once the Memorial submits the final preliminary documentation to Heritage, a notice will be published in the media and on the Department’s website to advise that the preliminary documentation is available for public comment.

The Memorial will make the preliminary documentation available in hard copy at a location that is publicly accessible as well as online on their website for a period of 10 business days. During this time the public will have an opportunity to comment on the preliminary documentation.

Heritage understands that the Memorial is still preparing its preliminary documentation and Heritage has not received notification of when the final preliminary documentation is likely to be submitted. This advice from Heritage was dated 24 March and, at the time of posting this entry (8 April) no further information was available. For earlier information, see diary entry for 20 January below.

11 March 2020: Additional Estimates provide limited extra information about the extensions project

Pages 99-102 are the transcript of a brief appearance by Memorial officers which included an update on consultations about the extensions. There was no indication as to when information will appear on the Heritage portal about EPBC Act consultations.

21 February 2020: 3CR Melbourne podcast: Heritage Guardians David Stephens and Sue Wareham

Jan Bartlett put the questions. Topics covered included change of Director (Brendan Nelson replaced by Matthew Anderson), the Memorial’s attitude to chasing donations from arms manufacturers, the future of the Memorial Council, including the possible promotion of Tony Abbott to Chair, the justification for the Memorial’s $498 million extension, and Nelson’s move to a senior position with Boeing as an example of the military-industrial-commemorative complex.

16 February 2020: What role can the War Memorial play in helping service people dealing with psychological stress?

Medical practitioner Charlotte Palmer and David Stephens examine the evidence that museums can provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for returned service people. The verdict is not encouraging.

31 January 2020: What will be the Nelsonian legacy at the War Memorial?

David Stephens in Pearls and Irritations asks: will the legacy be massive extensions or an addiction to donations from arms manufacturers? Or both?

25 January 2020: Military-industrial-commemorative complex

Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper mentions the War Memorial expansion in a piece on the ramifications of the military industries.

20 January 2020: War Memorial expansion declared ‘controlled action’

Another consultation phase commenced by the Department of the Environment.

18 December 2019: Architects and doctors critical of Memorial heritage submission

Analysis of the submissions from the Australian Institute of Architects and Medical Association for Prevention of War to the Department of the Environment in relation to the Referral from the Australian War Memorial under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Both submissions are critical of a number of aspects of the Memorial’s documentation.

16 December 2019: New Memorial Director gives first interview

A piece in Nine Newspapers quotes new incumbent, Matt Anderson, at length, disclosing considerable continuity with the views of the current Director, Brendan Nelson, on priorities for the Memorial. Commenters on the article, however, were almost all opposed to the $500m expansion which Mr Anderson will oversee.

13 December 2019: Petition to stop the destruction of Anzac Hall as part of the War Memorial expansion

Signing the petition will give the lie to Memorial spinners who claim low attendance at their poorly-advertised ‘consultations’ indicates public support for the expansion.

5 December 2019: Heritage Guardians submission on War Memorial Heritage Referral under EPBC Act; an op ed on the War Memorial and the Frontier Wars

We are pleased to post the Heritage Guardians submission on the War Memorial’s initial Referral to the Department of the Environment in relation to the Memorial’s $498m build. The heading of the article provides a good summary: ‘Heritage values threatened, misleading documentation presented, gaming of the approvals process’. (We foreshadowed this submission in the entry for 3 December below.)

The post contains a summary of the submission but please read the submission in full and consider lodging your own submission – either before 13 December for this Referral or later for the next Referral. (If that sounds strange look for our references to ‘salami slicing’ and things will become clearer.)

Honest History has a different take to this op ed on the Memorial and recognition of the Frontier Wars.

4 December 2019: Money committed to the extravagant bricks and mortar project at the War Memorial could go instead to a Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide and to direct benefits to veterans

Analysis inspired by petition run by Julie-Anne Finney supporting a Royal Commission.

3 December 2019 updated: ‘Salami slicing’ a big project is a way of gaming the approvals process

A look at the two Environment Planning and Biodiversity Conservation Act referrals presently being juggled by the War Memorial. Does anyone anywhere really understand what is going on? There are chances to have a say, nevertheless. (For more, see entry for 5 December above.)

30 November 2019: Architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly is not impressed by the Memorial project; oral historian Mia Martin Hobbs on the context of the Memorial project and how it fits into our approach to post-traumatic stress

Piece in Nine Newspapers puts the Memorial project in the context of the history of Canberra planning.

This is no mere hangar for guns and poppies. This building will represent who we are now, at the intersection of one of the most important songlines in the country (Mt Ainslie to the parliament) with perhaps the most critical moment in history. Can we recreate Bean’s uncolossal gem? Or is dull, wasteful, overblown and smug the best Australia we can find?

Mia Martin Hobbs says the Memorial should get into telling the stories of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

29 November 2019 updated: A deceptive op ed about the Memorial project

War Memorial Council member, Sharon Bown, supports the project in an op ed in Nine Newspapers. But her membership of the Council is not mentioned. And the Memorial website reprinted the op ed and did not mention Ms Bown’s Council role either. Update 2 December 2019: Memorial website now fixed.

23 November 2019: Humpty Dumpty games as the National Capital Authority waves through the War Memorial’s carpark; Canberra Times analysis of Memorial’s consultation report

The National Capital Authority has approved the carparking works associated with the War Memorial’s big project, noting, however, that there is no physical connection between the carparking and the big project – which somehow makes a difference. As Humpty Dumpty said in Through the Looking Glass, words mean just what I choose them to mean.

Daniella White in the Canberra Times looks at the recent consultation report published by the War Memorial as part of its documentation on the big project.

22 November 2019: Bernard Keane in Crikey on the Memorial’s ‘therapeutic milieu’ fetish and the Liberals’ fetishisation of the military (‘Thank you for your service’); War Memorial heritage referral is open for comments

A trenchant Keane piece in Crikey is well worth getting behind the paywall. Among other things, Keane says this:

The transformation, at colossal expense, of the War Memorial from sombre place of reflection to an exhibition of military hardware (supported by the defence companies that make up the “corporate partners” of the AWM) is in keeping with the relentless fetishisation of the Australian military by the conservative side of politics, which has now reached cult-like levels.

