Stop this indulgent $498m project at the War Memorial! Open letter to the Prime Minister signed by over 70 Australians

Update 14 November 2020: Reply to the open letter.

The reply is signed by the Director of the War Memorial. It overstates the extent of change to the project as a result of the consultation but asks everyone to accept that the process has been done properly [!]. On the good side, it thanks people like the letter signatories for their passion and gives the views of the Australian Heritage Council more prominence in relative terms than the Director did in his recent appearance at Estimates.

The letter does not persist in the previous exaggerated claims about the degree of public support for the project and it looks forward to continued engagement.

***

This media release went out yesterday, including an open letter sent to the Prime Minister.

Open letter to the Prime Minister opposing the $498m Australian War Memorial redevelopment: media release on behalf of signatories

Over 70 notable Australians have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister in support of the Australian Heritage Council and opposing the $498m Australian War Memorial redevelopment.

The Council is the Australian government’s principal adviser on heritage matters and it made a submission to the War Memorial in the current consultation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. [Tom McIlroy’s story in the Australian Financial Review on the AHC submission.]

The submission detailed a number of the Council’s concerns with the redevelopment project saying, ‘Regrettably the Council cannot support the conclusion that the proposed redevelopment will not have a serious impact on the listed heritage values of the site and recommends that the matters above be given serious attention’.

The submission was signed by the Chair of the Council, the Hon. Dr David Kemp AC, a former Coalition Cabinet Minister.

The open letter (text below) urges the government not to accept the current Memorial proposal. The proposal should be withdrawn and significantly amended, or EPBC Act approval should be refused.

Among the signatories are: Paul Barratt (former Secretary of the Department of Defence),  Paul Daley (author and journalist), Elizabeth Evatt (first Chief Justice of the Family Court), Steve Gower and Brendon Kelson (former Directors of the War Memorial), Carmen Lawrence (formerly Premier of Western Australia, federal Minister, and Chair of the Australian Heritage Council), Don Watson (author), architects, historians, former diplomats, and former officers of the Memorial.

The signatories include 22 recipients of awards under the Order of Australia.

Contact: David Stephens 0413 867 972; admin@honesthistory.net.au

Text of the open letter

22 October 2020

The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
CANBERRA  ACT  2600

Dear Prime Minister

The Australian War Memorial development project will have major heritage impacts on the Memorial, a place that has deep meaning for all Australians. The intervention by the Australian Heritage Council, the government’s principal adviser on heritage matters, shows that reconsideration of the project is imperative.

The Council is chaired by the Hon. Dr David Kemp AC, a former Cabinet minister. Its recent submission to the Memorial under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) 1999 concluded thus:

Regrettably the Council cannot support the conclusion that the proposed redevelopment will not have a serious impact on the listed heritage values of the site and recommends that the matters above [set out in the Council’s submission] be given serious attention.

While the signatories to this open letter have multiple perspectives on the many issues raised by the project, we strongly support the Council’s views and are united in our concerns about the heritage impacts. These impacts include:

  • the proposed demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall (2001);
  • the loss of the free-standing form of the Memorial building, to be swamped by a huge glazed addition (that will also be visible down Anzac Parade);
  • the loss for most visitors of the existing commemorative entry, with entry mostly being via the lower ground level; and
  • on the overall landscape setting of the Memorial from changes to the Parade Ground in front of the Memorial, the expansion of other buildings on site and the overall hardening of what is currently a respectful balance of built and landscape elements.

The Memorial must be supported to achieve its core functions, but this should (and can) occur without damage to its core commemorative strength – the iconic heritage building and site.

We urge the Australian Government not to accept the current proposal. It should be withdrawn and significantly amended, or EPBC Act approval should be refused.

In view of the importance of this issue, a copy of this letter has been forwarded to the Ministers for the Environment and Veterans’ Affairs, the Acting Chair of the Public Works Committee and Members of the House of Representatives.

Yours faithfully, the following organisations and individuals

Organisations

Australia ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites): Helen Lardner, President

Australian Historical Association: Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, President

Docomomo Australia: Dr Scott Robertson, Australian President (Docomomo is the international organisation concerned with the documentation and conservation of buildings and areas of modern architecture)

National Trust of Australia (ACT): Gary Kent, President

Walter Burley Griffin Society (Canberra Chapter): Brett Odgers

Individuals

Geoff Ashley, heritage consultant

Blake Ayshford, screen writer

Vicken Babkenian, researcher, Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Paul Barratt AO, former Secretary, Department of Defence

Professor Emerita Joan E Beaumont AM FASSA FAIIA, Australian National University

Dr Margaret Beavis, Vice President, Medical Association for Prevention of War

Professor Diane Bell

Professor Frank Bongiorno AM

Max Bourke AM, founding Director, Australian Heritage Commission (later Council)

Penleigh Boyd, architect

Dr Alison Broinowski AM, former Australian diplomat

Richard Broinowski AO, former Australian diplomat

Bishop George Browning, former Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn

Pamela Burton

Richard Butler AC

Professor Marie Carroll

Dr Peter Cochrane FAHA, historian, Hon. Associate, University of Sydney

Peter G. Corlett OAM, sculptor

Associate Professor Martin Crotty, University of Queensland

Paul Daley, author and journalist; Walkley Award winner

Professor Joy Damousi FASSA, Director, Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Catholic University

Mark Dawes, former Assistant Director, Branch Head, Corporate Services, Australian War Memorial

