McIlroy, Tom: Former veterans’ minister warns of War Memorial heritage risk

Tom McIlroy

Former veterans’ minister warns of War Memorial heritage risk‘, Australian Financial Review, 29 October 2020 (pdf from our subscription)

Thoughts from the Hon. Alan Griffin, former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in the Rudd government. Griffin questions whether this project is the best way to tell the stories of recent service, notes the view of some current MPs that at least part of the money earmarked should go to direct services for veterans, describes as ‘ludicrous’ the government argument that this spend is not at the expense of spending on direct services – unlike the Defence Minister (paragraph 6) he understands the simple economic concept of opportunity cost (whatever is spent somewhere cannot be spent somewhere else) – and reiterates the concerns of critics, including the government’s own Australian Heritage Commission.

“I do think when you have serious concerns raised about the heritage issues with respect to somewhere as iconic as the War Memorial, you’ve got to take those into very serious consideration before you move down the track,” Mr Griffin said.

The article quotes Memorial Director Anderson’s questionable statements on the degree of public support and the number of changes the Memorial has made in response to public input.

It is breathtaking that the Memorial still comes up with these statements on public support, when its own figures say different. For more on this see Heritage Guardians analysis. For example, McIlroy quotes Director Anderson at Estimates:

“When you consider that there are also 167 submissions [to the Memorial as part of the EPBC Act process] and a significant number were also in favour of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it … The people that we speak to, the majority of the people that we speak to, are in favour of it.”

Update 2 November 2020: extracts from Estimates transcript.

Yet, the Memorial’s own analysis of the EPBC material gives the following results: (tallying the table at p. 186 of Attachment C Response to Public Submissions) of the 167 submissions, 64 (38 per cent) were ‘generally supportive’ of the project, 97 (58 per cent) ‘generally not supportive’, and the remaining six submissions (4 per cent) ‘mixed or neutral’.

Heritage Guardians discussed these statistics with Memorial officers, who seem to have a better grip on them than the Director does. There is a polite email trail where, among other things, we agreed with the Memorial on the classification as supportive/not supportive of a sample of 97 out of the 167. (Honest History will publish without amendment any comment the Memorial now wishes to make on this matter.)

There is more on this in the Heritage Guardians analysis here, under the heading ‘Some statistics: no sign of the Memorial’s boasted 80 per cent support’. The material includes links to commentary on an earlier (methodologically dubious) survey done by the Memorial: see paras 34-53 of the Heritage Guardians submission No. 143 and project director Hitches to Senate Estimates, 4 March 2020, page 148 of the Hansard.)

McIlroy also quotes David Stephens from Heritage Guardians, who repeats a point made in the Guardians’ previous analysis.’The memorial claims that the heritage facade will be unchanged. Yet, the memorial’s own illustrations give the lie to this assertion.’ Figure 7.3 below from the Memorial’s Final Preliminary Documentation shows the extent of change between the current southern facade and how it will look should the project proceed.

Picture1David Stephens

29 October 2020 updated

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5 comments on “McIlroy, Tom: Former veterans’ minister warns of War Memorial heritage risk
  1. admin says:

    Bruce: re degree of public support, see middle paras of above article and links therefrom.
    David Stephens Heritage Guardians and Honest History

  2. Bruce Cameron says:

    Hi Stewart, The AWM Heritage Management Plan (HMP) is very comprehensive. Presumably a listing has been compiled showing where the proposed redevelopment does not accord with the Plan’s recommendations. It would be a pity for such a rationale to be lost sight of, because of ‘other’ issues. For example, the extent or otherwise of public support. If I wished, I could lobby veterans and have a petition signed in support of the project. But all this is ‘smoke and mirrors’.

    Seems to me that the following provision of the HMP is the central issue (which is why images were included in the article above):
    “Ensure that the ability to perceive the AWM main building ‘in the round’ within its landscape setting is not comprised by any new surrounding development or impact on significant views to the building”.

