Stephens, David: War Memorial Director’s final appearance before Senate Estimates: some of what we found out

David Stephens*

‘War Memorial Director’s final appearance before Senate Estimates: some of what we found out’, Honest History, 27 October 2019 updated

Update 5 November 2019: more analysis based on the Hansard.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade heard on Wednesday last from War Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, for the final time, before he leaves the position at the end of the year. We’ll await the Hansard before possibly writing more but we did note from the video the following. (Our comments in parentheses.)

  • Interviews for Dr Nelson’s successor will be held shortly, with a panel chaired by the Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, and including Veterans’ Affairs Secretary, Elizabeth Cosson, RSL National President, Greg Melick, and Social Services Department Secretary, Kathryn Campbell. Ms Cosson is a retired Major General and Mr Melick and Ms Campbell are both Major Generals in the Army Reserve. Mr Melick is National President of the RSL and a member of the Council of the War Memorial. (We have written previously on this site about the unrepresentative nature of the War Memorial Council; it will be interesting to see if this committee can come up with an imaginative choice for Director of the Memorial. There seems to be a risk that a committee with a majority of brass – albeit retired and reserve – will give us another Major General as Director, rather than, say, a historian.)
  • A couple of points where Dr Nelson’s evidence seemed to diverge from the material released under FOI recently. We’ll check. (At a couple of points also, his evidence misrepresented the opposition to the $498m expansion of the Memorial, but we are used to that.)
  • Lots of detail about how far advanced the work is on the Memorial project. (While the current National Capital Authority consultation about the new car parks at the Memorial got a passing mention, there was no mention of the fence (erected the next day, Thursday) around the car park site. We asked the NCA on Friday what was going on about this fence and received this prompt reply from Sally Barnes, Chief Executive of the Authority:

Thanks for contacting me on this. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the process.

Works approval was granted by the National Capital Authority on 23 October 2019 for temporary works at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) that includes a perimeter fence, sediment and erosion control, tree protection and relocation of the fire hydrant booster. As the works are temporary and no stakeholders are impacted by the works, public consultation was not required to be undertaken. This is standard NCA practice.

While the temporary works are associated with the proposed carpark extension, the Decision Notice issued by the NCA clearly states that the approval “does not prejudice the NCA’s consideration of any other Works Approval matters related to this site.”  The AWM undertakes the temporary works at its own risk.

Works approval for the proposed extension to the underground carpark is yet to be granted. Public consultation on the proposal closes on 5 November and the NCA will consider these comments in making its assessment on the works approval application. The NCA will prepare a Consultation Report that will be published on its website once a decision has been made about the application.

  • An unedifying pile-on by Senators Abetz (Chair, Liberal), Lambie (Independent) and Van (Liberal) when Senator Steele-John (Greens) asked some fairly innocuous questions – admittedly clothed in a bit of rhetoric – about the Memorial’s acceptance of donations from arms companies. (The Memorial’s benefiting from – and touting for – arms money is old news – see this website, using the Search engine, with terms like ‘arms’, ‘donors’ and ‘Lockheed Martin’ – but that was apparently unknown to honourable Senators.)

You can find the video of the hearings here (1936 hours to 2015 hours). Ring the Parliamentary Broadcasting office for a copy if you have trouble, as we did, with access. Hansard coming soon, as noted above.

The session ended with a short speech from Senator Linda Reynolds, the Minister for Defence and representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. She thanked Director Nelson for his work. Applause followed, to be duly recorded in Hansard. (Senator Reynolds is a retired Brigadier in the Australian Army and worked for arms manufacturer, Raytheon, in 2005.)

Side by side at the hearing table were Director Nelson and Secretary Cosson. (In former positions, as Minister for Defence and Army Brigadier, they played important parts in the case of Private Jacob Kovco in 2006.)

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and a member of Heritage Guardians, leading a community campaign against the Memorial project.

 

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