Williams, Elliot: Australian War Memorial tells volunteers they can lose role if they speak publicly about redevelopment

Elliot Williams

Australian War Memorial tells volunteers they can lose role if they speak publicly about redevelopment‘, Canberra Times, 28 July 2020 (pdf of our subscriber copy)

Update 1 September 2020: Paddy Gourley writes in CT Public Sector Informant (paywall but Pdf from our subscription at link below). ‘The war memorial’s attempt to silence its volunteers reflects a hyper-sensitivity to criticism of its grand extensions the justification for which is, at best, tissue paper thin.’ Pdf.

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A Memorial volunteer has revealed an email from Memorial senior staff, constraining the ability of Memorial volunteers to speak publicly on issues such as the current development. The email includes a reminder that ‘we are all public servants’.

“This is a timely reminder that as memorial volunteers you should not publicly comment on the development,” the email reads.

“This includes not providing comment on radio via talkback shows, commenting in the newspaper such as in the Letters to the Editor section, or commenting on a link or discussion on such social media as Facebook or Twitter. This includes not clicking ‘Like’ to someone else’s comment.”

‘All staff and volunteers of the Australian War Memorial are required to adhere to Australian Public Service Values and Code of Conduct’, the Memorial spokesperson told the Canberra Times.

Yet, two lawyers contacted for the story are critical of the Memorial’s approach. Kieran Pender of the ANU questioned whether the Memorial was able to lawfully bind volunteers to this agreement. Mr Pender added that ‘the memorial’s actions were a deeply concerning attack on public discourse’. Mr Pender said the Memorial’s action might have constitutional implications. Josh Bornstein of Maurice Blackburn ‘said he had never heard of any case or any proposal to limit the free speech of volunteers’.

So, the Memorial seems to be breaking new ground here. Meanwhile, its current marketing slogan, ‘for we are young and free’, rings hollow. Free, it seems, as long as you keep your head down and say ’nuffin. Those famous words on the Dead Man’s Penny, given by a grateful King George V to bereaved families after 1918, ‘He died for freedom and honour’, don’t seem to extend to the freedom to hold awkward views, at least not at Fort Campbell.

Also in Guardian Australia from Chris Knaus.

Also on ABC Canberra 666 (from mark 3.10) and in The Riot Act, both featuring Professor Peter Stanley, the latter quoting former senior Defence industrial relations bureaucrat, Paddy Gourley, and both of them scathing about the War Memorial’s actions. Meanwhile, Memorial Director Anderson seems to be, as they say, ‘walking back’ the notorious email, saying he would have worded it differently and did not see it before it went out (Canberra Times again.)

David Stephens

29 July 2020 updated

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One comment on “Williams, Elliot: Australian War Memorial tells volunteers they can lose role if they speak publicly about redevelopment
  1. Leighton View says:

    Another sign of the loss of perspective regarding the freedom of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions. I long for the end of this tendency towards authoritarianism in what are labeled “liberal democracies”. When the hypocrisy gets so rife even the least clued in among us find it unavoidable, it is far beyond time for a slight change of direction … a whole new course plotting is in order.

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