Meanwhile, the Memorial’s heritage referral has appeared on the Department of the Environment’s website. The next step is to prove to the department that the Memorial’s plans constitute a controlled action – which requires more consultation. Over to you, folks.

21 November 2019 updated: Former War Memorial Director Major General Steve Gower critical of expansion plans

A considered op ed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Among other points, Major General Gower describes the decision to demolish Anzac Hall in scathing terms:

There were other viable options, but only the one requiring demolition was selected. The decision is a prize example of philistine vandalism masquerading as progress. It is an egregious waste of money.

Having studied in depth the papers released by the Memorial on how options were sifted we are mystified as to how Anzac Hall was deleted and why. Our analysis by former War Memorial senior officer, Richard Llewellyn, put the question like this:

Nor do the [released] documents tell us why – and precisely how – the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall came to be part of the preferred option. It is important to know this, given the vehemence of opposition – especially from architects – to this part of the project. Did individual members of the Memorial Council, perhaps the Chairman, have strong views on deleting Anzac Hall? What did other Council members say?

Update 22 November 2019: Letters to the editor.

20 November 2019: Follow-up stories after the big reveal

Including ‘implacable opposition’ from at least some architects to demolition of Anzac Hall at the War Memorial. Plus a thoughtful piece on the difficulties of being both a memorial and a museum.

19 November 2019: Big reveal of proposed expansion

Round-up of this week’s announcement.

12 November 2019: Remembrance Day roundup

Includes links to an article by Paul Daley on how we miss the point on Remembrance Day and one by Sue Wareham on the continuing, accountability-free rolling juggernaut of the War Memorial extensions.

7 November 2019: Heritage Guardians submission on National Capital Authority consultation on War Memorial carparking

The submission argues that ‘salami slicing’ large projects amounts to gaming the approvals system. Director’s video for the Daily Telegraph assumes carpark will be approved, indeed assumes all necessary approvals have been received.

5 November 2019: Further analysis of Dr Nelson’s farewell appearance at Senate Estimates

The hearings of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on 23 October are further examined.

30 October 2019: Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories

Hansard of brief appearance of National Capital Authority officers before this committee gives some details of War Memorial expansion plans.

27 October 2019: Estimates gives some hints on what is to come at the War Memorial

A preliminary roundup covers arrangements for choosing the new Director at the Memorial, some inconsistent remarks from the Director, and an undignified pile-on from honourable Senators. There is also an email from the National Capital Authority relating to a fence around a proposed carpark; it raises questions of accountability.

18 October 2019: War Memorial Works Approval application to National Capital Authority: the thin end of the wedge?

How can the Authority put a tick on the car park without making the whole project a fait accompli?

11 October 2019: More on the really unsuitable appointment of Tony Abbott to the War Memorial Council

Heritage Guardian Sue Wareham writes for Pearls and Irritations. For more on this appointment, scroll down.

10 October 2019 updated: Spin at Fort Campbell: heard on the grapevine

A little bird, as the saying goes, told us that a recent staff meeting at the Australian War Memorial was instructed that the term ‘redevelopment’ was no longer to be used in reference to the Memorial’s planned … redevelopment. Instead, the words ‘our continuing story’, are to be used.

Spinners will spin. On the positive side, perhaps this, along with other straws in the wind (like Director Nelson’s careful response to Brendon Kelson’s second letter: 27 September below), indicates the Memorial is taking note of at least some of the critique coming in its direction.

Meanwhile, we note that the Memorial’s website still has a section headed ‘Redevelopment’. Perhaps a change is coming there, too. (Update 16 October: now headed ‘Memorial Development Project’ with words about ‘continuing story’.)

If we have got this story wrong, we will, as always, print without amendment any correction received. Over to you, AWM spinners.

9 October 2019: History buff Abbott onto the Memorial Council is like having homeopaths on hospital boards

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia quotes Heritage Guardians, Peter Stanley and David Stephens, and historian Peter Cochrane.

7 October 2019: Fin Review story on Stokes guarantee for the Memorial project

Tom McIlroy writes up this rather unusual piece of public financing.

4 October 2019: War Memorial FOI documents leave questions answered, particularly about whether Chairman Stokes’ personal guarantee helped clinch the $498m deal

Our analysis of Interdepartmental Committee Minutes released under FOI looks particularly at how the funding deal was clinched independently of the development of the Detailed Business Case and, secondly, whether the clinching of the deal might have turned on a ‘personal guarantee’ from Memorial Council Chair, Kerry Stokes.

1 October 2019: Kite successfully flown, Tony Abbott appointed to War Memorial Council

Kite flown (7 August below). Appointment made. Opportunity lost.

1 October 2019: New study estimates there are more than 5000 homeless veterans in Australia – a better target for funding than the War Memorial project?

Four authors write for The Conversation about ‘this national shame’.

27 September 2019: Director Nelson responds on behalf of Minister to letter from Heritage Guardian, Brendon Kelson

This letter makes a better fist of responding to Kelson than did a previous effort from the Minister’s chief of staff.

25 September 2019 updated: Memorial car park plan upsets former Director and local residents

Steve Gower and local residents interviewed about Memorial plans to remove 80 trees for a car park for workers. Director Nelson responded, mostly about the trees and that link has been added.

16 September 2019: ‘Big Things in Store’ at AWM Mitchell 5 October is a day for tyre-kickers and rev-heads; but Mitchell could be so much more

Link to item in The Senior promoting the Memorial’s reinstated annual day of display at its Mitchell annexe – a facility designed for display as well as storage. Management decisions are holding the site back from its full potential.

5 September 2019: Paul Daley in Guardian Australia compares the War Memorial to Disneyland

Daley’s piece quotes from Brendon Kelson’s letter (below 3 September).

The last word should belong to another revered public servant, Charles Bean, official historian of Australia in the first world war and founding father of the Australian War Memorial, who, as Kelson pointed out to the prime minister, wrote: “The national memorial building should not be colossal in scale but rather a gem of its kind.”

That’s the difference between a thoughtfully curated, inspiring museum that inspires quiet reflection and … well, Disneyland.

Related piece by Daley in ArtsHub on who should be Brendan Nelson’s successor at the Memorial (see 7 August for this issue also).

