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Stephens, David: Another ‘survey’ from the War Memorial about its big build – and this survey is actually a little less dodgy than the previous one

David Stephens*

‘Another “survey” from the War Memorial about its big build – and this survey is actually a little less dodgy than the previous one’, Honest History, 2 February 2021

Update 3 February 2021: The War Memorial has provided a response to this post, which has been printed in full as a comment below.

Update 4 February 2021: One respondent summarised a problem with the survey – and one he told the Memorial about:

I was completing the questionnaire, when I came to this section: (see pdf, extract from the survey form)

Unfortunately, I dont think they reflect my views of the AWM? I was not offered a place to state my views of the AWM. I could not move to the later sections, so my contribution is incomplete.

Update 4 February 2021: Another respondent said this to the Memorial:

One of its [the Memorial project’s] most distressing aspects is the way Memorial staff (ie yourselves) are complicit in implementing a deal reached by a few powerful individuals but which is masquerading as due process. The deal was stitched up several years ago – all of your “consultation” is mere window-dressing.

***

If you were keeping an eye on your emails yesterday or if you subscribe to the War Memorial’s occasional newsletters or if you have found your way by some other means onto the Memorial’s list of contacts, you may have noticed yesterday a link to a 15-minute survey, introduced by Director Matt Anderson in the following terms:

Thank you for your interest in the Australian War Memorial’s Development Project and the ways in which we hope to tell Australia’s continuing story of our contemporary defence forces.

Today, I am sending you a link to a 15 minute survey that will start this feedback process, allowing you to share your thoughts on possible themes, specific storylines, and/or collection items which could be included in the proposed galleries.

If you haven’t received such a link but would like to do the survey, we’ll break off at this point and recommend you chase the Memorial’s Development Team at (02) 6243 4211 or development@awm.gov.au and ask for the survey. The point here being that the survey closes next Sunday, 7 February. That is, it is live for less than a week, which is perhaps a measure of how much weight our favourite sacred institution places on your input. (Update 3 February 2021: See Memorial comment below, which explains survey methodology in detail.)

If you are less than enthused about the Memorial’s plans you may find the survey frustrating. Like a previous survey done for the Memorial (entry for 18 July 2020), the methodology shouts ‘railroading’, ‘predetermined’, ‘biased’. One person who has been closely watching the Memorial project for many months wrote this email in frustration back to development@awm.gov.au:

Dear “Development”

I abandoned this survey halfway through rather than continue to waste my time. The question options are too limiting – you will get the range of answers you want, and will be able to say: “we consulted”.

So the sham continues. Ever since the PM and former Director Brendan Nelson announced on 1 November 2018 the expansion was happening, you’ve been retro-fitting consultation and carefully managing what you call the “engagement process”.

I should have known not to bother when I noticed your new tag line “A place to honour to learn and to heal”. The clue is in “to heal”. The Memorial increasingly fails to be for all Australians; now it’s intended to be for a small group of ADF members and recent veterans who feel they’ve been neglected.

Our continuing story? No, their continuing story. The biggest joke, a very expensive one, is that the AWM thinks it can now take on a healing role bizarrely via the magic medium of LTOs (additional to – or filling a gap it thinks is not addressed by – all the existing specialist professionally run veterans’ healing programs).

Apart from asking respondents to rank in order of preference five statements saying how great the Memorial is at what it does, the survey allows you to say what things you would like the extended Memorial to display. If you do not put a tick against the reference to large technology objects (retired military kit), the next question asks if there is anything the Memorial could do to make you like this sort of display more (think bigger guns, shinier surfaces, gung-ho stories of them going into battle, etc.). This is bizarre stuff, even for a place that has traditionally been cavalier about consultation.

Another long-time Memorial watcher had this to say:

I’ve just done the survey. What a sham. I almost didn’t submit it because the qus are worded to enable manipulation for the desired outcomes.  But there were some better qus at the end.

The survey does allow respondents to make a point about the need for diversity and the importance of the future Memorial dealing with matters other than simply how we fight, for example, PTSD, suicide and the effects on family. That, at least, is progress.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of the Heritage Guardians group, which has campaigned against the Memorial project.