Emeritus Professor Phillip Deery, Victoria University

John Denton, architect, Australian Institute of Architects gold medallist

Dr Meredith Edwards AM

Hon. Elizabeth Evatt AC

Dr Romain Fathi, Senior Lecturer in History, Flinders University

Stephen B. Flora, veteran and citizen

Peter Freeman OAM, architectural historian, conservator and writer

Dr Bill Gammage AM FASSA, historian

Dr Rolf Gerritsen, Professorial Research Fellow, Charles Darwin University

Paddy Gourley, former First Assistant Secretary, Department of Defence

Emeritus Professor Tom Griffiths AO FASSA

Major General Steve Gower (Ret’d) AO, AO Mil, Vietnam veteran, former Director, Australian War Memorial

Dr David Headon, historical consultant

Alistair Henchman RPIA, tourism planner

Dr Carolyn Holbrook, ARC Senior Fellow, Deakin University

Dr Douglas Hynd, Adjunct Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

Professor Tracy Ireland, Professor of Cultural Heritage, University of Canberra; editor, Historic Environment

Dr Benjamin T. Jones, Central Queensland University

Brendon Kelson, former Director, Australian War Memorial

Dr Julie Kimber, Senior Lecturer, Politics and History, Swinburne University of Technology

Emeritus Professor Hon. Dr Carmen Lawrence, chair, Australian Heritage Council 2010-18

Richard Llewellyn, former Registrar, Australian War Memorial

Dr Judith McKay, former Curator, Australian War Memorial; former member, Queensland Heritage Council

Professor Mark McKenna, Chair, Department of History, University of Sydney

Dr Michael McKernan, historian; former Deputy Director, Australian War Memorial

Eric Martin AM, heritage architect; former access consultant, Australian War Memorial

John Menadue AO, publisher

Stewart Mitchell, former head of heritage, buildings and services, Australian War Memorial

John Myrtle

Dr Douglas Newton, historian

Brett Odgers, Walter Burley Griffin Society (Canberra Chapter)

Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, Chair of History, Flinders University; President, Australian Historical Society

Roger Pegrum, architect

Margaret Pender

Michael Piggott AM, former Senior Curator, Australian War Memorial

Dr Richard Reid, former Senior Historian, Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Professor Henry Reynolds

Professor Noah Riseman, Australian Catholic University

Associate Professor Tilman Ruff AO, Co-President, Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Professor Lyndall Ryan AM

Penelope Seidler AM, architect

Wendy Sharpe, artist and Australian War Memorial official war artist

Professor Peter Stanley FAHA, UNSW Canberra

Dr David Stephens, convener, Heritage Guardians

Professor Alistair Thomson FASSA, Professor of History, Monash University

Shobha Varkey

Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War

Don Watson, author

Dr Don Watson FAIA, Adjunct Professor of Architecture, University of Queensland

Dr Peter Watts AM, Emeritus Director, Historic Houses Trust of NSW

Ernst Willheim, Visiting Fellow, ANU College of Law

Janet Wilson, retired librarian

JB Windeyer

Professor Angela Woollacott, Manning Clark Professor of History, ANU

Professor Clare Wright, Professorial Research Fellow and Professor of History, La Trobe University

Attachment: Submission from the Australian Heritage Council to the War Memorial

awmsat

(For documentation on the EPBC process, go to the Memorial’s website. The Australian Heritage Council’s submission is in Preliminary Documentation – Public Comment, submission No. 152.)

Update 23 October 2020: Canberra City News.

Update 24 October 2020: The Riot Act.

Update 26 October 2020: Sydney Morning Herald.

Update 28 October 2020: Sydney Morning Herald.

23 October 2020 updated

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4 comments on “Stop this indulgent $498m project at the War Memorial! Open letter to the Prime Minister signed by over 70 Australians
  1. stewart says:

    Thanks Bruce
    I agree. We are all stakeholders in what happens at that place. In the 20 years I worked there I never saw anything like the controversy this project has caused. That is such a shame. It should never have gone that way. The process and design is so flawed. I only wish the much referenced veterans (and others), especially the ones who understand the extraordinary tangible and intangible qualities of the site, and know what we risk losing through this development, were more vocal.

  2. Bruce Cameron says:

    Hi Stewart,
    It is to be expected that there will always be a range of differing viewpoints associated with a project like this. I’m not arguing against the position expressed in the letter, just trying to relate it to ‘due process’, ie. one in which the Prime Minister’s counsel acknowledges the importance of all stakeholders, even the ‘unprominent’.

  3. stewart says:

    Dear Bruce
    With respect, as one who signed the petition, and, like most Australians, has strong family connections to war, this is about protecting that extraordinary site and building which does so much for commemoration. We all have a responsibility for that place. As the letter said “The Memorial must be supported to achieve its core functions, but this should (and can) occur without damage to its core commemorative strength – the iconic heritage building and site”.

  4. Bruce Cameron says:

    Those who signed the petition are undoubtedly ‘prominent Australians’. How many had actually faced the enemy, however? Only one … Mr Gower. His book, ‘Rounds Complete’ details his role as an arty forward observer and is worth reading in this respect. Maybe his signature should have influence, maybe not. So how is it that 69 people who have not put their lives on the line for their country, consider that they have the right to dictate the manner in which the AWM depicts the history of those who have served their nation in War?
    Of course, many of the signatories could be aware of the feelings of forebears, ie family members who have served their nation in War.
    On what basis does the AWM credit the importance of the petition? If it is only on self-professed ‘prominence’ … does it have any credence? What if another petition was to be organised seeking the views of those who have been prepared to give their lives on behalf of their nation.
    If media and publicity is to be used to influence Government decisions re the commemorations of ours nation’s history, is it too much to ask that the views of those who were actually involved in creating the history … be requested.

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