This campaign was wrangled by Heritage Guardians, a small committee. The members of the committee were:
- Brendon Kelson, former Director, Australian War Memorial
- Dr Charlotte Palmer, committee member, Medical Association for Prevention of War (ACT Branch)
- Professor Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra
- Dr David Stephens, Editor, Honest History website (and compiler of this campaign diary)
- Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War.
20 July 2021
Update 29 July 2021: Hiccup, roadblock, setback, in War Memorial build. Cockup? Pear-shaped? Hitches?
Sarah Basford Canales in the Canberra Times reports that two potential builders have pulled out of the $498m Memorial project. Tenders reopened. Par for the course perhaps, with lots of builders and lots of architects. But for how long can Chairman Stokes’ personal guarantee hold up, that’s the one that the Memorial will not come to the government for more than $500m for the project?
Update 26 July 2021: Challenge to the Memorial
Update 23 July 2021: 30 years of visitor numbers to the War Memorial – and the trend is down
Our post updates earlier work. The key finding this time (as it was in 2016, 2017 and 2020) was that the number of visitors to the Memorial remained pretty much constant as a proportion of Australia’s population: in each year, around four per cent of the national population in that year visited the Memorial – and around 96 per cent did not. And the trend is down.
The question, though, is whether the Memorial has sussed this decline and whether that knowledge is one of the drivers of the big build: as traditional commemoration-focussed visitor numbers fail to hold up, will military Disneyland take up the slack?
Update 20 July 2021: Demolition goes on
Update 14 July 2021: FOI claim exposes the extent of Memorial spinning
- new space is to include a display on the demolished Anzac Hall;
- staff were given talking points to claim lots of effort had gone into looking at alternatives to destruction of Anzac Hall;
- vocal opposition was from a disgruntled minority;
- spend was not at the expense of spending on veterans.
New Minister is on side. Comments (84 of them) are almost entirely against the project, though, with massive numbers of ‘respect’ signs, too.
Canberra Times journalists interview Shannon Battisson of the Australian Institute of Architects and Matt Anderson of the Memorial.
Update 8 July 2021: Auditor-General may look at management of War Memorial project
A welcome breakthrough announced in this Canberra Times story. War Memorial is a potential performance audit in 2021-22. Lots of skeletons in this cupboard.
Update 7 July 2021: NCA quick and dirty Statement of Reasons continues the trend in this unedifying case study in public administration
Twenty-two people asked the NCA for a Statement of Reasons for its decision on the War Memorial ‘early works’ approval application. This is what the Authority served up in response.
Seventy-five per cent of Australians in this national poll believe the War Memorial project $500 million would be better spent on health, education, and veterans’ support services; just 13 per cent prefer spending on the Memorial.
Update 4 July 2021: NCA releases a couple of key documents and Anzac Hall starts to come down
The delegation to the Chief Planner. The Chief Planner’s decision on the Memorial’s early works. Sunday afternoon demolition derby begins.
Update 30 June 2021: Blitzkrieg at Fort Campbell: trees start coming down to make way for megabuild
Update 28 June 2021: Heritage Guardians analysis of National Capital Authority consultation report on War Memorial ‘early works’
This is a long read, but there is a summary. There is extensive analysis and some proposals for reform of the National Capital Authority to make it a worthwhile organisation.
The NCA’s record here shows it needs to be drastically reformed. It has very limited powers on projects that matter. It is subject to intense political pressure, under which it caves and rushes to judgement in a flurry of self-exculpatory words. It has pretensions to consult the public, but they are pretensions that amount to very little when push comes to shove and the political fix is in. Fundamental reform, on the other hand, might help the NCA fulfill its mission of enhancing and preserving the national capital.
Another key section:
The Memorial, through its consultant Knight Frank, seems to have had had so much contempt for the consultation process that the application documents explicitly stated that the National Capital Plan – the yardstick for NCA consideration – did not apply to the works in the application.
Did the Authority advise Knight Frank or the Memorial how the application material could be worded to facilitate a finding that the application was not inconsistent with the National Capital Plan?
The Heritage Guardians submission examined this aspect at length, but this material was completely ignored in the Authority’s consultation report.
Update 28 June 2021: Barnaby’s long knife takes out Chester; Andrew Gee inserted
Ministerial reshuffle after Nationals kerfuffle. Chester the loser; a Mr Gee from Orange is the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, with ministerial responsibility for the War Memorial.
Update 21 June 2021 updated: Great turnout in the Canberra cold at War Memorial candlelit vigil
Canberra Times report, with quotes from Architects’ Shannon Battisson and former Memorial officer, Stewart Mitchell. Around 100 people made their presence felt.
And in the following couple of days, more than 300 likes on Twitter and more than 120 retweets. Upwards of 35 000 impressions and upwards of 1800 engagements.
ACT Minister for Heritage, Rebecca Vassarotti MLA, spoke about the ACT Architecture Awards in the ACT Legislative Assembly 22 June and mentioned Anzac Hall (after about mark 3.00).
Pic from Fiona Scott (@FeeBenson), also a mighty Tweeter
Update 19 June 2021: Why has Anzac Hall become a disposable building?
Tony Giannone, President of Australian Institute of Architects, talks to Jonathan Green on ABC RN Blueprint for Living, 19 June, on what is wrong with the demolition of Anzac Hall. Also mentions the trees.