3 September 2019: Quite big enough, thank you! Recent developments in the Heritage Guardians campaign against the $498 million War Memorial extensions – and Nelson waves farewell

Five documents ranging from a letter from former Memorial Director, Brendon Kelson, to the Minister to an advertisement for the Director’s job. Plus five arguments against the project and two documents on heritage aspects.

7 August 2019 updated: Tony Abbott has form on commemoration but is the wrong choice for the War Memorial Council

David Stephens had this in The Riot Act on 7 August.

If Abbott were to join the Council or take Nelson’s job, the latter’s grandiose expansion plans (if they go ahead) could hardly be in better hands. The Memorial would look even more like the commemorative arm of an increasingly militarised state, its broad spaces filled with decommissioned military equipment, its visitors able to watch direct video feeds from the Defence Department, its ceremonial occasions marked by florid speeches, its excesses tolerated, even encouraged.

Nelson has paved the way for Abbott, another failed politician, to oversee an institution which has been able to largely ignore criticism. Abbott would love that.

Update 2 September: Paul Daley in Arts Hub says there is an opportunity, with the departure of Nelson, to make fundamental changes at the Memorial.

The memorial council needs an overhaul. Just like the RSL, it needs the voices of younger veterans. It needs to include progressive Indigenous voices and those of historians whose livelihoods have not been dependent on mythologising Anzac history. A new director needs to reconsider several critical issues consistent with its mandate to help Australians ‘remember, interpret and understand’ the country’s war experiences. This means reconsidering Nelson’s decision to include exhibits about current conflicts. Is it possible for the AWM and its historians to adequately parse the social and other impacts of a war in which Australia is still committed? No. That takes a reflective approach, a historical methodology, that only time can bring.

6 August 2019: Canberra Times story confirms Memorial will build car parking only on its own land and not on the Remembrance Nature Park

It’s hardly the retreat from Moscow, but it seems to be a response partly to public opposition and partly to the ACT government foreshadowing some hard questions about environmental impacts. Canberra Times story; includes material from Richard Thwaites, son of the proponents of the threatened Remembrance Nature Park. See earlier entries 30 and 25 July. It’s difficult to see how we can have a firm costing figure for the expansion ($498m) when the Memorial seems to be making it up as it goes along.

30 July 2019 (updated): Canberra Times story shows ACT government was onside with Memorial’s Remembrance Park car parking option, but the government’s caveats seem to have helped push the Memorial back onto its own land; plus: National Archives shows how Mitchell option works

Doug Dingwall in the Canberra Times reports the outcome of an FOI claim that uncovered correspondence between the War Memorial and the ACT government. The latter was pretty much onside (‘in-principle support’) with building car parking on the Mount Ainslie Remembrance Park as part of the expansion plan. But this depended on there being ‘an acceptable planning outcome’ and the impact of the construction buildings being ‘acceptable’. The government was still waiting for more information from the Memorial.

Meanwhile, at the Memorial’s ‘drop-in session’ last week, an official representing the Memorial claimed the Remembrance Park car park was just one option that had somehow leaked (see below entry for 25 July). Dingwall’s article confirms that the ‘leaked option’ story was deceptive, if not downright dishonest. The FOI material, and the public record of Director Nelson’s remarks at Estimates in February, together show that the Remembrance Park option was live at least until it was brought up short by the ACT government’s muttering about things being ‘acceptable’, along with the public opposition that was evident by the first week of March: here and here.

David Stephens (Honest History) made this comment on the Dingwall piece:

The Memorial is really making this up as it goes along – and being deceptive as well. One official at last week’s ‘drop-in session’, when asked about the Remembrance Park option, said this was one of a number of options – one that had ‘leaked’. The FOI documentation – and what Director Nelson said at Estimates – shows this was clearly not the case: the Memorial was gung-ho for the Remembrance Park option until residents started to protest. It is up to residents and other interested people to continue to hold the Memorial accountable – in a way that Commonwealth government mechanisms have so far failed to do. This has always been a monumentally silly project; it has been characterised by flawed process, too.

If the Memorial does get around to further public consultation (see below 25 July) it is to be hoped that its representatives are better briefed and/or more forthcoming on ‘the story to date’. Meanwhile, the National Archives has made a great story of an announcement that ‘gifts to Australian prime ministers over the decades are about to move to a state-of-the art facility’ at Mitchell. The War Memorial could make much more of its Mitchell campus – as former senior Memorial officer, Richard Llewellyn has said – and both the Archives and the Memorial could both encourage visitors to take the tram out to Mitchell to view what is on offer.

Update 1 August 2019: Ian Bushnell in The Riot Act picks up ACT Assembly action on this, where Greens are critical of Minister Steel. Proof Hansard (pp. 2390-92).

27 July 2019: Two letters, one to and one from

Heritage Guardian Dr Sue Wareham had this in the Canberra Times today, following the ‘drop-in session’ reported below:

Still time to stop for consultation

Wayne Hitches, program lead for the proposed Australian War Memorial demolition and expansion, promises us a public engagement plan late this year (“War memorial plans fan passionate views”, July 25, p3). What sort of public “engagement” happens after a project is already under way? Instead we have a process of telling us what’s happening, and perhaps asking our views on minor details so an announcement can be made that the memorial is listening.

One would have hoped that a Canberra Times poll that had 80 per cent of respondents supporting the former memorial director Brendon Kelson’s call to drop the proposal would send a message to the memorial to pause and reconsider (“Insider readers panel”, June 29, p33). So much for the democracy our war dead believed in.

This is not done and dusted yet, but the memorial is paying scant regard to the fact that the memorial belongs to all of us, not simply to the director and his board. There is still opportunity to go back to square one and engage in proper consultation if that’s what the memorial wants.

Sue Wareham, president, Medical Association for Prevention of War, Cook

Meanwhile, Heritage Guardian Brendon Kelson has received a response to his letter to the Prime Minister (24 June below). The letter was flicked from the PM to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the reply came from the Minister’s Chief of Staff. It seems to have been drafted in the War Memorial, is full of emotive rhetoric and fails to address many of the points in the original letter.

