Centenary Watch: May-June 2014

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Update 30 June 2014: 212 Local Grants approved

Latest Factsheet (No. 2); also commentary. Background below.

On 12 June, Honest History updated Centenary Watch with a Factsheet (No. 1) about the progress of the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. We noted that, while only 67 grants had been approved (to 5 June), applications had only just closed. It was unclear to us from the information available whether or not there was a flood of applications waiting to be processed.

We said in the Factsheet that there needed to be official tallies by State and Territory of the grants approved and their value, rather than simply tallies by electorate. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs was reluctant to answer our questions about how the Program was going because ‘to do so would require speculation on the Minister’s decisions on grant applications’.

On 19 June, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, Senator Ronaldson, put out a media release giving details of the applications approved (to 12 June). The media release included state, territory and national tallies, as well as tallies by electorate.

We have no way of knowing whether there was any cause and effect relationship between our Factsheet and the Minister’s media release. There may well have been an intention all along to provide these details publicly though this was not the impression we received in contacts with the portfolio as late as 18 June.

Whatever the background, we welcome the increased transparency and we hope it continues with regular updates of applications approved under the Program. We have done a new Factsheet (No. 2) to analyse the information in the release. Separately, there is a comment on the Factsheet.

Update 12 June 2014: local grants; public fund; old warhorse; New South Wales bloodthirsty; champagne flat

Local grants

Honest History has been monitoring the progress of the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. Our Factsheet raises some issues: is there a lack of local interest or simply an administrative bottleneck? The Department of Veterans’ Affairs provided limited comments on the draft.

Public fund

Meanwhile, Minister Ronaldson and MAJ GEN Chalmers have told Senate Estimates that, while there is only a skerrick of donations actually in the public fund kitty, over $100 million has been promised by business.

CBA, Telstra, NAB, Woodside, BHP and the ANZ committed $10 million each. Santos committed $5 million and Horizon committed $2.5 million. Newcrest committed $1 million and Boral committed $500,000. Those are commitments that have been made, and we expect that those funds will be paid into the account, in the case of the $10 million donors, in $2 million tranches over the next five years. (MAJ GEN Chalmers, p. 106)

The board of the public fund, chaired by former Senator Gary Humphries, will be making allocation decisions in due course. The Minister and officials also discussed the plans for Villers-Bretonneux (p. 107) and the Minister described how he rigorously considers applications to use the word ‘Anzac’ (p. 118).

Old warhorse

The Minister has been pleased to welcome his predecessor of two decades ago, Con Sciacca, as the Vice Chairman of the public fund board. Speaking recently to the New South Wales RSL State Congress, the Minister said:

Con Sciacca left politics with a legacy that he reengaged a new generation of young Australians in 1995 and they are indeed the young men and women who are at the Dawn Services today with their young children and teenagers by their side. 2014 to 2018 means that you and I have another opportunity to teach another generation of young Australians what their obligations are. And if we do not do so ladies and gentlemen, then we have failed them and we have failed ourselves. (Emphasis added)

The word ‘obligations’ has a particular je ne sais quoi about it. (The Oxford Dictionaries definition is ‘[a]n act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.’) The Minister also clearly expects a lot from Mr Sciacca. Mr Sciacca had a particular view of commemoration when he wrangled Australia Remembers 1995. He is said to have disliked highlighting ‘the bad parts of what happened’. We invite Mr Sciacca – or the Minister for that matter – to write something for Honest History about their plans for the next four years.

New South Wales bloodthirsty

We have been looking at the New South Wales Anzac centenary website and have found it in parts disturbingly macabre, with an emphasis on the commemoration of slaughter. The section on ‘significant commemorative dates for NSW’ lists the centenaries of 11 September 1914 (‘first three [Australian] deaths’), 24 May 1915 (truce with Turkey to recover dead), 19 July 1916 (Fromelles: ‘loss of life was higher than any other 24 hours in Australian history’), 23 July 1916 (Pozieres: ‘blood reportly [sic] flowed more thickly than any other place at war’, 14 November 1917 (Ypres: ‘suffered heavy losses’), 31 October 1917 (Beersheba: ‘gutsy and bold charge of [sic] the Turkish guns’).

Champagne flat

Finally, Tony Wright in Fairfax has noted that some punters, having paid lots of money to sip champagne at Anzac Cove on 25 April 2015, are doomed to disappointment. ‘The Turkish government said no cruise ships will be able to anchor within sight of the Anzac battlefields, despite claims from some operators their passengers will be able to watch the service from just off the beach.’

Update 20 May 2014: 2014 Budget; Anzac centenary local grants; Britain

Minister Ronaldson put out a media release on Budget night and then spoke about the Budget to the Tasmanian Branch of the RSL. In both documents there is a strong emphasis on mental health resources for veterans, though the Tasmanian speech also includes a round-up of centenary preparation.

The DVA Portfolio Budget Statement includes at pp. 16-17 a succinct statement of the dual significance of 2014-18 events – commemorate not only the centenary but also the century of service by Australian armed forces – and at p. 99 a convenient summary of what the Australian War Memorial is doing in 2014-15 in relation to the centenary.

Applications for the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program close on 30 May (after the application period was extended by three months). To date grants have been approved in just 21 out of 150 electorates but this number will presumably increase soon. We will monitor.

Meanwhile, in Britain, there is a proposal to switch off the lights later this year to commemorate Sir Edward Grey’s famous statement of 1914. Critics have pointed out that most people have their lights off anyway at the proposed time (11 pm). It might also be suggested that the real point of Grey’s remark was not electrical but metaphorical. More.

Finally, in Britain also, historian Neil Faulkner, author of the pamphlet No Glory: The Real History of World War One, has done a 30 minute video, explaining how the UK government wants people to commemorate the centenary of the first world war by ignoring its real history. Strong on how governments today try to manipulate history.