Update 17 June 2021 updated: Candlelit vigil outside War Memorial, 20 June; War Memorial in Parliament: Steele-John motion defeated by major parties, National Capital Authority briefs the Joint Standing Committee on National Capital and External Territories (JSCNCET)
There is a candlelit vigil outside the Australian War Memorial, Sunday evening, 20 June, 6 pm. Details are here on this pdf from the Australian Greens. The Greens say:
The NCA’s decision [on the Memorial project] is outrageous – by their own admission, of the 601 submissions, only 3 supported the works. Despite proclaiming their ‘commitment to community engagement’, the NCA has chosen to completely disregard democratic opinion and do what the Morrison Government and their weapons manufacturer donors want …
Please join us for a candlelit rally from 6pm – 7pm on Sunday 20 June 2021 at the rear (Mt Ainslie) side of Anzac Hall.
The pdf also offers a way of continuing the struggle – writing to the NCA requesting a Statement of Reasons under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act. Worth the effort!
Yesterday, Senator Steele-John (Greens WA) moved a motion of concern about the War Memorial development but received the support only of nine Greens and Senator Patrick (Centre Alliance). Details.
This morning, National Capital Authority officers gave their biannual briefing to the JSCNCET (until the division bells rang and all but one parliamentarian skedaddled and the session cut out early. NCA Chief Executive Sally Barnes fielded a few fairly bland questions and said a lot about trees. The Canberra Times report was quite good. Here’s the Proof Hansard (17 June).
Update 16 June 2021: Record of National Capital Authority meeting of 2 June posted: rush to judgement on the Memorial?
A few matters of interest:
- Member James Willson withdrew from the discussions because of previous work his firm Cre8tive had done for the Memorial – withdrawal out of an abundance of caution. No surprise here, really: the NCA had telegraphed to Heritage Guardians some time ago that the Authority had conflict of interest provisions which could be applied to Mr Willson if need be; and so they were. The Memorial’s Annual Report for 2019-20, page 62, records that Cre8tive made $89 584 from the Memorial in the reporting period.
- The justification for the decision was pretty much as it was set out in the Consultation Report, a document which would have been prepared by the Chief Planner and his staff. We don’t know how long the discussion went on in the meeting but ‘NCA officers’ (the Chief Planner and his staff) feature frequently in the record and seem to have had a bit of talking to do.
- This was ‘a special meeting to consider the early works application for the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial’. (Ironically perhaps, the Memorial doesn’t like the word ‘redevelopment’ and prefers the phrase ‘Our Continuing Story’ developed for it, funnily enough by Cre8tive, the firm run by the above-mentioned Mr Willson.) The Authority’s next meeting was held on 9 June. Somebody was clearly putting pressure on the Authority to get a move on. So, the special meeting occurred on 2 June, at a time when public submissions were still being published on the Authority’s website. (They still are, two weeks later.)
- The meeting was described as ‘deliberative’, when most works approval applications (there are up to 400 a year) whizz through with a nod to the papers prepared by the Chief Planner, who carries the Authority’s delegation, and his team. This has been an out-of-the-ordinary period for the Authority. Perhaps they earned at least some of their sitting fees and salaries.
Update 16 June 2021: Kerry Stokes to have another 12 months on the War Memorial Council – and a memorial to military suicide victims now to be funded by government
Ministerial media releases and media reports. Both announcements are somewhat surprising but there they are. Interesting that the one about Stokes getting another 12 months and the memorial getting government money come out on the same day. The latter seems to have gathered more publicity.
Note that Stokes is extended as a member of the Council; who is Chairman is a matter for the members. We’ll see.
Update 15 June 2021: ACT member of Federal Parliament slams the Memorial project and contrasts it with the plight of the National Archives of Australia
Update 14 June 2021: Minister Chester wants the Memorial to be ‘future-proofed’: is he preparing us for war?
Update 12 June 2021: 82 per cent of Canberra Times Readers Panel are against National Capital Authority decision on War Memorial project
Page 45 in the hard copy of today’s Canberra Times: ‘Do you support the NCA’s decision to approve works for the Australian War Memorial expansion?’ There were 679 respondents; five per cent unsure; 13 per cent ‘Yes’; 82 per cent ‘No’. Look out for a report of this in Memorial spin on the project. (Don’t hold your breath, though.)
Update 8 June 2021: National Capital Authority approves War Memorial’s ‘early works’ application
Yesterday, the National Capital Authority approved the early works application from the Australian War Memorial. The application covered the demolition of Anzac Hall, destruction of dozens of trees, a massive excavation at the front of the Memorial, and some minor matters. Media reports and reaction at the above link.
Update 3 June 2021: Senate Estimates mostly on well-trodden ground regarding War Memorial
Senate Estimates last evening (pages 92-98 of the Proof Hansard) heard Senators Steele-John (Greens) and Ayres (ALP) question Director Anderson and Executive Director Development Hitches. Among issues covered were these. The Memorial says:
- its revised Heritage Management Plan will go to Australian Heritage Council for consideration in the coming months;
- it will respond to any NCA requests for changes to the redevelopment plans;
- it has looked at the 600 submissions received by the NCA and claims that 25 (or perhaps 25 per cent) are in areas covered by Public Works Committee and 23 (or perhaps 23 per cent) in areas covered by heritage consideration under the EPBC Act (we’ll check Hansard to see which reply the Memorial settles on);
- it has received wide public support for the project (80 per cent from 1000 people in 2020; 70 per cent from 4000 people in 2021 – and claims this latter was support for the project, not just for content);
- Anzac Hall objects removal is entirely reversible if the ‘necessary approvals’ are not received (‘approvals’ seemed to be plural – that is, for early and main – but see next dot point – again, we’ll check Hansard);
- early works would start once approval was received (‘in June’);
- public consultation on main works will occur from the time of the Memorial’s submission some time in June;
- Kerry Stokes has the unanimous support of the Memorial Council, as was reported from November 2020 Council meeting.