25 July 2019: War Memorial’s ‘drop in session’ reported

The Memorial’s ‘drop in session’ happened last evening and was reported in the Canberra Times with an emphasis on opposition from local residents. Honest History attended the session briefly. Project manager Wayne Hitches foreshadowed ‘a wider outreach as the project progressed and a public engagement plan later this year’.

Meanwhile, full steam ahead, apparently, though the officials present (a lot of them) seemed to lack knowledge of how the project had got to where it was. One official claimed the Remembrance Park car park was just one option that had somehow leaked. This is rather odd, as Director Nelson seemed pretty clear in Senate Estimates in February this year, p. 153.

What we want to do is to start this year. We started negotiations with the ACT government. The land that is immediately behind Treloar Crescent, behind the existing Anzac Hall, just across the road, we need to acquire that land. We don’t anticipate that will be a problem. The ACT government has been very supportive with this project. We want to acquire that land and build the facilities for the construction teams that will be coming in next year to work on the project.

Senator MOORE: So that would be site management in that location?

Dr Nelson: Exactly. The other thing is that in the longer term there will be 118 new car parks that will be built on that land across the road, on Treloar Crescent behind Anzac Hall.

Senator MOORE: Post construction that will still be your property and you will use it as a car park?

Perhaps the Memorial has reacted to public criticism by keeping the car parks on site. Interestingly, though, we were told that even works entirely on the Memorial’s grounds (as now proposed for the car parks) will need approval from Heritage, Public Works Committee and National Capital Authority. Car parks within the grounds are to be completed by May 2020.

24 July 2019: Don’t focus too sharply on that $498m price ticket for the War Memorial vanity project; it’s actually over $500m

Today’s piece in the Canberra Times notes additional spending on scoping the works and fundraising tips. A figure of $506m sounds about right but what’s the bet the total cost will be north of that?

23 July 2019: Cocktail party at War Memorial seems to be based on flimsy premise: is it on the level?

Tonight at 6.00 pm, there will assemble outside the Australian War Memorial invited guests for a function put on by Trippas White Group, which describes itself as ‘a leader in the hospitality industry, operating restaurants, cafés, events and catering facilities across Australia’. A copy of the invitation is below, but readers are too late to RSVP (closed last evening).


We were particularly interested in this line in the invitation: ‘A new Anzac Hall will be larger and across two-levels …’. Yet the Memorial’s own FAQs document (then scroll down to pdf) says this, amid lots of flannel-words (and a repeated paragraph), ‘The Design Competition does not instruct Designers to demolish Anzac Hall but does require them to provide a Value for Money solution’.

So, as we said in our entry of 5 July below, maybe Anzac Hall is safe after all. But that is a single-level Anzac Hall, not the two-level one about which punters are being pitched tomorrow. (Update 25 July: note that an official at the ‘drop-in session’ on 24 July said that a retained Anzac Hall could still be given two levels.)

Who knows what, if anything, will emerge out of this shemozzle? There is an air of ‘making it up as we go along’, and the project still has to go through Heritage, Public Works Committee and National Capital Authority approval.

22 July 2019 (updated): Former senior War Memorial officer reassesses the ‘Mitchell Option’ for future development of the Memorial – and finds it a better choice all round

Richard Llewellyn has produced a detailed analysis of how the Memorial has argued inconsistently for development options and how development at Mitchell could be done far more cheaply than at Campbell. There is a media release to accompany the paper. The release says, in part:

In 2017 the Memorial promoted Mitchell to the Public Works Committee ‘as an integral component of the Australian War Memorial and home to a significant national collection’ while virtually simultaneously arguing – in the context of the Campbell project – that further developing Mitchell ‘would result in the Memorial at Campbell not being considered as Australia’s “national” War Memorial, thereby lessening the importance of the Campbell site and commemorations told within.

The paper considers comparative costs for the recently completed new space at Mitchell and
the proposed new space at Campbell.

It looks as if space at Campbell will cost around 14 times as much per square metre as space at Mitchell. Yet much of the space at Campbell will be used for the same purposes as the space at Mitchell – to park large pieces of retired military kit, like fighter jets and helicopters.

Update 23 July: the paper reported at length by Ian Bushnell in The Riot Act: ‘War Memorial’s Mitchell facility better value than expansion, says analysis’.

18 July 2019: War Memorial opens up about early works at Campbell, particularly car parking

The Australian War Memorial is to hold a ‘drop-in session’ next Wednesday, 24 July, from 4 pm to explain its plans for ‘early works’ associated with its proposed $498m extensions. It seems that car parking associated with the proposed extensions is now to be entirely on site.

The changes to earlier plans (including pinching some of the Mount Ainslie Remembrance Park) may well be in response to public pressure and to that extent they are welcome. There is, however, the issue of whether the Memorial is jumping the gun, by talking of the detail of its plans prior to Heritage, Public Works Committee, and National Capital Authority consideration of the project.

12 July 2019: Productivity Commission report on veterans’ services also has something to say on Australian War Memorial

This report is mostly about future delivery of services, though it recommends the administration of war graves should go the Memorial. The Commission backed away, perhaps reluctantly, from an earlier thought that the Memorial could also take on commemoration. There are some opaque thoughts on opportunity cost in the context of the proposed $498m extensions of the Memorial.

5 July 2019: War Memorial’s ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ leave answers hanging

We’ve discovered, lurking on the War Memorial’s website (then scroll to the bottom of the page) and without a date, a brief document entitled ‘Memorial Redevelopment Program: Frequently Asked Questions’. The document leaves us wondering on a couple of points.

First, on Anzac Hall. Having said all the things that are said to be wrong with Anzac Hall, the document says this:

The Design Competition does not instruct Designers to demolish Anzac Hall but does require them to provide a Value for Money solution. The solution must remain within the approved project budget, manage heritage related risks and, by connecting the Main Building to the new hall through a glazed atrium, provide an enhanced visitor experience by ensuring connection of the larger gallery space to the commemorative heart of the Memorial – the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.

So, maybe Anzac Hall is safe after all. Maybe.

Secondly, there is this garbled couple of sentences about the possible grab of a piece of the Mount Ainslie Remembrance Park for a carpark:

Q: Why is the Memorial proposing to build a car park at the base of Mt Ainslie?

