Brendan Nelson touches third base in military-industrial-commemorative complex: appointed as Boeing’s Pacific head

Dr Brendan Nelson, former Director of the Australian War Memorial and former Defence Minister, has been appointed Boeing’s President for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific (Canberra Times, Defence Connect, Guardian Australia). Boeing is the world’s second largest arms manufacturer and one of the War Memorial’s donors.

Honest History has often described the phenomenon of the military-industrial-commemorative complex. Dr Nelson, having been in political charge of our military forces as Defence Minister, and then chief executive of our premier commemorative institution, the War Memorial, has now reached the complex’s ‘third base’ with his Boeing appointment. He has previously complimented arms company donors to the War Memorial, assiduously sought their money, and been a member of the Australian advisory board of Thales, a French arms manufacturer, though he donated his fees for that work to the Memorial.

During Dr Nelson’s  time at the War Memorial, he received an annual performance bonus amounting to up to $60 000. We have no idea what this sling recognised; perhaps it was for his skill at gaining donations from corporate interests, including arms companies like Boeing. They got something in return, though, with mentions in the Memorial’s Annual Reports, acknowledgements in the Memorial foyer and on exhibitions, and the award of a War Memorial Fellowship to then Boeing President, Dennis Muilenburg. (See more below.)

David Stephens

20 January 2020 updated

Update 18 December 2020: At Senate Estimates in March 2020, Senator Steele-John (Greens WA) asked Memorial representatives some relevant questions. They were put on notice and, after some delay, the answers came from the War Memorial. They may be found in Estimates Commitee Hansards but are linked here as separate pdfs provided to Honest History by Senator Steele-John’s office in October 2020:

The answers are unhelpful in the extreme and do not allow us to draw any conclusions about links between remuneration and skills at dunning corporate contributions.

Senator Steele-John also asked what bang corporate contributors got for their buck:

Again, the answer is not particularly helpful.

Finally in this set of answers to Senator Steele-John is this one on employees’ conflict of interest (AO363). Also potentially relevant.

Update 4 March 2021: William De Maria in Pearls and Irritations unearths some other aspects of Nelson’s links with Boeing – and with Thales.

David Stephens

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