Some of these responses repeated evidence previously given (see Update 26 May 2021 below).
Update 2 June 2021: Ex-serviceman Peter Dowling writes about what is wrong with the Memorial project
Update 30 May 2021: National Archives of Australia go mouldy and disintegrate while War Memorial prepares for $498m megabuild
Paul Daley in Guardian Australia 28 May is one of a number of commentators on the government’s failure to properly support the NAA while lavishing funds on the already well funded War Memorial.
Consider this. From 2014 until late 2018 federal and state and territory governments, on conservative estimates, spent some $350m and $150m respectively on commemorating Australian participation in the first world war. This included almost $100m on the needless Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, on the European western front, where dead Australian servicemen were already respectfully commemorated with countless cemeteries and monuments …
Then there is the federal government’s decision to profligately spend $500m to expand the Australian War Memorial so it might display more machines of combat. The federal government never seriously questioned the expansion proposal while Labor, meanwhile, was effectively sucker-punched into supporting it – perhaps because to oppose the unnecessary expansion of the great altar of Anzac is, in Australia, about the highest form of cultural heresy.
Update 30 May 2021 updated: Submissions to National Capital Authority running 269-1 against the War Memorial project
It is one month since submissions closed. The NCA received exactly 600 submissions. So far, 269 have been posted on the NCA site (link above). By our count, 268 of these have been against the project, and just one (a single line only) for it. And another one makes it 269.
In a public, open process, run by a public authority rather than a paid consultant, it is a sad reflection on the Memorial’s claims of widespread support for its project that only one person has come forward to this point in support. It has always been Heritage Guardians’ view that the Memorial’s claims were fantasy and the result of rorted methodology. We said this in our submission to the NCA:
Nor does the submission get into the masses of spurious ‘survey’ material the Memorial has used since 2018 to justify its claims of wide support for the project. This material has been characterised by leading questions, biased samples, low response rates, and misleading spruiking by public officials and contractors who should know better. The words ‘mendacious’ and ‘meretricious’ are appropriate for much of this ‘evidence’.
David Stephens, Heritage Guardians convener
Update 26 May 2021: Senate Estimates hears from National Capital Authority Chief Executive that NCA can seek modifications to a proposal – or even reject it – if it is inconsistent with the National Capital Plan
Sally Barnes was questioned by Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John (from mark 8.00 on the War Memorial project). Hansard to come in a week or so. Now here at pages 84-87. ACT Greens media release.
Ms Barnes agreed (around mark 12.20) that the NCA can reject a proposal or request modification if the proposal is inconsistent with the National Capital Plan. She agreed that section 10 of the PALM Act about the character of the national capital was crucial; the Plan essentially hangs off this section of the Act
Ms Barnes also confirmed (around mark 11.20) that the current Early Works Application was being ‘checked against’ the National Capital Plan. This was just after she had referred to an analogous development proposal for Constitution Avenue where the test was whether the proposal was ‘consistent with’ the Plan.
There seemed in Ms Barnes’ testimony to be ambivalence about the nature of the test – consistent with the Plan, not inconsistent with the Plan. The following made-up examples illustrate the point as it might play out:
Example A: There is a proposal for a ten-storey building. The National Capital Plan says buildings shall be no more than eight storeys. The proposal is amended to make the building just seven storeys. The proposal is now consistent with the Plan.
Example B: There is a proposal for a ten-storey building. The National Capital Plan says nothing at all about how many storeys buildings should have. The proposal is not inconsistent with the Plan because there are no relevant provisions in the plan. The ten-storey building can go ahead.
It is to be hoped that this is not what happens.
Update 23 May 2021: ‘A cynical abuse of process’. Summary of Heritage Guardians’ submission to National Capital Authority consultation
The NCA – and Canberrans and Australians – are played for mugs by this stuff. It is a cynical abuse of process to bundle fundamental aspects of a project – works without the completion of which the project could not proceed – with minor site preparation.
This is no more than a rort to seek approval for irreversible works – which will inevitably lead to massive permanent changes to the Memorial – at the same time as getting a tick for temporary modifications to improve access for or protect the safety of construction workers …
The NCA should defer consideration of the “early works” until it has received major works approval applications from the Memorial for the rest of the project. It should then consider all the components as a single package.
Update 18 May 2021: Only one submission in favour of Memorial development in first 50 submissions posted on NCA site
But the first batch of submissions, totalling nearly 50, has been released and reflected a strong opposition to the plans.
Only one of the submissions expressed support for the expansion with the remainder firmly opposed.
Common themes among the dissenters included opposition of the Anzac Hall’s destruction and the planned felling of more than a hundred trees around the grounds.
Many shared concerns over the figure being spent on the project, suggesting it would be better put toward mental health initiatives for veterans.
The submissions are being loaded here.