A: The Memorial has considered a variety of options for contractor facilities, including parking, to support the Memorial Redevelopment Project. Whilst one of the early proposals considered was for the use of a modest parcel of land at the base of Mt Ainslie in the Remembrance Park site for car parking and contractor facilities. The intension was to leave the car parking for permanent use for visitors to the Memorial, Remembrance Park and for the Mt Ainslie summit walk. The Memorial has also examined, and continues to pursue its preference to locate these facilities on the Memorial’s own grounds.

So, again, maybe the Remembrance Park is safe. Maybe.

The FAQ document has a couple of typoes (‘intension’ above) and one paragraph is repeated. It has all the signs of a quickie, thrown together on the run, then never looked at again. But then the whole process relating to the extensions has been notable for its unusual features.

29 June 2019: Overwhelming support from Canberra Times Insider poll for Brendon Kelson’s view about the Memorial project

The Canberra Times Insider poll asked 329 people this question: ‘Do you support the call by former War Memorial director Brendon Kelson that the proposed $500m expansion should be dropped?’ The hard copy of the paper on 29 June (p. 33) recorded that 80 per cent answered ‘Yes’, 12 per cent ‘No’, with 8 per cent ‘Unsure’.

24 June 2019: Former War Memorial Director Brendon Kelson calls upon the Prime Minister to halt the Memorial project; former Memorial officer Richard Llewellyn demolishes Memorial documentation on the design choice

Brendon Kelson’s letter features in an article by Finbar O’Mallon in the Canberra Times; O’Mallon interviews Kelson. Former Memorial Registrar Richard Llewellyn points to questionable process relating to the extensions project – including evidence that Department of Finance rules have been flouted – and to problems with the proposed design, particularly the ‘new’ two-level Anzac Hall. There is an accompanying media release.

19 June 2019: Peter Stanley argues that healing for veterans is not part of the charter of the Australian War Memorial

Article in Pearls and Irritations from leading social and military historian.

The Memorial’s Act makes no reference to veterans. Australians have been conned into thinking that the Memorial belongs to veterans. Like Anzac Day, the Memorial belongs to all Australians. If Dr Nelson wants to fundamentally change the Memorial’s purpose [to provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for veterans], he should ask Parliament to change its Act. That might open a welcome debate

17 June 2019: Daily Telegraph campaign on veteran suicide is relevant to War Memorial extensions extravagance; more on the F-111 at the Memorial

Clarissa Bye’s detailed article on veteran suicide continues the Telegraph‘s campaign. Honest History has had a go at an op ed on the subject and it’s included in the post. And Heritage Guardians’ Brendon Kelson makes some trenchant points in the Canberra Times about the asbestos-ridden F-111 taken on by the War Memorial. Kelson said:

AWM should not be a ‘theme park’

That the newly acquired F1-11 will hold “pride of place” in an expanded Australian War Memorial says a lot. An aircraft that never saw combat with the RAAF – reconnaissance missions only – plagued with issues (eight lost in crashes, 10 airmen dead), and loaded with asbestos, should be a centre piece in the national memorial to Australian sacrifice and service in war defies belief.

The memorial is not a museum for devotees and enthusiasts of military hardware and technology, but a place to commemorate and reflect on the human costs of war to Australia.

By all means settle it in the memorial’s big objects facility in Mitchell, but keep it there and don’t further defile the memorial and turn it into another military “theme park”.

Brendon Kelson, Isabella Plains

13 June: F-111 asbestos issues set out in Audit Office report – but Memorial says all is well

Andrew Brown writes in the Canberra Times about the asbestos in the War Memorial’s recently acquired F-111. The presence of asbestos in the aircraft seems not to have been mentioned at the ceremony where the F-111 was welcomed (31 May below) but it was thoroughly examined in an Australian National Audit Office report in 2015.

The [ANAO] report said asbestos was used in adhesive throughout the fighter jets in bonded panels as well as flight control surfaces. “It is not practical to remove all asbestos from an F-111 and certify the aircraft as asbestos free,” the auditor-general report said. “This is due to potential presence of asbestos-containing adhesive within all bonded panels and primary structure of the aircraft. “An F-111 aircraft can only practicably be preserved on the basis that it still contains in situ asbestos.”

The F-111 will be displayed initially in the Memorial’s Mitchell Annex and eventually in the proposed extensions.

In a statement, a memorial spokeswoman said while the F-111 fighter jet going on display contained asbestos, there wasn’t a need for concern. “We have comprehensive documentation of the remaining encapsulated asbestos in the F-111 and manage it in accordance with workplace health and safety regulations,” the spokeswoman said. “We do not intend to allow access to the interior of the aircraft.”

An observer might ask: if no-one is allowed inside the aircraft might it be better presented digitally, with prospects of virtual operation?

9 June: MAPW calls out the War Memorial’s links with gunrunners, as seen in its eagerness to house a retired F-111

Sue Wareham OAM, President of Medical Association for Prevention of War and a member of Heritage Guardians, had this in today’s Canberra Times:

Memorial’s role in glorifying war

As the Australian War Memorial continues to honour machines such as the F1-11 [see 31 May below] along with our war dead (“‘Best in the world’: Jet added to war memorial collection”, May 31, p11), the memorial’s focus shifts more and more to a glorification of warfare itself rather than a commemoration of those who have fought and died.

Military museums – as distinct from memorials – serve a legitimate purpose in displaying old military hardware. The F1-11 is to be displayed in the short-term in the AWM’s annex at Mitchell. However, we are told it will eventually have “pride of place” in the proposed $498 million demolition/expansion of the AWM. If it can be displayed at Mitchell in the short term, why not in the long term?

Why must it be placed alongside the memory of our veterans who have died, as if the machinery of warfare has a claim on the nation’s gratitude and respect equal to that of people who have died?

How convenient all this is for the war profiteers, including Thales, the weapons company which AWM Director Brendan Nelson serves as a member of their advisory board.

Unless there is reversal of the current proposal to knock down part of the current AWM and rebuild a hugely expanded version, the war profiteers will receive a further gift in the form of taxpayer-funded display and promotion in one of our most hallowed institutions.

