Latest on arms company money going to War Memorial: small change for them but how much influence does it deliver?

Update 15 February 2023: Chris Knaus in Guardian Australia on the facts below.


Last November, Greens Senator Shoebridge asked Australian War Memorial Director Anderson in Senate Estimates (page 38 of the Hansard pdf) for up-to-date information on the amount of funding the Memorial received in the past three years from manufacturers of military equipment.

The attached pdf has the Senator’s question and the Memorial’s answer. It shows the total money received for that period was just over $800 000, with the largest amounts coming from Lockheed Martin (world’s biggest arms manufacturer with $US60.3 billion by value of sales in 2021) and Boeing (third biggest at $US33.4 billion value of sales in 2021). For earlier information on this topic, go to our Honest History Search function, with terms like ‘arms’, ‘donors’ and ‘gunrunners’.

That amount of $800 000 or so is, of course, quite small in comparison with, say, the total capital cost of the current War Memorial development ($548 million and counting, or about $60 million a year for a few years yet) or even the annual running costs of the Memorial (about $50 million a year). See Portfolio Budget Statements 2022-23 for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, including the Memorial. That isn’t really the point, however.

There are three key points: first, these companies’ donations are small change compared with their annual revenue from military sales (see above); secondly, the companies regard the donations as good public relations, for example, Thales gave $60 000 to fund the Memorial’s Napier Waller Art Prize, a potential boon for struggling artists; thirdly, the donations give the donor companies entree to the Defence establishment, to whom the companies are continually pitching contract bids.

On that last point, one can just imagine those conversations at social gatherings, possibly at the Memorial:

Arms company exec: General, fancy bumping into you! We were pleased this year to give some money recently to the War Memorial to help with their wonderful displays. [PAUSE] I know you can’t talk about it, but we’re very keen on getting the contract for the X-29 Really Big Gun on Wheels. Here, have a drink!

General (thinks): Lovely feller!

David Stephens

11 February 2023

David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of the Heritage Guardians group.

Footnote: The military-industrial-commemorative complex (more info relating to the firms in the pdf)

Boeing: former Director Brendan Nelson left his Memorial job in 2019 to head Boeing’s Australia-New Zealand-Pacific operations, returned to the Memorial in 2022 as Chair of the Council (while retaining his day job), then left again to become head of Boeing International in London; Lockheed Martin: Nelson’s replacement as Council Chair, Kim Beazley, had been on Lockheed Martin Australia’s board 2016-18; Thales: Brendan Nelson was a member of Thales’ Australia Advisory Board from 2015 to 2019 while he was Director of the Memorial (he donated his Thales fees to the Memorial); Daniel Keighran VC, who has been a member of the Memorial’s Council since 2016, has been a Thales employee since 2019.

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