Update: The first two batches break as follows: 13 May, 1 for, 47 against; 17 May, 0 for, 52 against. So, 99 per cent against after 100 submissions.
Update 19 May 2021: The Riot Act report.
Update 20 May 2021: Peter Stanley on ABC radio (mark 2.11).
No one should be surprised that the National Capital Authority has received 599 submissions on the AWM redevelopment.
Opposition to the project from architects, museum professionals, historians and leading figures has been nationwide for more than two years. The Parliamentary Public Works Committee was overwhelmed with submissions opposing the redevelopment.
The government’s own Australian Heritage Council gave it the thumbs down and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment raised significant heritage issues.
Most recently Naomi Stead, Professor of Architecture, Monash University, delivered a damning indictment of the project, concluding: “The process has damaged public faith in our bureaucratic structures, our proper checks and balances, our good governance and our democracy. If this can get through, what next?”
The AWM project has created a historic crisis in the national capital story. And the NCA is sworn to “ensure that Canberra is a city worthy of its status as the national capital “.
If the project proceeds the nation, its people and the national capital will have once and for all lost one of our finest historic treasures and everything it has stood for from the time it was conceived on the western front in the Great War to the very present.
All rests now with the National Capital Authority.
Brendon Kelson, director, AWM, 1990-1994, Canberra
Update 13 May 2021: ‘Please do not reshape, and chip away at, the Australian War Memorial, this jewel in our crown’
Update 10 May 2021: Former Memorial Director, Brendon Kelson, writes to National Capital Authority: ‘There will never again be an Australian memorial such as we presently have and once gone what it historically stood for will be lost to the nation’.
Former Director of the War Memorial, Brendon Kelson, has written this letter to Sally Barnes, Chief Executive, NCA. It is reproduced here with Mr Kelson’s permission:
Ms. Sally Barnes
National Capital Authority
Dear Ms. Barnes
The time for submissions to the NCA on the subject of the AWM expansion is now well over and I for one made my submission in the stipulated period.
But this development has passed almost all boundaries in terms of nation-wide opposition whether from the AIA [Australian Institute of Architects], museum professionals of long experience, historians and in submissions to the Parliamentary PWC [Public Works Committee]. The AHC [Australian Heritage Council] voiced its opposition and it has been questioned within DAWE [Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment] itself.
I now understand that the NCA has received 599 submissions in response to its public consultation program. An extraordinary figure I believe.
And The Saturday Paper of May 8-14 carried one of the most powerful indictments of the project from Naomi Stead, Professor of Architecture, Monash University, which concluded “The process has damaged public faith in our bureaucratic structures, our proper checks and balances, our good governance and our democracy. If this can get through what next?” I am sure your staff have drawn your attention to the piece and I hope that it might still figure in the deliberations of the NCA.
This project amounts to a historic crisis in the national capital story and I believe needs to be considered by the NCA in the broadest of terms and with a clear understanding of its monumental significance.
There will never again be an Australian memorial such as we presently have and once gone what it historically stood for will be lost to the nation.
Director, AWM, 1990-1994
9 May 2021
Update 10 May 2021: Letters to editor, Canberra Times: shonky NCA process; Green Bans?
Your report “Hundreds of submissions for memorial expansion” (canberratimes.com.au, May 7), about the 599 submissions to the NCA on the proposed AWM “early works” reinforces the sham of a process that is riding roughshod over public opinion at every step to ensure that the AWM becomes a grandiose glorification of warfare.
Unless the NCA has been misreported, it appears complicit in the process. An NCA spokesperson said that the authority will “determine if modifications to the proposal are required”.
Pardon? The proposal has not yet been approved by the NCA, as the spokesperson surely must have known, which means that NCA options still include saying to the AWM: “No; the proposal does not fit the dignity and symbolism of our national capital.”
The 599 submissions were only on the so-called “early works” of knocking down Anzac Hall, destroying over 100 trees and creating a massive excavation zone out the front of the memorial, and all this before the redevelopment is approved.
The NCA was also reported as stating that no impact on the construction timeline for the redevelopment was expected following the large number of submissions.
Pardon, again? What timeline? The proposal is still unapproved.
One wonders what it is about “approval”, “consultation” and “democracy” that the AWM and the NCA are having such trouble with.
Meanwhile, the NCA spruiks its tree-planting plans (“NCA has an “adventurous” tree plan to grow canopy cover”, canberratimes.com.au, May 7) while paving the way for the virtual denuding of one of our most important institutions.
Sue Wareham, president, Medical Association for Prevention of War, Canberra
AWM green ban call
In the event of a (likely?) National Capital Authority approval of the destruction of Anzac Hall, and more, at the Australian War Memorial (“Hundreds of submissions for memorial expansion”, May 7, p4), hopefully, in the tradition of the late great union leader, Jack Mundey, and because there are better viable alternatives, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union will place a permanent “green ban” on the destruction.
Jack Kershaw, Kambah
Update 8 May 2021: Architecture professor politely eviscerates the Memorial project
Naomi Stead from Monash University writes in The Saturday Paper. ‘If the War Memorial truly is our nation’s most sacred site – which is arguable – then it’s irreligious to overpower it with a cavernous, wasteful and scandalously expensive new development.’