Dr Sue Wareham, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War

31 May: An academic analysis of the early stages of the extensions saga; an F-111 arrives at the War Memorial for future display

Nicholas Brown from the ANU History Department writes in Australian Historical Studies about the War Memorial project, though the piece seems to have been written late last year, so misses more recent developments. Brown seizes on the remark by Director Nelson, quoting with approval an unidentified veteran: ‘We’ve paid in blood, and whatever the government spends on the Australian War Memorial … will never be enough’. That would be a great accountability standard.

Brown examines the case for the Memorial project, looks at previous controversies over Canberra’s cultural institutions, and analyses the ‘therapeutic milieu’ argument. He also muses about the plan for ‘live crosses’ from the Memorial to defence exercises.

Another Brown, Andrew of the Canberra Times, reports the Memorial’s taking delivery of a superannuated F-111 to display initially at its Mitchell premises, and later at Campbell, assuming the large space offered by the extensions is delivered. There is a brief clip on the ABC’s Canberra TV News (30 May, from mark 21.0). WIN News. The Riot Act.

24 May: Christopher Knaus at Guardian Australia probes further into the Thales-Nelson unity ticket

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show that the then Minister, Senator Ronaldson, warned War Memorial Director Nelson of potential conflicts between his roles as a member of the Thales Australia Advisory Board and as Director. The article details a number of cases where the Director was involved with or praised Thales.

Earlier story 25 April below.

23 May: Retired GP with experience in psychological medicine questions the idea of a ‘therapeutical milieu’ at the War Memorial

To justify the expansion of the Memorial on therapeutic grounds is a further betrayal of veterans not receiving adequate clinical therapy, and of family survivors of veteran suicide. A portrayal of warfare which devalues the price that veterans and others pay will ultimately increase the risks of future Defence Force personnel suffering the same fate.

12 May: Here’s how you can help the campaign for equity between cultural institutions and against the $498m. War Memorial vanity project

Our petition is closed but, as the election campaign continues, we have been asked how people can make a point about the two issues above. While the Memorial project is said to have bipartisan support, there is still, we believe, a chance to lever Labor away from its current position. Please write to your federal MP or candidate – from any party. There are talking points in the original open letter signed by 83 distinguished Australians and in the petition signed by 1236 people (post of 14 April below).

9 May: Getting the focus back to where it should be: the welfare of veterans; one of them writes for Independent Australia

Veteran Bert Hoebee writes an open letter on the need for a better go for veterans. IA contrasts with the proposed extensions to the War Memorial.

9 May: War Memorial Director for 16 years, Steve Gower, weighs in on Memorial’s reaction to the opposition to the project

Former War Memorial Director Steve Gower has written in Canberra City News about his new book on the history of the Memorial. In a long article he says this:

I’m not going to comment on the present director’s plans to demolish Anzac Hall except to observe that his recent delayed attempt to justify it asserts, amongst other things, that it is “no longer fit for purpose”.

That is nonsense (in the context of the many possible other options) as is the claim that it’s the content that is special, not the building.

On that basis even the heritage main building might be demolished! Community outrage cannot be dismissed so airily; the ongoing controversy is both disturbing and damaging. Perhaps it is time for an independent review.

4 May updated: An excellent letter to the Saturday Paper (4-10 May edition) pulls some themes together

Jack Robertson of Birchgrove, NSW, said this:

A timely Anzac Day reset

If as I suspect the small fraternity of professional sentimentalists, conspiracists and careerists who’ve cornered the market in Anzac bullshitology are too self-absorbed to get through Mark Dapin’s implacably calm Vietnam corrective, Australia’s Vietnam, they should at least read Hamish McDonald’s pitch-perfect review of it (Books, April 27-May 3). A robust antidote to the narcissistic boomer lens through which we’ve come to view that conflict is decades overdue. Even more damaging has been that woefully misread period’s distorting influence on how we now mythologise Anzac in its entirety: an increasingly jarring potpourri of self-important chest-beating, over indulgent “hyper-brokenness” and sentimental tripe, embarrassing military ignorance, and – above all – a toxic usurping by “the Digger” of all other elements of our national history and identity. As a former soldier whose family has put (and often lost) uniformed skin in every Australian conflict since Federation, including the current one, I find my reluctantly growing private sentiment each year on April 25 to be: Let’s we forget. Or at least give it a bloody rest for a bit.

Honest History will post a review of Dapin’s book soon (here). He contributed a chapter to The Honest History Book.

2 May: Here’s a bit more evidence on those naming rights that the Memorial says it does not grant to its donors

We have been on this bandwagon for nearly a month, since Director Nelson, discussing naming rights, told Steve Evans of the Canberra Times, ‘There’s nothing like that at the Australian War Memorial’. See also below entries for 23 April and 11 April.

Here’s a bit more evidence that belies that assertion. The speaker is Anne Bennie of the Memorial, at Senate Estimates in February last year (page 114 of the Proof Hansard). We have added the emphasis:

Ms Bennie: The memorial certainly needed to seek non-government funding. We have had a number of supporters from a philanthropic perspective over a number of years that have supported individual projects particularly. Education is a lot of what philanthropic sponsors seek. There are certainly a number of education projects in the space of individual research around providing case studies and programs, and, indeed, videoconferencing, for which we have had some support to date. As the director, Dr Nelson, said, there is often a direct approach, and we look to speak to companies about their support. They are often defence contractors, but the likes of Qantas and Virgin, for example, also support the Australian War Memorial in individual ways to support the message. They provide the memorial with benefits. Often it can be in the form of naming rights. We have a Qantas aircraft collection at the moment; when we refer to our collection, it is the Qantas aircraft collection, particularly around, obviously, aircraft. There are other ways we do that. We don’t necessarily name galleries, but we will recognise sponsors on interpretive panels or specific aspects that they have supported within our galleries. We have a range of defence contractors, and, indeed, they look to support the memorial because of the role it has within the nation. Corporate and philanthropic sponsors are really looking to support the memorial similarly around that message.

The other way in which we recognise sponsors is through looking at various mentions, whether it be on our website or in our annual report. We have some recognition within our orientation gallery upon entering into the memorial for significant sponsors, both in a board-type format and again in a digital display. It’d be fair to say that a lot of supporters of the memorial aren’t seeking things in lights. Certainly, that is not what we would do. There are certainly areas where we will not put sponsors’ names. It is about them supporting the ethos of the memorial and not necessarily looking for brand recognition, if I can put it that way.

