Government commits to $500 million extensions to Australian War Memorial – and $11 million for veterans’ discount card and lapel pin

The Prime Minister today announced a project to extend the Australian War Memorial. Guardian Australia. Memorial publicity. PM’s presser. PM with Alan Jones. Largesse for Memorial contrasts with financial struggles for other cultural institutions. Jack Waterford in Fairfax. Architects’ view. Dean Ashenden in Inside Story.

The project will cost $498 million over ten years and will expand the floor space of the Memorial by around 80 per cent. It will include completely redesigning the Memorial’s lower ground floor, a new underground exhibition space to display large items such as helicopters and jet fighters, a live feed of current Australian Defence Force activities, and pictures of other memorials throughout the country. The existing Anzac Hall will be demolished after less than 20 years of service.

Honest History has followed this proposed project over the last 18 months or so. (A new piece in Pearls and Irritations.) Use our Search engine with terms such as ‘extension’ and ‘Brendanbunker’. In August this year we posed a number of questions, including these:

  • Could the money mooted for these grandiose extensions be better spent by the government at large on non-bricks and mortar schemes of benefit to former Australian Defence Force members and their families? (Increased direct support for PTSD sufferers and their loved ones might be more useful than the proposed ‘contemplation space’ in the bowels of the extended Memorial.)
  • Could the money proposed for the extensions be better spread across other national cultural institutions, which have suffered for a number of years (more than the Memorial has) from the effects of efficiency dividends and other cutbacks?
  • Does urging like Dr Nelson’s on this occasion trade on the idea that the Memorial is somehow a ‘sacred place’ for Australians? (It may well be sacred for some of us, but Anzac is not – yet – the state religion.)

Asking questions about largesse for commemoration is not popular with the official commemoration industry. Writing in April about the proposed extensions, Guardian Australia‘s Paul Daley said this: ‘To publicly challenge such emotive signalling for public funding is to run the risk of being portrayed as heretical, even treasonous, of course’.

As for money allocated to non-bricks and mortar schemes, we noted that last week the Prime Minister and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs announced that veterans would be entitled to an Australian Veterans’ Card that will make veterans easier to recognise. Businesses are being signed up to offer appropriate discounts to card holders. There will be lapel pins, too.

In other news – or lack of it – Honest History has received no response to our question about the Memorial’s accountability standards. We hope the spending of the public dollar on this grandiose new extensions project is well documented. The article where we raised that question perhaps contained a clue, too, as to why this project has been given the tick: ‘At one point, Senator Gallacher [in Senate Estimates] facetiously asked the Director whether anyone ever said “No” to him (the Director) but the Director evaded the question’.

Then there is always what historian Peter Cochrane described as the Anzac cloak that puts the War Memorial in a special category. The Memorial has a charmed life, certainly far more than the men and women it commemorates. Dr Nelson’s term ends in May next year; he will be remembered.

David Stephens

1 November 2018 updated


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