Update 6 May 2021: National Capital Authority receives 599 submissions on War Memorial Early Works Approval application
This from the NCA:
Update 5 May 2021
Public consultation on the Australian War Memorial Early Works package closed on 30 April 2021. The National Capital Authority received 599 submissions. The NCA is reviewing each submission to identify key issues and suggestions to determine if modifications to the proposal are required. A consultation report addressing these matters will be released to the public. The NCA does not anticipate this process will be finalised before the end of June.
The NCA is currently seeking agreement from people who made submissions to the public consultation process to have their submissions released publicly and placed on the NCA website.
More added as it comes in: updates 6 and 7 May. The NCA believes 599 is the largest number of submissions it has ever received on a consultation.
Update 1 May 2021: A cry from the heart for what we are about to lose; public meeting plans further action; submissions have gone in to National Capital Authority; cultural institutions are a better target for all that money being spent on the Memorial
I knew them well — most of them — these 116 trees. Walking in to work in the morning, I lurched from ink blot to ink blot of their shade; in the evening, I began the walk home strolling among birds I never saw anywhere else in the ACT. I remember also the cockatoos sounding off in the trees at daybreak at the close of the dawn memorial services. If you cut down these trees, these birds will be gone also, with another loss of habitat. Visitors from overseas will miss a fringe benefit of the Memorial, the landscape and life forms that make it essentially, uniquely, Australian.
Meanwhile, the public meeting sponsored by Heritage Guardians, Honest History, MAPW, some architects, and the Greens drew up a list of further proposed action on the campaign against the War Memorial project. Submissions to the NCA closed on Friday evening.
Macquarie University’s Michelle Arrow argues powerfully in The Conversation (later in Nine Newspapers) that the National Archives is definitely in need of more money to save priceless records. Redirecting even some of the $500m earmarked for the Memorial would make a difference to the Archives. More on this issue.
Update 28 April 2021: Greens’ Tim Hollo’s powerful op ed on the War Memorial project
As the National Capital Authority considers whether to approve “early works” for the expansion of the Australian War Memorial, one question should be foremost in its deliberations: what does the memorial symbolise for Australian life and values in the central position it occupies in the national capital?
Update 26 April 2021: Prime Minister stuck to the Anzac Day script – no mention of the impending destruction at the War Memorial; MAPW hits the spot though, and so does the SMH
Here’s the text of the PM’s speech. Unless he adlibbed somewhere he did not mention what the Memorial will probably look like next year, as the $498m project takes hold. Did the audience know? Come on, PM, own up!
President of Medical Association for Prevention of War (and Heritage Guardian) Sue Wareham had this in the Canberra Times:
Time to act
Readers might be aware that the proposed AWM redevelopment is not yet fully approved with National Capital Authority (NCA) consideration of the proposal due in coming months. But one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
The AWM has applied to the NCA for approval for “early works”, to include the demolition of Anzac Hall, the destruction of over 100 trees, including all the eucalypts out the front of the memorial and the excavation of a large area around the memorial entrance; all this before the redevelopment itself is approved.
The process is ludicrous. If the “early works” are approved, the NCA will subsequently be considering whether an institution whose partial demolition it has authorised should be rebuilt.
Readers are encouraged to make their views known to the NCA by April 30, by searching “NCA current consultations”.
Dr Sue Wareham, president, Medical Association for Prevention of War, Canberra
Update 24 April 2021: Flight of the cockies from the tree-free War Memorial we are told we have to have
Letter in this morning’s Canberra Times makes an important and poignant point:
Are you going to the dawn service this year?
Spare a thought for the sulphur-crested cockatoos who nest in the tall eucalypts around the Australian War Memorial.
Over the years their raucous cries at first light have become an integral part of that deeply moving ceremony.
But they won’t be there next year, or for many decades to come.
Their leafy homes will be reduced to wood chips to make way for a large parade ground, used maybe twice a year.
Margaret Clough, Ainslie
Update 23 April 2021: James Curran in the Australian Financial Review on how Anzac has been lost in a cult of veneration
About how our national psyche still looks khaki and still Washington-centred, even as we are encouraged to emote about Royal death. And this on the War Memorial project:
What speaks loudest of all, however, is the fiscal largesse of the federal government – supported by Labor – in gifting $500 million to the Australian War Memorial while other cultural institutions in the nation’s capital languish, a decision that would have former prime minister Robert Menzies spinning in his grave. The war memorial looks set to be turned into part theme park, part recruiting station.
Update 22 April 2021: War Memorial building workers’ car parking expands to neighbouring school grounds
Campbell High School has agreed to the destruction of a few more trees in a corner of its yard to provide more car parking for workers on the neighbouring War Memorial. The car park will be to temporary standards but the school is happy enough to keep the facility in the future. The Memorial is picking up the tab.
Update 21 April 2021: Public meeting in Canberra, Thursday, 29 April, 6.30 pm is last chance to have your say on the ‘early works’ at the War Memorial
National Capital Authority consultation closes 30 April on the misleadingly named ‘early works’ for the $498m War Memorial project: demolition of Anzac Hall; massive excavation on the south side of the building; destruction of 116 trees. If these ‘early works’ are approved, they are irreversible and further approval processes for the rest of the project are effectively redundant.
The NCA needs to hear from Canberrans and the last chance to make this happen is at a public meeting at the Griffin Centre, Canberra, 6.30 pm, Thursday, 29 April. Details here including Eventbrite sign up. Free event.