All in all, that is quite a comprehensive statement of the relationship between the Memorial and corporate benefactors. It does not, of course, cover Director Nelson’s work with Thales, for which see entries for 27, 26 and 25 April below.

2 May: Writing in The Strategist, David Stephens refutes Dr Nelson’s arguments for the extensions

‘The director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson, wants to extend the memorial at a cost of $498 million. The case he outlined in a recent ‘Strategist Six’ is as full of holes as a second-hand camouflage net.’

28 April: Here’s how you can help the campaign for equity between cultural institutions and against the $498m. War Memorial vanity project

As the election campaign continues we have been asked how people can make a point about the two issues above. While the Memorial project is said to have bipartisan support, there is still, we believe, a chance to lever Labor away from its current position. Please write to your federal MP or candidate – from any party. There are talking points below from the original open letter signed by 83 distinguished Australians and from the petition signed by 1236 people (post of 14 April below). There’s further material in the posts below.

The open letter

The Australian War Memorial’s $498 million extensions should not proceed. They cannot be justified, they show the Memorial is being given preference over other national institutions, and the money could be better spent.

The Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, touts the Memorial as telling ‘our story’. The Memorial should be revered, but Australia has many stories and Dr Nelson’s excessive veneration of the Anzac story denies the richness of our history.

Dr Nelson wants added space to display more of the big artefacts representing recent, but purportedly ‘forgotten’ conflicts, and to ‘heal’ veterans. Recent conflicts should instead be presented in proportion to their significance; responsibility for veterans’ welfare belongs with Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.

The extensions offer Dr Nelson a permanent legacy like that of none of his predecessors. His and his Council’s ambitions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of Anzac Hall, opened in 2001 and winner of the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture.

The Memorial has been treated most generously by successive governments, and has suffered less from the ‘efficiency dividend’ that has damaged other institutions.

We have just seen over $350 million spent by the Commonwealth on the Anzac Centenary and the Sir John Monash Centre in France. Should further money be spent on these extensions rather than on other needy cultural institutions or direct benefits to veterans and their families?

The petition

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.

27 April: David Stephens on 4ZZZ community radio Brisbane; Sue Wareham and Phil Creaser in Canberra Times letters

Heritage Guardian David Stephens was interviewed by Ian Curr yesterday on 4ZZZ Brisbane. The tape is here (from mark 20.00 for about 20 minutes). Covers the AWM extensions, the Thales-Nelson buddy system and related issues.

Heritage Guardian Sue Wareham had this in the Canberra Times:

AWM funding conflict concerns

On Anzac Day media reports revealed the Australian War Memorial’s director, Dr Brendan Nelson, receives payments from a large weapons making company, Thales, for his work as a Thales board member.

In his defence, the AWM states Dr Nelson donates his payment to the memorial. This does not absolve the director or the memorial of any conflict of interests however.

In December 2015 Dr Nelson extolled the virtues of the Bushmaster protected vehicle, specifically mentioning its maker Thales, when the vehicle was installed on the AWM grounds.

The fact Dr Nelson claims to have the relevant approvals for his role with Thales from the AWM Council, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Minister for Veterans Affairs and the Australian Public Service Commissioner compounds this problem.

Did not a single one of those people consider that payments to our pre-eminent place of war commemoration from a company that profits hugely from warfare represents a conflict of interest?

Dr Sue Wareham, Medical Association for Prevention of War president

Phil Creaser, a Heritage Guardians ‘fellow traveller’ (term courtesy of Brendan Nelson) had this in the Canberra Times:

AWM expansion plan absurd

Dr Nelson has made his case (“The stories that heal”, April 20, p28) for the half-a-billion dollar expansion of the Australian War Memorial. Superficially it appears to be sound but when it is considered in detail, it is far from convincing.

While nobody could deny the need to tell stories that heal and the need to help and assist veterans, there is no hard evidence to argue why a vast sum of money is required to tell these stories.

Dr Nelson seems to believe that more and more space is vital to display large objects. There is not one major cultural institution anywhere in the world that can display anything more than a very tiny percentage of objects in their collection.

No institution can keep expanding. Hard decisions have to be made and priorities determined to tell the most significant stories and the objects that support them. You can’t do everything.

It is true that the Memorial is like no other cultural institution. The same could be said for every national cultural institution in Australia, some of whom really need urgent financial assistance to undertake core functions such as the National Archives. One could consider such basic services more important than a glorified wish list for half a billion dollars.

Phil Creaser, Civic

Also a letter from David Purnell on whatever happened to the idea that there should be a Peace Institute or similar in Canberra. We understand the reason was that a Canberra bureaucrat thought the term ‘Peace’ was communist and scratched the plan.

26 April: First Dog on the Moon in Guardian Australia absolutely nails the issues

Check out the brilliant vicious circle, the reference to former War Memorial Director, Brendon Kelson, one of the Heritage Guardians and not to be confused with Brendan Nelson, plus the excoriation of the Thales-Brendan Nelson buddy arrangement.

On the latter, in case there is any doubt about why Director Nelson does his unpaid thing for Thales – and what this thing is – this is what he said to Patricia Karvelas last evening on ABC RN Drive:

Dr Nelson: ‘I was invited in 2015 to join the advisory board of Thales Australia, a major employer in this country … I do it because I bring to the task, I think, some guidance which can help Thales in this case in its decision-making in relation to the employment of Australians, and also reading the broader political, economic and social milieu in which decisions are having to be made’.

As First Dog mentions in a footnote, Thales has an interesting track record in terms of cosying up to people:

The French multi-national, which is one of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers, has been involved in several notable scandals. In 2006 the World Bank’s Integrity Unit blacklisted Thales for its large scale use of bribery across the globe. The move meant Thales was barred from involvement in all World Bank projects and programmes.

The company’s biggest scandal came in 2011 when it, along with the French state, was sentenced to pay a total of €630 million to the Taiwanese government for bribing officials in order to secure contracts to build six frigates. The fine was the biggest handed down in a French corruption case to date.

