Centenary Watch updates June 2015

[Links checked 13 November 2017 and some were found to be broken, due to removal of material from websites or simply the passage of time. Honest History may be able to help users track down resources where a link is broken. Please contact admin@honesthistory.net.au. HH]

Update 21 June 2015: why is Australia spending so much more than other countries?

An article in Pearls and Irritations by David Stephens notes that Australian spending on World War I commemoration is between five and 19 times per death greater than spending by comparable countries. The article suggests a number of reasons for this.

Update 21 June 2015: commemoration wedging?

Is the government trying to wedge Labor about Anzac commemoration spending?

Update 15 June 2015: Ataturk and Anzackery on Monday

Hume City Council’s Ataturk plans come under the spotlight while a Tasmanian MP’s remarks come back to haunt.

Update 12 June 2015: duelling Aussie museums at Villers-Bretonneux

If the new one is going to cost 50 times more than it costs to refurbish the old one five minutes away will be the new one be 50 times better?

Update 9 June 2015: Estimates Committee jousting – and correcting; more local grants; but also from the Minister; no quarter in Campbell; IP Australia Anzac advertisements, patents and more; Simpson Prize; Children’s Book Council; Imperial War Museum recognises conscientious objectors; Honest History film reviews go global

Estimates Committee jousting – and correcting

It figures (updated)

Senate Estimates Committee hearings have their own drama, particularly late at night, when people are tired and the instinct to score political points persists long after the desire to elicit or to impart information. But before getting to that let’s note that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs abacus is working again and the portfolio has (kind of) corrected a figuring error that we noted last month and pointed out to the Minister’s office and department.

In summary, the Minister had advised the Parliament ‘that government spending on commemoration represents less than 0.1 per cent of the entire $12 billion Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ budget for pensions, compensation and health care treatment for veterans and their families’ (emphasis added). Now, the portfolio has (kind of) admitted to the Estimates Committee that the figure was wrong. This advice was extracted in the following fashion:

Senator WHISH-WILSON [Greens, Tas]: Okay. Minister Ronaldson, in your ministerial statement on the centenary of Anzac – I was in the chamber when you delivered it – you said that annually the government’s spending on commemoration represents less than 0.1 per cent of the entire $12 billion Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget for pensions, compensation and healthcare treatment for veterans. Is that the correct figure? Could you tell us what that figure amounts to?

Senator Ronaldson: That might have been in reference to a new policy proposal.

Major General Chalmers [DVA, to the rescue]: The department expends over $12 billion each year on veterans. In this coming financial year $88 million will be apportioned to commemorations. [DVA Budget documentation says $88.7 million for war graves and commemorations.] It is a tiny percentage of our overall spend on veterans but nonetheless of course it has significant outcomes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: For the record, that is 0.7 per cent. I am not being picky but it is a pretty substantial difference, so you might want to correct the record on that. [page 147 of the final Hansard]

Separately, the Minister said this to the New South Wales RSL, ‘Annually, Government spending on commemoration represents less than one per cent of the $12.1 billion budget of the department’. This was probably what he meant to say in the first place. The original proof Hansard (p. 88), with its misleading or incorrect statement, remains (7 June) to be corrected but we’ll keep an eye out for the final. The Minister’s office assured us the correction would be made. (In fact, the final Hansard seems to have deleted the remark altogether. 13/11/2017)

A matter of discretion

But what about the Minister’s argument? On the face of it, it looks pretty good; once the abacus has done its work properly, even one per cent of $12 billion is a drop in the bucket. Then, however, you start to think about the mechanics of budgeting in a benefits-dispensing department like DVA and how much of its money is locked in, non-discretionary. DVA secretary, Simon Lewis, agreed with a remark from Senator Alex Gallacher (Labor, SA) that there was not ‘a whole lot of discretion’ in the Veterans’ Affairs budget. ‘In our total budget most of it is non-discretionary, as you say. It flows from – you have so many pensioners on either the full pension or a part pension, healthcare services, et cetera’ (p. 147).

The Secretary describes a situation typical of organisations like DVA. Roughly, absent policy changes, the formula is X clients multiplied by Y entitlements to benefits, equals Z expenditure (hopefully within budget), which goes up or down every year according to how many old clients die, compared with how many new clients are added.

The real issue is how much of the portfolio’s discretionary expenditure – the amount which is not locked-in in the manner just described – goes to particular projects. Senator Gallacher was onto this straight after the Minister (with the help of General Chalmers) retreated from his 0.1 per cent claim.

Senator GALLACHER: Just to clarify that: if $12 billion is being spent, how much of that is discretionary spending and how much is spent on pensions and program payments?