Supported by ACT Greens, Heritage Guardians, Honest History, Medical Association for Prevention of War (ACT Branch).
Update 21 April 2021: Former ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, on the rights and wrongs of remembering war service
In City News (Canberra), the author doubts that the $498m Memorial project is appropriate, while he recognises the service and sacrifice of, and lasting effects on family members.
I have conflicting views about the proposed $500 million expansion of the Australian War Memorial.
On the one hand, I worry that a decision to spend half a billion dollars on a memorial related to war is a questionable priority when, for so many Australians, life is a daily struggle to survive.
On the other hand, I can’t clear my mind when I think about the more than 100,000 Australians who have given their life and the countless others who have offered their life in defence of our freedom and the greater good, of the thought that there can be no price too high to honour their memory and their sacrifice.
Update 16 April 2021: Paul Daley in Guardian Australia on the need for a national memorial to Indigenous victims of the Frontier Wars
From the time 200 years ago, when the ‘humanitarian’ and ‘gentleman’ Governor Macquarie ordered the Appin Massacre of local Indigenous Australians, to now when the Australian War Memorial has an ambivalent attitude to Indigenous warriors, we have lacked a dedicated national memorial to those Australians who died here on their country defending their country.
A $500m Australian War Memorial expansion now seems a fait accompli. But a bigger memorial will not, it seems, make any significant allowance for history of Australian frontier war.
Many reasons have been offered for this, including that Australian frontier conflict did not amount to war. Odd. Macquarie himself mentioned his Aboriginal “Prisoners of War”.
The war memorial expansion will begin with the axing of at least 100 mature eucalyptus trees, some older than the 80-year-old AWM itself.
“They’ve seen more Anzac days than anyone here,” says historian Peter Stanley of heritage Guardians, a group opposed to the memorial expansion.
There should be a Frontier Wars gallery in the new, much larger War Memorial.
Update 13 April 2021: Here’s a neat summary of what is wrong with the current state of play in the War Memorial $498m vanity build: Heritage Guardians letter in the Canberra City News, 13 April
A devastated landscape
TREE removal is one of the early works included in the War Memorial’s current application to the National Capital Authority (public comment closes April 30).
The application shows that around 100 trees [actually 116] are in danger of the chop to clear the way for the $498 million building program at the memorial.
It is not clear why the tree massacre is designated as an early work. More importantly, it is not clear that the project justifies this wanton slaughter. The trees in the grounds of the memorial have been part of its unique ambience for decades.
Beneath all the emotive propaganda about the memorial needing to tell the stories of recent service, there remains the vision of a future memorial of massive new spaces, architectural grandiosity, boastful construction and reinforcement of an Anzac legend, larger and purer than life and than the men and women who wore the nation’s uniform.
And a vision lacking trees. The memorial for decades will be set in a devastated landscape. The fanciful architectural illustrations of the new facade of the memorial will not be realised till mid-century at the earliest.
David Stephens, convener, Heritage Guardians
Have your say with the National Capital Authority on the Memorial’s ‘early works’ application. You don’t need to live in Canberra. Arguments here. And below in the Heritage Guardians campaign diary (scroll down).
Going: all eucalyptus trees in front of the southern entrance and flanking the parade ground, plus those next to the Bean Building to the right and behind existing Anzac Hall at the rear (Stewart Mitchell)
The idealised and misleading view of the new southern entrance, as imagined by architects Scott Carver for the Memorial (Attachment G5, Final Preliminary Documentation, September 2020)
Update 8 April 2021: Down go the Memorial’s trees: media reports on the plans for Campbell, plus Greens protest moves
Successful event at the Memorial to protest the disappearance of 116 trees as an ‘early work’. Strong involvement of Greens, as well as Heritage Guardians. Media reports and link to Greens protest page. Includes response from Memorial Director Anderson.
Includes material relevant to the big build: Anzac Hall demolition; Australian Heritage Council views; Heritage Management Plan; National Capital Authority consultation. There were some interesting answers from Memorial officers.
Update 30 March 2021: Disney takes up residence at the War Memorial, says architecture critic
Architect and critic Tone Wheeler writes in Architecture and Design. ‘A “newseum” with a series of digitally enhanced interactive Disneyfied events, surrounded by war toys, may have its place, but it’s not here. Not now. Not ever.’
Update 29 March 2021: More implications and more comment: this isn’t just a refurb, folks
Katina Curtis in Nine Newspapers on how the big build will disrupt the Memorial’s ceremonial functions. Plus commentary from Heritage Guardians and others on what is wrong with this project and the way it is being pushed through.
Update 27 March 2021: What a rorting there has been: flawed accountability process produces the War Memorial extensions at a cost of $498m
Update 26 March 2021: The Memorial’s great tree massacre: is this really the price we have to pay for telling the stories of recent service?
Analysis and photographs of the 100 or so trees that are for the chop to clear the ground for the $498m extensions to the War Memorial.
Update 25 March 2021: Senate Estimates Committee hears from War Memorial
The Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade last evening held its bi-annual chat with officers of the Australian War Memorial (from 20.45). We’ll post a link to the Hansard when it is available (now here with analysis) but there were some interesting exchanges on the Memorial’s Heritage Management Plan, the current Works Approval application to the National Capital Authority, and the Memorial’s Afghanistan exhibit.