    The image of the current proposal would suggest an impact on a significant view of the building. The HMP allows such variations if there is no alternative. But the real issue would seem to be whether or not the impact is an adverse one. The HMP is silent on this aspect and seems to seek to enshrine all significant views in perpetuity. Surely this was not the intent?

  3. Stewart Mitchell says:

    Hi Bruce – it’s not an either/or argument – we can have both – a magnificent site (which as you say is much more than the iconic building) and an expansion to enable expanded galleries. But it must be done properly and not put at risk the core commemorative strengths of the place – the iconic building and site. I know this can be done.

    With regard to your question on how do you define heritage value – I realise you allude to this as being something esoteric, and perhaps suggest heritage means nothing should change – this is not the case – the National Heritage List and the AWM’s own Heritage Management Plan, Heritage Strategy and Heritage Register all describe the significant and irreplaceable attributes of the site – you can find all these key documents online – they were all done to ensure we recognise and retain what is so special about the place and to guide future development. They are well thought out documents – which consider the full range of issues associated with the place – developed with input from not only heritage professionals, but key stakeholders like you (and me) – they are worth a look.

  4. Bruce Cameron says:

    What’s to Become of the AWM Redevelopment?

    It is really no surprise that opposing positions have become so entrenched, the AWM being such an iconic institution. I was almost going to say ‘iconic building’, but the AWM is much more than the its building … or is it? My father was an army engineer involved in preparations for its opening on 11 November 1941. There is no doubt that at that time, the focus was on the building itself and the human values that it represented in an architectural sense. But the AWM has evolved.
    It is no longer ‘just’ a Memorial. Visitors leave with a much greater understanding of the conflicts in which Australians have been involved, than if they were only to reflect on the sacrifices made they were while in the Hall of Memory.
    Understanding of conflicts is important if we are to learn from them. This is why it is no surprise that many of us argue for the AWM to provide a canvas for the Frontier Wars and the bravery of indigenous Australians in defending their people and land.
    What are the main arguments? There are two: (i) the money for the redevelopment could be put to better use in other ways; and (ii) the planned redevelopment will jeopardise the heritage value of the AWM.
    Opportunity cost will always be an issue with any new project. What is the best use of the money? Everyone’s answer will depend on their personal values. Being a democracy, however, we’re ‘burdened’ with the fact that everyone has the right to express their individual views. It is a matter for our elected Government to adjudicate.
    Heritage value? How do you define this? Are we referring to the vista or ‘ambience’ created by the building, the building itself, or all three? If the original building is not to be changed, then ‘heritage’ must relate to ambience and/or vista.
    It would help the case of those arguing against the redevelopment, to explain their opposition in these terms.

  5. stewart says:

    If Mr Anderson has said the concerns of the Australian Heritage Council (and others) have been addressed ‘in about 50 changes to the design’ that is dissembling.

    The actual physical changes made by the AWM to the design after the public consultation phase have been minor:
    – The replacement building to Anzac Hall (it’s still to be demolished) and its glazed addition remains with only minor change to the shape of the ETFE roof of the glazed link but still the same visibility from Anzac Parade and no substantive change from Mt Ainslie re losing the visible external form of the Memorial;
    – Minor Parade Ground reduction in size and terracing but to no real effect in reducing the visual impact of this area (the bladed building facade and enlarged steps remain);
    – The glazed lift is kept, but with some minor plantings added;
    – The oculus is kept, but with minor changes to the handrail and curb around the oculus;
    – the CEW Bean building extension remains the same size with the same impact on the Eastern Precinct.

    The AWM has clearly not addressed the big issues – those that were not only raised by the AHC, but also the Australian Institute of Architects, and in the recent open letter to the PM signed by Australia ICOMOS, the National Trust, Docomomo, the Walter Burley Griffin Society, by the author of this comment, as well as by other noted individuals including former Directors of the AWM (and a former Member of the AWM Council), former relevant Department Heads, and heritage and architecture professionals.

    What does it take for the AWM to accept there is a problem and honestly try to resolve it?

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