Stephens, David: Heritage values threatened, misleading documentation presented, gaming of the approvals process: the War Memorial’s (first) EPBC Act Referral on its $498m expansion program

David Stephens*

‘Heritage values threatened, misleading documentation presented, gaming of the approvals process: the War Memorial’s (first) EPBC Act Referral on its $498m expansion program’, Honest History, 5 December 2019 updated

As foreshadowed, the Heritage Guardians group has provided a submission to the Department of the Environment and Energy (DEE) on the current Referral (No. 2019/8574) by the Australian War Memorial relating to the Memorial’s $498 million extensions.

The Heritage Guardians submission is here. The submission’s arguments are summarised below.

The War Memorial proposal should be subject to rigorous assessment by the Department as a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. A controlled action is where the Minister decides that a project is likely to have significant impacts on Commonwealth or National Heritage values. The Act sets out five options for further assessment, four of which involve a public comment phase.

Commonwealth and National Heritage are at risk of significant impact from four elements of the project:

  • The New Southern Entrance will change the sense of arrival to the Memorial, alter the front view of the original building, remove forecourt stairs and plinths, produce risks to structural integrity, set up uncertain relationships between the new entrance and the rest of the building, and involve engineering challenges.
  • Anzac Hall, in its existing form as an award-winning building, will be destroyed and replaced with a new two-level Anzac Hall which will have problematic design features both internally and in relation to the rest of the building. ‘The decision [to destroy Anzac Hall] is a prize example of philistine vandalism masquerading as progress’, says former Director of the Memorial, Major General (Ret’d) Steve Gower.
  • The Glazed Courtyard involves attaching an atrium to the rear of the existing building – ‘insensitively’, says General Gower. ‘The concept is grossly inappropriate.’
  • The Parliament House Vista. Plans here will have substantial impacts on the view of the existing building and views from other directions will be adversely affected, too.

The Referral does not cover significant parts of the project involving changes to the Parade Ground, impacts on the Eastern Precinct, extensions to the Bean Building, and additional carparking. The Referral says there will be a further Referral to cover these elements. (Consultation for it is already under way.) In other words, the Memorial is ‘salami slicing’ the project so that approval of single and successive stages makes the whole project look like a fait accompli. This amounts to gaming of the approvals process.

The Referral sets out proposed measures to mitigate impacts on Commonwealth and National Heritage values. These measures are no more than would be expected of competent architects, builders and project managers and they provide ample ‘wriggle room’ through terminology like ‘as far as practicable’.

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The Referral contains misleading or incorrect information in relation to:

  • the project’s Detailed Business Case (DBC): this was not approved by the government when the Referral says it was, not announced by the government when the Referral says it was, and remains secret, despite being crucial to public understanding of the project – it should be made public as part of the assessment of the Referral;
  • the basis for project costings: it is unclear whether the DBC included cost assurance at P80 (‘a cost that will not be exceeded 80% of the time’, according to the Department of Finance rules, which mandate that a DBC should include cost assurance at P80) or whether the capital cost of $498.7m is derived from a ‘best guess’ put forward by the Chair of the Memorial Council, Kerry Stokes;

Update 10 December 2019: During a presentation on the Memorial’s projected second EPBC Referral, a Memorial spokesperson confirmed under questioning that the DBC, a Cabinet document, would not be released publicly but that it did include cost assurance at P80. When the Prime Minister made his funding announcement on 1 November 2018, cost assurance was at P75, but government was advised that cost assurance at P80 was imminent.

  • the Memorial’s description of its role: the Referral claims the Memorial’s role is ‘[l]eading remembrance and understanding of Australia’s wartime experience’ (emphasis added), whereas the Memorial’s Act says the Memorial should be concerned with wars and warlike operations which Australians have experienced, which is a different thing;
  • the amount of consultation the Memorial has undertaken on the project: the Referral includes 48 pages analysing this consultation but barely mentions that the Memorial received feedback from just 134 individuals over two months.

The consultation period on the Referral closes on 13 December. Members of the public and interested organisations are urged to make submissions. There is also consultation under way for the second Referral.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and a member of Heritage Guardians, coordinating a community campaign against the War Memorial extensions. He is the contact officer for the Heritage Guardians submission to DEE. Heritage Guardians campaign diary.

 

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