Update 23 March 2021: A better way to spend $500m? Parliament votes unanimously in support of a Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide
This website has previously reported moves to deal in a better way with the suicide of current and former members of the Australian Defence Force (use our Search engine with term ‘suicide’). This week, both houses of the Parliament unanimously voted to support the setting up of a Royal Commission on this matter. House of Representatives debate (from page 49 of the Draft Hansard, following a similar debate in the Senate).
There is obviously more to this issue than Budget allocations, but surely a good start would be to divert money from the unnecessary and inappropriate $498m buildathon at the Australian War Memorial, and spend it instead on the welfare of veterans and their families.
Update 23 March 2021: Reaction to War Memorial’s bizarre ‘early works application’ to National Capital Authority: premature demolition, a massacre of mature trees, and a bloody big hole
Update 21 March 2021: National Capital Authority consultation on ‘early works’ associated with War Memorial $498m project: dozens of trees to be cut down; premature demolition of Anzac Hall; massive excavation at Memorial entrance
Advice from Heritage Guardians on how to get your views in to the National Capital Authority on what seems to be an attempt by the War Memorial to game the approvals system by making improper use of the ‘early works’ approval process.
Update 16 March 2021: Arrogance or inevitability? War Memorial media release on closure of Anzac Hall comes in advance of National Capital Authority final approval
The Memorial put this media release out today, announcing the closure of Anzac Hall at the end of the month, prior to its demolition. (See earlier story: sub-heading ‘Champing at the bit in Campbell’.) The media release refers to the recent Public Works Committee report and says the NCA approval process has commenced. However, while early works approval on some aspects of the project has been given by the NCA, there is still nothing recorded on the NCA’s website about public consultation on other early works, let alone on the major project, which the Memorial has said it expects to get under way in May or June.
David Stephens writes on an opportunity inevitably missed by this narrowly-focused committee, plus some odd business in the War Memorial’s administration of FOI.
Update 14 March 2021: Australian War Memorial expansion better invested in psychedelic-assisted therapy research, says Canberra doctor
ACT pill testing advocate David Caldicott has voiced disgust over the $500 million expansion of the Australian War Memorial he said the federal government had “inflicted” on the city, while emerging treatments for post traumatic stress disorder were deemed too hard.
Speaking at a symposium for the prevention of veteran suicide, Dr Caldicott said there was a myriad of more effective ways to invest the money to better support returned service personnel.
War Memorial opens a new round of consultations, this time on what should go into the new space when it is built. Reminder that National Capital Authority will in the reasonably near future look at a Works Approval from the Memorial.
Update 8 March 2021: Heritage Guardians urges people to sign up for National Capital Authority Works Approval consultation on War Memorial’s big build; War Memorial news includes its attempt to get military history societies on side for the build and its jumping the approval gun – again
NCA consultation is the last chance to say ‘No’ to the Memorial’s vanity build. Will military history societies fall in behind the Memorial’s glossy promo booklet and is the Memorial being a wee bit too previous in clearing Anzac Hall before NCA approval – for a project which includes the demolition of Anzac Hall – has been received?
Update 27 February 2021: Dr Sue Wareham of Medical Association for Prevention of War and Heritage Guardians has an op ed in the Canberra Times decrying the War Memorial’s distortion of its Act
The article argues that the Australian War Memorial Act 1980 has been reinterpreted by the War Memorial Council to allow recognition of service rather than commemoration of death in war. Letters to the paper followed.
Update 24 February 2021: Reaction to Public Works Committee report on War Memorial’s big build: rare dissent emphasises the problems with this project
David Stephens covers initial media reaction to the PWC report on the Memorial project. Coverage focussed on the dissent by Labor members, Tony Zappia and David Smith. Such dissent is rare in the work of the PWC and was the most conspicuous feature in media reports.
The PWC’s recommendation means the Committee is giving the work the go-ahead, subject to a (usually routine) vote in the House of Representatives. Then, the final approval step involves consideration by the National Capital Authority upon referral by the Memorial.
Update 1 March 2021: Further steps hustled the project through the Parliament. Next stop is the National Capital Authority once the Memorial refers the project to the Authority for Works Approval: tabling of report in Senate on 25 February (page 84 of the Draft Hansard); House of Representatives 25 February motion to approve the Work (Page 6 of the Draft Hansard); media commentary in Canberra Times, Canberra Weekly, City News (Canberra).
Update 20 February 2021: Tom McIlroy of the Australian Financial Review examines DAWE advice to Minister for her EPBC Act decision (plus Heritage Guardians commentary)
McIlroy article and HG commentary. ‘The $500 million expansion was approved in December’, McIlroy summarises, ‘despite [DAWE] officials warning the size of new areas for exhibitions, visitor services and functions would reduce the significance of the iconic 1940s stone building and pull the memorial’s focus away from commemoration’.
Heritage Guardians commentary expands upon that last point:
Put simply, the 24 277 square metres of new space will irrevocably disrupt the balance of the building away from commemoration and towards displays of military technology set amid architectural grandiosity. There will be relatively less Roll of Honour, relatively more Military Disneyland.
The commentary also covers the convoluted, even shambolic process that led to the Minister’s decision. For the decision itself, see entry of 11 December below.
Looks mainly at the questionable (again) methodology of this survey. Great stuff if you are already a supporter of the project. If not, not so much.
