Stephens, David: A grandiose commemorative project for Canberra raises lots of questions

David Stephens

A grandiose commemorative project for Canberra raises lots of questions‘, Pearls and Irritations, 2 November 2018

Asks some pointed questions about the $498 million War Memorial extensions. Among the questions:

Does the implication that the Memorial is ‘sacred’ effectively exempt it from the accountability regimes applicable to other government institutions? (Dr Nelson frequently locates the Australian ‘soul’ in the Memorial or refers to the place in spiritual terms. The historian Peter Cochrane wrote in 2015, ‘[d]rape “Anzac” over an argument and, like a magic cloak, the argument is sacrosanct’.)

The Prime Minister picked up the soul theme in his speech yesterday. An alternative view might be that a nation’s soul resides wherever its people gather, rather than in a cultural institution which tells only part of the nation’s story. Rhetoric locating Australia’s soul in the War Memorial is little more than a marketing slogan ginned up to justify treating the Memorial as a place that is ‘sacred to us all’ (the PM’s words), deserving of special consideration when it comes to funding.

The Pearls and Irritations article concludes:

Dr Nelson’s current term as Director ends on 30 May 2019. Recently, he approvingly quoted an unnamed visitor to the Memorial: ‘whatever the government spends on the Australian War Memorial … will never be enough’. That attitude rather makes a nonsense of accountability processes in government. In Senate Estimates recently, Labor’s Alex Gallacher asked Dr Nelson whether anyone ever said ‘No’ to him. Dr Nelson avoided the question but today’s announcement brings it to mind. If nothing else, the extensions will be an expensive legacy of its formidable Director.

David Stephens

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