Mr Lewis: Roughly speaking there is $6.5 [billion] on income support and compensation and $5.5 billion on health services. [There are typoes in the draft and final Hansard between millions and billions but the figures here are correct.]

Senator GALLACHER: What does that leave out of the $12 billion?

Mr Lewis: I am probably slightly out but our departmental budget this year is a fraction under $300 million – departmental resources.

Senator GALLACHER: So we are spending $88 million out of the $300 million on commemoration?

Mr Lewis: No. The $88 million would be a combination of departmental resourcing and administered resourcing (p. 147).

The technical terms ‘departmental resourcing’ and ‘administered resourcing’ are explained here. The key point, however, is finding the appropriate figure for overall discretionary expenditure (some departmental, some administered) to compare with the $88 million (some departmental, some administered), the amount the government has chosen to spend in a year on commemorative projects. The Secretary does not offer such a figure but the appropriate figure certainly is not $12 billion and is way, way less than that, perhaps somewhere around $300 million, since that was the figure the Secretary came up with in answer to Senator Gallacher’s question before he qualified his answer. (If the figure did happen to be $300 million then $88 million would be 29 per cent of it, rather different from one per cent.)

Why then let the Minister present to the Parliament a wholly deceptive and meretricious comparison between a discretionary spend on commemoration and a total annual budget, most of which is non-discretionary? The characterisation as meretricious (defined as ‘apparently attractive but having no real value’) applies even after the DVA abacus has coughed up the correct figure – ‘0.7 per cent’ or ‘less than one per cent’ rather than ‘less than 0.1 per cent’. To repeat, the proper comparison would not be between $88 million and overall spending but between $88 million and whatever figure for discretionary spending could be extracted from the miasma of accrual accounting.


Now to the less polite part of the jousting. Honest History has already noted (see Update 12 May 2015) the government’s plans to spend around $100 million dollars on the Monash museum (interpretive centre) at Villers-Bretonneux. Obviously, Minister Ronaldson had picked up a whiff that Labor was a bit soft on this project and he had a go at wedging the Opposition.

This technique was rather like what the anti-Labor forces employed in the years before 1914, which eventually led to Andrew Fisher’s reputation forever being linked to the ‘last man and last shilling’ remark. Labor politicians have been susceptible to the technique ever since when it comes to national security issues and, it seems, to commemoration issues nowadays, also.

The following exchange ensued between the Minister and Senator Gallacher (ironically, Senator Gallacher’s birthplace, New Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, is less than 40 kilometres from the birthplace of Andrew Fisher at Crosshouse):

Senator GALLACHER: Are there any other commemorative centres being proposed to be built or rebuilt?

Major Gen. Chalmers: Other nations have commemorative centres already, so there is not, to my knowledge, another nation building a new centre. [There has been a Franco-Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux since 1975 and Australia is in the midst of spending $2.1 million to refurbish it. This is not the same place as the proposed new Monash centre, though the two sites are only about five minutes drive apart.]

Senator Ronaldson: The point is that other nations do have those commemorative centres. I keep on hearing these questions. Do I take it that the Australian Labor Party does not support the Sir John Monash Centre? Because all I have heard is negativity about it. If you do not support it, can I suggest that the Australian Labor Party comes out and says, “We don’t support it”.

Quite frankly, you are running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. I think this project is too important to this nation. If you do not support it, just come out and say you do not support it. But this sitting on the fence, quite frankly, I find quite objectionable. This is a very, very significant project for this nation.

The Australian Labor Party is entitled to say, “We don’t support it”. But rather than just going around nipping at the edges, having a bite here and having a bite at a conference there, will you please tell us what your views are on this, so that everyone knows and then we can plan accordingly? I think this is a really cheap shot that the Australian Labor Party is involving themselves in at the moment.

Tell us what you want to do, so that everyone knows what you want to do with this centre. If you do not support it, say so. If you do support it, will you stop playing politics with it and come in and make sure that we build something that this nation will be proud of? The offer is there.

Senator GALLACHER: Through the chair, the only one playing politics here is the minister. I am seeking further and better particulars about a project –

Senator Ronaldson: I am very happy to work with [the] shadow minister in relation to this. If the shadow minister wants to partner me with this, I can tell you now that he will be a very welcome partner and I will facilitate that. But stop playing games with it.

Senator GALLACHER: My understanding of the estimates process is that it is quite appropriate to look at budgeted items of expenditure and seek further and better particulars of those items of expenditure –

Senator Ronaldson: Do not try and hide behind this, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: to completely understand what is happening.

Senator Ronaldson: The shadow minister [David Feeney MP] has been running around the country at veterans’ forums and other places, and just nipping at the sides of this thing. Make up your minds.

