Medals and meltdowns – and gunrunners getting an inside track: non-MSM news roundup

Noel Turnbull, Vietnam veteran and fellow traveller with Honest History, has posted this piece on his blog. It’s about the medals being given to Vietnam veterans and their families on the 50th anniversary of Australia’s departure from that war. Turnbull has a few medals from his time in Vietnam, has only been to one Anzac Day service since (as a guest speaker), and is critical of the bland, glossing-over language of the current Prime Minister and Veterans Affairs Minister about the medals and the war they mark. One wonders whether elected folks actually read the bumph that bureaucrats and spin-meisters churn out for them.

Turnbull mentions an interesting long read from the pseudonymous Jommy Tee on Michael West Media about how the Australian War Memorial arranged for some of its scrap metal to be melted down to send to the home of Empire (that is, the UK) to make medals for a 2019 boat (rowing) race commemorating the 1919 Peace Regatta. Tee and their collaborator Ronni Salt did an FOI claim on the Memorial and discovered that the scrap metal included the original 1941 door handles from the Memorial and a sample bronze plate (no names on it) from the Roll of Honour. (We cannot see any record of this claim on the Memorial’s FOI disclosure log. Perhaps the log has a backlog. Update 19 April 2023: FOI material now on the log.)

The story is complicated and some of the players include then War Memorial Director Brendan Nelson, then and now Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, and former Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. Rowing is an officers’ sport clearly, with current Governor-General, General David Hurley, possibly a former stroke or (more likely) cox, and now a supporter. The chief urger in the meltdown scheme, Chris Hartley, was also involved with General Hurley in the Australian Future Leaders Foundation, which did well out of the Morrison government.

Our Anzacs at the Peace Regatta, 5 July 1919. The Australian first eight rowing crew, after the race in which they defeated Oxford University by a length, in the final for the King’s Cup, at the Royal Henley Peace Regatta, held on the River Thames. (AWM)

History buffs may remember the claim that Victoria Crosses were originally cast from a cannon left over from the Crimean War. It is probably not true. The current meltdown story is not quite in the same league, anyway, though it does illuminate somewhat the dark corners of how decisions are made in and around the War Memorial.

Noel Turnbull makes a sharp point about Tee’s story, too, contrasting ‘the AWM’s enthusiasm for a boat race in the UK with its persistent reluctance to provide comprehensive coverage of the wars that broke out after the arrival of some other boats in the waters now called Sydney Harbour’. (Lots more on the Australian Frontier Wars on our home page under the heading ‘Frontier Wars retreat at the War Memorial’.)

Finally, the indefatigable Michelle Fahy* in Pearls & Irritations draws our attention to an under-publicised call from the Defence Department for public input on reform of the defence sector. (Details in the post; deadline 21 April.)

Among other things, [says Fahy] the reform initiatives foreshadow a more deeply integrated involvement by the globally dominant US arms industry in Australia’s defence and national security establishment, including military operations, especially in the modern ‘warfighting’ domains of cyber and space. This is a profoundly consequential proposition that demands careful consideration.

The consultation paper is full of words like ‘interoperability’ and ‘partnership’ and ‘integrated’, the sorts of states we have been in with the United States for decades, but now certain to be more so, with AUKUS and its ramifications. A key question that Defence needs feedback on is this one, only hinted at in the consultation paper: ‘What does the public think about the deeper integration of profit-making multinational weapons companies into Australian military operations across the breadth of operational domains, including cyber and space?’

What indeed?

Update 20 April 2023: More on the consultation paper from Bevan Ramsden in Pearls & Irritations.

David Stephens

16 April 2023

*Michelle Fahy is an independent researcher/writer investigating the secretive links between the weapons industry and Australian government. Her work has appeared at Declassified Australia, Arena, Progressive International, and elsewhere. View her archive and support her mostly unpaid work at . There is also some of her work on our Honest History site; use our Search engine.

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