Stephens, David: Total Australian spending on World War I centenary: an aide memoire for the curious

David Stephens*

‘Total Australian spending on World War I centenary: an aide memoire for the curious’, Honest History, 19 February 2019 updated

Australian Government

‘The total Australian Government Anzac Centenary funding over the last ten years to 2018-19 is approximately $342 million. This includes the funding for the Sir John Monash Centre in France.’ (Letter from Minister Tehan to Honest History, 17 June 2017)

The then Minister’s figure is compatible with (i) a spreadsheet, prepared by academic-journalist Ben Eltham (and provided to Honest History), showing Commonwealth and State and Territory spending 2008-16 and (ii) progressive tallies on the Honest History website, based mainly on successive Commonwealth Budget papers. More on this (includes lots of links to our material on the Honest History site, including the spreadsheet).

Our tally for the Commonwealth after the 2017 Budget was slightly higher than the Minister’s at $A351 million. We stand by our figure.

The Monash Centre (included in the Australian government spend) cost just under $A100 million, 90 per cent of it from the Defence vote. (Again, use our Search engine, with terms ‘Monash’, ‘Villers-Bretonneux’, and ‘boondoggle’.)

Neither the Minister’s nor our figure includes expenditure on the proposed Australian War Memorial extensions, either to develop the business case for the extensions ($A16.4 million budgeted in 2017-18 and 2018-19) or the projected $A498 million for the actual build. (For more on this, use our Honest History Search engine, with terms like ‘extensions’ and ‘Brendanbunker’. See also ‘Another view’ below.)

States and Territories

Based on Eltham’s spreadsheet and some additional information, we had a tally of $A140 million by May 2017. We think this figure would be slightly higher with additional expenditure in recent years. An example.

Corporate

This is hardest to judge. In the early days when tycoon Lindsay Fox was leaning on corporates on behalf of the government, figures of $A200-300 million were being touted. There were also issues of whether to take a figure when the donation was announced – and increasingly the announcements were given a lower profile – or when it went into government coffers (usually when the earmarked project e.g. Anzac Square extensions in Brisbane, got under way). Our tally in May 2017 was $A95 million, based on announced donations and an earlier estimate by James Brown, author of Anzac’s Long Shadow, now NSW President, RSL.

Note: a trap for the unwary

Australian government Ministers and officials over the years have been increasingly shy about giving total figures for the commemoration spend and have tried to play it down by making comparisons with the spend on veterans (about $A12 billion a year) or on Defence (about $A36 billion a year). (More on this.)

Both comparisons are spurious. For example, over 90 per cent of the veterans’ spend is locked in by legislation. While the commemoration spend has annually been only about 0.7 per cent of the total spend on veterans, it is around 25-30 per cent of the discretionary spend (the amount not locked in).

Bottom line

So, $A351 million Commonwealth, $A140 million State and Territory, $A95 million = $A586 million. Update after 2019 Budget, 3 April 2019: there was another $A3.5m on the World War I centenary, so make the total Commonwealth $A354.5m and the total for all sources $A589.5m.

In public statements, we have rounded up to ‘around $A600 million’ or ‘approximately $A600 million’.

Another view

Some commentators, notably Paul Daley and Richard Flanagan, have added the War Memorial extensions (say $A500 million) spending to the $A600 million to get a total spend of $A1.1 billion. We have kept the two amounts separate, but it could be argued that the sentimental euphoria cultivated during the Anzac centenary has made it easier for the Memorial to make the case for the ‘Brendanbunker’. Or it could just be that funding proposals from the Memorial tend to get an easy passage through government.

Recently, [Dr Nelson] approvingly quoted an unnamed visitor to the Memorial: “whatever the government spends on the Australian War Memorial … will never be enough”. That attitude rather makes a nonsense of accountability processes in government. In Senate Estimates recently, Labor’s Alex Gallacher asked Dr Nelson whether anyone ever said “No” to him (page 168). Dr Nelson avoided the question but today’s announcement [of the extensions] brings it to mind. If nothing else, the extensions will be an expensive legacy of its formidable Director. (David Stephens, writing for Pearls and Irritations blog, 2 November 2018)

* David Stephens is the editor of the Honest History website and co-editor of The Honest History Book.

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One comment on “Stephens, David: Total Australian spending on World War I centenary: an aide memoire for the curious
  1. Leighton View says:

    Das “Brendanbunker” … spot on … wonder where, after December, B. Nelson will be heading to for his next “comfy spot”? Which corporate has he gotten close enough to during his time at the AWM and which will have a convenient board vacancy?

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