Stephens, David: Memorial Rorts: how the Australian War Memorial expansion was rammed through despite public opposition

Have your say with the National Capital Authority on the Memorial’s ‘early works’ application. You don’t need to live in Canberra. Arguments here.

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David Stephens

Memorial Rorts: how the Australian War Memorial expansion was rammed through despite public opposition‘, Michael West Media, 24 March 2021 (pdf from our subscription)

Shows how the Memorial $498m extensions project has passed through four stages of ‘accountability’, none of which was notable for either rigour or comprehensiveness. First, the project effectively avoided scrutiny in the Budget process but benefited from private lobbying by Memorial Council Chairman, Kerry Stokes, and then Director, Brendan Nelson.

Then, there were the efforts of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, administering the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The heritage experts in DAWE fought the good fight, as did the government’s advisory body, the Australian Heritage Council, but the Prime Minister’s early support for the project created a political imperative.

The parliamentary Public Works Committee inquiry into the project saw a 107-year record number of submissions, three-quarters of them against the project, but the Committee fell back on its narrow terms of reference to give the Memorial a tick. The Memorial’s own surveys of public support for the extensions have been notable for their dodgy methodology.

Now, the National Capital Authority is looking at the compatibility of the plans with the National Capital Plan. The process involves blatant rorting of the early works approval process: approval at this stage of demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall at the Memorial, of a massive excavation at the front of the Memorial, and the chopping down of around 100 trees will effectively make further approvals redundant.

The Memorial project has never been justified. The money could have been better spent on direct benefits to veterans. While no one denies there should be greater recognition of recent service the Memorial could have achieved this by making difficult decisions about the use of its existing space.

The strongest arguments for the project have always come from the old white men whose names will appear on foundation stones and for whom these 24,000 square metres of new space will stand as a lasting legacy. And lasting, too, will be the memories of the flawed process that led to this outcome.

Earlier coverage of the campaign against the War Memorial project.

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