Opportunity for the public to influence whether the Audit Office investigates the management of the $500 million War Memorial redevelopment project

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is a Commonwealth watchdog over the processes of government. Annually, the ANAO puts out its draft Audit Work Program for public comment; the 2022-23 version has just been released. The draft contains potential performance audits for the ANAO’s Work Program for 2022–23. Canberra Times/Australian Community Media story.

The ANAO consultation process

Whether potential audits become actual audits (i.e. actually get done) depends partly on public comments. ‘Please review the draft potential performance audit topic list’, the ANAO says, ‘and tell us what you think’.

The audit, ‘Management of the Australian War Memorial’s development project’, was ‘potential’ in 2021-22 and has been rolled over into the 2022-23 program. Heritage Guardians (and others who have followed the progress of the Memorial redevelopment project), believe that this audit should become an actual audit – should actually happen. Heritage Guardians will be making a submission saying just that.

Public submissions on the complete draft program are due by 19 April. Rules for submissions and instructions on how to make a submission are on the ANAO webpage.

The wording of the War Memorial potential audit is as follows:

Management of the Australian War Memorial’s development project

The purpose of the Australian War Memorial is to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war or on operational service and those who have served Australia in times of conflict. The heritage building, land and cultural assets held by the memorial are valued at over $1.3 billion.

In 2018, the government allocated $498.7 million over nine years in funding for the Australian War Memorial’s major development project. The project, known as Our Continuing Story, aims to:

‘ … address the memorial’s commemorative, exhibition, archive and storage needs and provide appropriate facilities for the Memorial, allowing us to effectively tell the stories of the Australian experience of war for the next 50 years, and ensuring the Memorial is able to achieve its purpose throughout that period.’

This audit would examine the effectiveness of the Australian War Memorial’s management of the development project, including planning, achieving value for money in procurement, and progress to date in delivering the project.

Arguments for the audit

Alicia Payne, Labor MP for Canberra, wrote a letter to the Auditor-General late last year, pressing for the audit. Like Heritage Guardians, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), has followed the Memorial project closely and has found evidence of concerning aspects of its management. For example:

  • the Prime Minister announced (1 November 2018) that the government had allocated $500 million to the Memorial project, a full seven weeks before the detailed business case for the project went to the government;
  • in August 2018, Memorial Council Chair, Kerry Stokes, gave a ‘personal guarantee’ to the government that the cost of the project to the government would not exceed $500 million – did this influence government decision-making?;
  • a feasible alternative to the redevelopment – further expansion of the Memorial’s Mitchell precinct – was dismissed on the basis of flawed evidence.

There are plenty of arguments also in the Heritage Guardians campaign diary, addressing, for example:

  • the misleading information consistently provided by the Memorial on the need for the project, the degree of public support for it, the impact of the new works on the existing Memorial, and the exhibits that will be displayed in the expanded space;
  • the rorting (with the cooperation of the National Capital Authority) of the approvals process, with particular reference to the NCA’s ‘early works’ approvals, which made the Authority’s approval of the actual project redundant;
  • potential coordination problems arising from the letting of multiple contracts for parts of the project; and
  • delays in the tendering process.

Which of the audits on the 2022-23 list are actually done depends ultimately on the Auditor-General, an independent officer of the Australian Parliament, but the public should welcome this opportunity to make submissions. Heritage Guardians strongly believes that the War Memorial audit should be on the ANAO’s list as an audit to be conducted in 2022-23. Again, submissions are due by 19 April.

David Stephens

5 April 2022

David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and has been convener of the Heritage Guardians group, campaigning against the War Memorial redevelopment. 


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