Senator GALLACHER: Our mind is made up, and we are pursuing through estimates –

Senator Ronaldson: So you have made your mind up. What is your decision? (pp. 162-63)

There are two more pages of this but that will do. The Monash centre is subject to Public Works Committee examination.

More local grants

Minister Ronaldson has announced another tranche of grants under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program, this time $2.1 million to 160 new projects and 32 existing projects. The portfolio has now processed almost 1800 applications and awarded grants to more than 1650 projects worth a combined total of $17.9 million across all 150 Federal electorates. This must just about have emptied the bucket, which originally contained just over $18 million, though the portfolio’s Budget Statements (p. 71) showed a movement of $1.6 million in unspent administered funds from 2014-15 to 2015-16.

Details of the latest batch of projects are in the Minister’s press release. Honest History’s analyses of this program may be accessed from here and here (Update 14 April).

But also from the Minister

Among other things, Minister Ronaldson commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, announced arrangements for commemorations of other World War I milestones apart from Gallipoli and of the Vietnam War, offered to bring home the remains of servicemen killed in Vietnam where this had not already occurred, and introduced the largest investigation ever undertaken into the health and well-being effects of contemporary military service.

This last will involve invitations to 50 000 service personnel to participate. ‘It is the first Australian study to examine the physical, social and mental health of an entire cohort of recently transitioned ADF members’, the Minister said. ‘And it has the potential to be Australia’s largest study to examine the health and wellbeing of the families of serving and ex-serving ADF members.’ The Minister’s colleague, Stuart Robert, Assistant Minister for Defence, noted particularly the focus on finding out about the effects of service in high risk areas, such as the Middle East, and the health effects on reservists.

Finally, the Minister’s speech to the NSW Congress of the RSL included this interesting sentence: ‘As you all know, validation of service, of sacrifice is paramount to the mental health and wellbeing of all veterans, particularly contemporary veterans’. The Minister went on to effectively define validation to include commemoration, which is a fair point. One could legitimately ask, however, how much validation through commemoration is needed before it detracts from our ability to deal more directly with the effects of war. Some commemoration does as much for the commemorators as it does for the commemorated.

No quarter in Campbell

Frontier Wars

The Australian War Memorial, through Director Nelson, has repeated its very firm belief that the Memorial is not the place to commemorate the Frontier Wars. Indeed, the Director insists there were no such things as Frontier Wars.

In responding to Senator Xenophon, the Director referred, as he often does, to Charles Bean’s vision for the Memorial. ‘Its charter, its mission and then its act govern the memorial to tell the story of the Australian experience of war – Australians’ experience on active service.’ (It is argued here that the conflation in that sentence is an inaccurate reading of the documents the Director refers to – ‘the Australian experience of war’ is far broader than ‘Australians’ experience on active service.’)

The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is not that of the North American Indians [said the Director]. Our experience is not even that of New Zealand. It was a very rich and diverse relationship, from episodes of extraordinary beneficence and kindness from Indigenous to non-Indigenous and vice versa at one end to extreme acts of brutality, violence and massacre at the other.

But, from the Australian War Memorial’s perspective, that story needs to be told in the context of the full relationship. It needs to be told at the National Museum of Australia. Its director, my counterpart Mat Trinca [typo corrected], has agreed that that is the case, and the National Museum of Australia will present that.

In a practical sense, by the way, we are not of the view that there was such a thing as a declared war against Indigenous Australians. After the British garrisons left, where the violence occurred it was conducted by police militia, some pastoral militia and mounted Aboriginal militia. Also, from our point of view, the strength of what we do at the memorial – and Senator Back referred to it in his introductory remarks – is our collection: the things that we actually have. Even if the War Memorial were of the view that it should be telling the stories of armed conflict, we do not have any collection to do it. Where it is held, it is held by state museums, British museums and the National Museum of Australia (p. 174).

The Director added that the Memorial, should it take on the frontier conflicts, would also have to tell of violence between Indigenous tribes. Finally, he made the point that Indigenous servicemen were opposed to presentation of this conflict at the Memorial.

UPDATE 11 June 2015: commentary from Amy McQuire on New Matilda.


There has been resolution also of the issue of the Memorial’s gargoyles. We have looked at this issue before (Update 19 March 2015). As foreshadowed in Paul Daley’s recent interview with Director Nelson, all 26 gargoyles, including those of the Indigenous man and woman, will be returning to their positions after necessary restoration work at a cost of $1.65 million. ‘They [the gargoyles in total] are’, said the Director, ‘a very respectful representation of life in Australia right across the continent and a very important part of the historic and heritage fabric of the building’ (p. 122). Figures in a landscape.


