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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 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:

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 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.