BAE Systems, like Thales a donor to the War Memorial, also racked up a notable fine in an American corruption case. In BAE’s case the fine was $US400m. No wonder these companies need help ‘reading the broader political, economic and social milieu in which decisions are having to be made’.

25 April: Sydney Morning Herald editorial suggests Anzac Day needs to evolve

‘D]ebate about how to celebrate Anzac Day must continue to make sure it is meaningful for future generations.’ Mentions the open letter opposing the War Memorial extensions.

25 April: Christopher Knaus in Guardian Australia (plus a comment) on the not unrelated issue of Director Nelson’s advisory role with Thales Australia

Raises issues of potential conflict of interest.

25 April: David Stephens writes (Canberra Times letters) that Director Nelson’s emotive rhetoric misses key points about the proposed expansion of the War Memorial

AWM funding needs scrutiny

War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson is a master of emotive rhetoric (“A home for the stories that heal,” April 20, p.28 [see below]) but he still fails to address three crucial questions. Why should the AWM continue to expand when most cultural institutions around the world only have the space to display a small proportion of their total collection? How is what he calls a “therapeutic milieu” at the AWM better for veterans than direct expenditure on them and their families? Why does the memorial fare better in the funding game than other institutions?

Dr Nelson says “the memorial is like no other cultural institution”. This is true but not in the way Dr Nelson means. It has been granted an inside track to extravagant expenditure. The AWM should be incorporated into the arts portfolio where it would have to compete with other cultural institutions for funding.

David Stephens,

Heritage Guardians, Bruce

24 April: Margaret Beavis, GP and former President of Medical Association for Prevention of War has a different take to the Memorial on how best to help veterans – and it isn’t building lots of extra space

[T]he healing claim [Director Nelson talks about a ‘therapeutic milieu’] is an astonishing trivialisation of the complexity and long-term treatment needed to successfully treat mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

The $498 million spent on the war memorial is $498 million not spent on veterans’ health care.

23 April: Ben Brooker in Overland has a wide-ranging piece on the Memorial folly and related issues

Contrary to the claims by the prime minister and by AWM Director Brendan Nelson, the $498 million is not an investment in the telling of history so much as the bolstering of mythology. After all, what does the ostentatious display of planes and helicopters or the proposed live feed of current Australian Defence Force operations have to teach us about the past? Rather, their function is to project the Memorial into the sphere of public relations …

More fundamentally, the Memorial redevelopment completes the transformation of the Anzac myth from one earlier generations would have recognised –a muted, reflective phenomenon, for all its ahistoricism – into the triumphalist spectacle it has become today. Beginning around the time of the 1988 bicentenary, and supercharged by John Howard and every successive prime minister since, the resurgence of Anzac as Australia’s totalising creation myth was not inevitable but the result of a thorough, bipartisan campaign to place it at the centre of our national identity.

23 April: More on the War Memorial’s carelessness on naming rights

The Memorial’s Corporate Plan for 2014-17 includes three examples of naming rights although the Memorial’s Director says there is nothing like that in his institution. See earlier item, 11 April below.

23 April: Two more letters in the Canberra Times against the project

Murray Upton of Belconnen says, ‘To comment that “Anzac Hall is no longer fit for purpose” is nonsense. It may not be fit for what Dr Nelson now feels its purpose should be.’

Charlotte Palmer of Downer, one of the Heritage Guardians organising the community campaign says this:

Brendan Nelson appears to be a man with great compassion for veterans and their families. But, the enacting legislation for the Australian War Memorial says nothing about it being a therapy centre. If he truly cared he would relinquish the obscenely large $498 million proposed for the AWM to provide resources for post-traumatic stress.

22 April updated: Paul Daley in Guardian Australia

The fear of being seen to disrespect Anzac has meant political support for the unnecessary expansion … Australia has not witnessed a more profligate cultural expense proceed with such a shamefully reckless absence of political scrutiny as the proposed half billion dollar expansion of the Australian War Memorial.

More than 500 comments within 24 hours of posting this piece – and many hundreds of likes. About 90 per cent of comments agreed with Daley’s arguments against the project.

22 April: What about finding some space at the Memorial for the Frontier Wars?

Canberra poet Geoff Page had this published in today’s Canberra Times:


It’s more than heartening to see Dr Brendan Nelson energetically defending the Australian War Memorial’s need to expand (“A home for stories that heal”, April 20, p28).

Maybe now he will be able to find at least a little alcove or portico to commemorate the Frontier Wars which are no less a part of our history than the more recent wars for which he plans to provide many additional cubic metres.

Geoff Page, Narrabundah

20 April (updated): War Memorial Director makes the case; Heritage Guardians response

The Canberra Times contains a piece from War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson making the case for the proposed $498m extensions. (The paper had previously been critical of him for not engaging with critics: see below 14 April.) The Strategist re-runs Dr Nelson’s remarks (and David Stephens refutes them: above 2 May).

‘The Memorial tells stories of men and women that hurt, and stories that heal’, Dr Nelson says. ‘Stories of our heroes must be told as a means of seeking to inspire us.’

Peter Stanley of Heritage Guardians had this in today’s Canberra Times (21 April 2019):

Need to make tough choices

Dr Brendan Nelson claims the AWM is “like no other” cultural institution (“A home for the stories that heal”, April 20, p28). Indeed: it is given everything it wants (not “needs”) – much more than other institutions.

Dr Nelson seems not to understand that if he wants to display more stuff he should do what other cultural institutions do – decide what can and cannot be displayed within the budgets provided. This may demand hard choices, but I doubt that removing the “Emden gun” from display will upset very many RAN veterans of the Great War.

Dr Nelson needs to learn that leaders of museums have to make choices within reasonable budgets – that is, to manage, and not indulge in emotional special pleading.

Peter Stanley, Dickson

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. (The former document was released in response to an FOI claim.) 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.

Updated 23 April: An edited version appeared on Pearls and Irritations.

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.

Update 14 April: Sue Wareham in the Canberra Times on naming rights: ‘Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson is getting very careless with his facts when he states that arms companies that donate to the Memorial don’t have naming rights’. More to come soon on naming rights. Anyone heard of the Kingold Education and Media Centre?

For more evidence, see 23 April above.

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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