The Director, the Minister and the Chair of the Estimates Committee, Liberal Senator Chris Back, were in furious agreement (pp. 175-77) that there was no sign of commemoration fatigue at the Memorial. The Director noted an increase in visitor numbers of around 20 per cent for each of the first three months of 2015 and six per cent more for the year as a whole to the end of April. It will be the Memorial’s best year yet for visitor numbers, with more than one million expected over the 12 months.

The Estimates Committee also touched on arrangements for the official histories of the involvements in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iraq history will look at how the commitment began.

IP Australia Anzac advertisements, patents and more

In the less controversial surrounds of Woden, meanwhile, IP Australia has placed on its website a wonderful collection of material on trade marks, patents and designs during World War I. From patents for toy tanks, war puzzles and military motif car ornaments, to ‘Anzac lever watches’, tributes to Rexona soap, and all sorts of attempts to cash in on what was even then our No. 1 brand, this is well worth a good browse and/or a teachable moment.

Simpson Prize

Honest History has analysed the Simpson Prize previously. It is an essay competition for Year 9 and 10 students which, for many years, had boilerplate questions (leading to boilerplate answers) about the relevance of the Anzac legend to Australia today. We noted how, over the last few years, the questions have been more demanding. The question for the 2016 prize has been announced and it continues this encouraging trend:

The landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 is often given prominence in accounts of the Gallipoli campaign. What other events or experiences of the campaign would you argue require more attention? Why?

This question would even allow contestants to consider ‘the experiences of the campaign’ had by those who waited at home.

Children’s Book Council

Recently, Honest History noticed that the joint War Memorial-DVA production, Audacity (reviewed trenchantly by us) had been shortlisted for an award by the Children’s Book Council. Our review described Audacity as sanitised war propaganda and concluded that it ‘will need to be treated with great care and countered with plenty of other materials which put a more honest and balanced view of the nature of war. Or binned.’

We drew the attention of the Council to our review and we received this puzzling reply:

Audacity has been appraised by a panel of Judges, who collaboratively felt that it met the criteria as set down by the Children’s Book Council of Australia which in turn resulted in the inclusion on the Short List. It is beyond the scope of the CBCA to include in this judging process how the reader will interpret the content. Discussion of this Government Publication by teacher or parent would no doubt touch on the issues mentioned in the Honest History reviews (emphasis added).

For judges of such an award not to consider how a book is interpreted seems to be something of a dereliction of duty. Audacity has been nominated in a category of ‘Information Books’. Are we to take it that books in this category are assumed to contain only ‘information’, that is, facts, about which there is no room for interpretation? Does a ‘Government Publication’ like Audacity, by definition, contain only facts? Award winners will be announced on Friday, 21 August.

Imperial War Museum recognises conscientious objectors

Australian commemorators may be world leaders in light shows and artillery refurbishments – we haven’t checked – but the Brits seem more comfortable with broader horizons. Nearly a decade ago, the National Army Museum had a complete exhibition on facial wounds suffered in the Great War; the Australian War Memorial’s recently (2014) refurbished World War I galleries include two small exhibits on this subject.

Here’s another example of differing curatorial perspectives – and presumably political perspectives also, at least at the level of institutional boards and councils. The Imperial War Museum now has a comprehensive online presentation on ‘Conscientious objectors in their own words’ including interviews, transcripts of interviews, and information about how Great War COs were treated. (The material is based on an article first published in the IWM’s journal in 1988.) The presentation is described on the No Glory in War website as the world’s most comprehensive archive on the 16 500 British pacifists who refused to serve in the Great War. Also covered on Centenary News.

If you search the website of the IWM under the heading ‘conscientious objectors’, you get 641 hits. If you do the same exercise on the AWM’s site, you get 53 hits. It’s the difference between finding new ways to look at war and finding more ways of relentlessly, repetitively looking at the same things – and in the case of the AWM, COs are pretty much off the menu, like so many other ‘non-khaki’ aspects of our war history, as we have suggested in reviews of the Memorial’s Anzac Treasures book and its refurbished World War I galleries.

Honest History film reviews go global

Pauline Kael, wherever you are, eat your heart out. HH president and occasional film critic, Peter Stanley, has logged more than 19 200 views of his review of The Water Diviner since it appeared on our site early in January. The piece was popular while the movie was showing on Australian screens, got a boost when it opened in London, then 10 000 views in April when the movie was released in the United States.

Why does Honest History review movies and TV shows? The answer is here.

David Stephens

Earlier material

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015

February 2015

December 2014-January 2015

September-November 2014

July-August 2014

May-June 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

Background (updated to end January 2014)

United Kingdom (to 8 August 2014: for later material see main posts above)


ShowImageThe Duke and Duchess of Gloucester with Prime Minister Robert Menzies marching up Anzac Parade, Canberra, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, 1965 (National Archives of Australia, A1767, 13776001)





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