Stephens, David: Reaction to Public Works Committee report on War Memorial’s big build: rare dissent emphasises the problems with this project

David Stephens*

‘Reaction to Public Works Committee report on War Memorial’s big build: rare dissent emphasises the problems with this project’, Honest History, 24 February 2021

Update 15 March 2021: Analysis of the PWC report, plus some odd business in how the War Memorial does FOI.

Update 1 March 2021: Further steps hustled the project through the Parliament. Next stop is the National Capital Authority once the Memorial refers the project to the Authority for Works Approval: tabling of report in Senate on 25 February (page 84 of the Draft Hansard); House of Representatives 25 February motion to approve the Work (Page 6 of the Draft Hansard); media commentary in Canberra Times, Canberra Weekly, City News (Canberra).

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The parliamentary Public Works Committee tabled its report on Monday on the $498m Australian War Memorial project. Short speeches (pp 79-80 of the Draft Hansard) came from the PWC Chair, Rick Wilson MP (Liberal, WA) on behalf of the majority, and Tony Zappia MP (Labor, SA) for himself and David Smith MP (Labor, ACT), who filed a dissenting report.

The tabling speeches were as bland as they usually are, though Mr Wilson rather played down the number and tone of the submissions received – there were 77 of them, by far (we understand from the PWC secretariat) a record for the Committee since it began work in 1913, and (by our count) about three-quarters of them were opposed to the project. Mr Zappia sidled up to his and Mr Smith’s objections after paying due respect to the special status of the Memorial and recounting some details of the Memorial’s examination of options.

The full report is available on the Parliament House website. It contains just one recommendation:

The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: Australian War Memorial Development Project.

This is standard form and means the Committee is giving the work the go-ahead, subject to a (usually routine) vote in the House of Representatives. Then, the final approval step involves consideration by the National Capital Authority.

The dissent was notable, first, because dissents have been rare in recent years on the PWC; as Mr Wilson said, the PWC adopts a ‘collegiate approach’. Honest History and Heritage Guardians first heard of the possibility of a dissent in December last year and it is pleasing that the two Labor members stuck to their guns (so to speak) in the face of what may well have been pressure for unanimity.

The Zappia-Smith dissent was the first on the PWC for five years, covering 29 reports on 68 projects (Honest History statistics). Honest History is reading the report thoroughly and will have more to say on it – and the dissent – soon.

Media reports concentrated heavily on the dissent: Tom McIlroy in the Australian Financial Review (‘Bipartisan support frays for $500m War Memorial plan’); Katina Curtis in Nine Newspapers (‘Labor MPs break ranks over $500 million War Memorial development’); Sarah Basford Canales in the Canberra Times (‘Committee backs $500m Australian War Memorial plans but Labor wants Anzac Hall saved and more cost cutting’); Daniel McCulloch for AAP (‘Labor wants war memorial rebuild costs cut’); Newsday24 (‘Plan to revamp Aussie war memorial stirs controversy’); Ian Bushnell in The Riot Act (‘Keep Anzac Hall, urge Labor committee members’). Public reaction was indicated by the comments on the Curtis article, where, by our count, more than 90 per cent of 102 comments were unfavourable to the Memorial project.

Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Architects said, ‘The Committee report has failed to heed extensive evidence outlining serious concerns about the project and its adverse heritage impact presented by members of the community, experts and the Government’s own advisers’.  The Institute noted the dissenting report and spokesperson Clare Cousins said, ‘We will continue to advocate for the project to be rethought and for ANZAC Hall to be saved from demolition’. Plus this in Architecture & Design.

On radio and television, there was some brief coverage on ABC Radio 666 Canberra and 2GB.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of Heritage Guardians.

 

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