Update 19 January 2021: Holiday developments: balanced 7.30 item; builders sought; misleading Memorial promo slips through in silly season
Back again for another year, in which the War Memorial $498m Nelson-Stokes legacy expansion project looks more and more inevitable but no less unattractive. ABC 7.30 ran a spot they had prepared earlier, including contributions from Director Anderson and former Council member, Alison Creagh, on one side, former Director and Heritage Guardian, Brendon Kelson, and Anzac Hall architect and Heritage Guardian supporter, John Denton, on the other, and Karen Bird, mother of late ADF member, Jesse Bird, in the middle (against current emphases but wanting more recognition of military suicide and the impacts of war).
‘I think the question of expansion is a nonsense. It’s as simple as that’, said Kelson. ‘If you’re a good museum manager, you will adapt to use the spaces you have. You make things fit.’ The content in the new spaces will make the Memorial into ‘a military Disneyland museum’ rather than adding to its commemorative role. The hardware should go instead to the Memorial’s Mitchell annexe.
Brigadier Creagh seemed to think a function of the Memorial was to provide displays she could show to her children as evidence of her service. This seems an odd attitude when there is nowhere in the Memorial a prominent list of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who put on their country’s uniform in our major wars (but did not die).
Director Anderson stuck to his previous talking points about the space at the Memorial devoted to recent conflicts being able to be traversed in fifteen of his paces. (His predecessor, Dr Nelson, said the same thing but with more passion.)
The Director did not say how many paces it took him to traverse the rarely-visited Colonial Conflicts area of the Memorial’s lowest floor. Using the Colonial Conflicts space (and digitising its content) may well have been in the collective mind of the government’s principal heritage adviser, the Australian Heritage Council, when it told the Memorial last year that the Memorial had not looked closely enough at options ‘that could minimise the need for additional space’. (On digitisation, see entry for 20 December below.)
Meanwhile, the Canberra Times reported (and the AusTender site carried) the Memorial’s call for builders for elements of the project, noting that there are still approvals needed from the Public Works Committee and the National Capital Authority. And there are some (inconsequential) caveats related to the Minister’s approval (entry for 11 December below).
Earlier, last year in fact, there was a Canberra Times piece, picking up a line from the Memorial that it needed more space to show lots of retired military kit and claiming that the Mitchell annexe would not do (although this building was built to allow regular public access). This bit of puffery snuck through the Times, but was rightly hammered by Heritage Guardians’ Peter Stanley, who called it ‘more lazy War Memorial propaganda on a slow news day’.
Former Memorial officer, Richard Llewellyn, weighed in also, in a letter not published in the Times:
Indeed, when the building now known as the Treloar Centre – simply called at the time of its construction, ‘Mitchell ‘C’, the [parliamentary] Public Works Committee specifically approved its construction for the combined purposes of storage and display. It is mendacious of the Memorial to now suggest it it unsuitable for public access to items in the Memorial’s collection.
The display function was the sole reason for the encircling gallery space, which is environmentally sealed from the storage and refurbishment area so as not to cause maintenance issues for the stored material. It was when built, and remains, one of the best storage environments in the world for museum objects. The small visitor foyer, the handicapped-enabled lift etc. plus the off-street parking, were all features included to ensure that this building would serve its visitor access role efficiently and effectively.
That building cost slightly less than $7.2M (seven point two million dollars) in 1993. It provides 5,000 square metres of storage space.
The moral: a public institution that peddles nonsense needs to be watched ever so closely – even as the decision cards fall in its favour.
Update 20 December 2020: Grand Designs presenters slam destruction of Anzac Hall; War Memorial’s digitisation plans do not go far enough
Grand Designs (ABC TV) presenter, Kevin McCloud, has signed an architects’ petition against the destruction of Anzac Hall as part of the $498m War Memorial redevelopment. Australian Grand Designs presenter, Peter Maddison, has also signed up.
“I’m anti-knocking things down just as a point of principle,” Mr McCloud said.
“I think the reason we knock things down is because it’s easier to knock things down and less imaginative to knock them down and just lazier to knock them down, just to replace them with something new and shiny and bling.”
Mr McCloud said we were heading to “hell in a handcart” if we were to demolish the Anzac buildings.
“Unless we know where we’ve been and understand what our culture is we don’t know where we’re going,” he said …
“Great architecture is a cultural asset, not a disposable asset,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Memorial is promoting the digitisation of its Lancaster bomber, G for George, saying that ‘the experience was as close as most people would ever get to being inside a Lancaster bomber’. Other recent digitisations include an Adelaide-class frigate, a Mark IV tank, a Hudson Bomber and a Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV).
It does not seem to occur to the Memorial that digitising the retired kit that it has listed as destined for its extended floor space (see note below) would give military equipment enthusiasts a better experience than the one they will get from seeing the kit hanging from the ceiling or on a plinth.
Meanwhile, the promo for the G for George digitisation repeats the standard (and accurate) Memorial line about the high casualty rate for Australian Lancaster crew but says nothing about German, including German civilian, casualties inflicted by RAF Bomber Command.
Some of the acquisitions that the Memorial has recently acquired, or is in the process of acquiring, are:
a. AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft;
b. components from HMA Ships Sydney (IV) and Tobruk;
c. S-70A-9 Blackhawk helicopter;
d. two F/A-18 A Hornet fighter aircraft;
e. two Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles;
f. two Australian Light Armoured Vehicles; and
g. RF111C Reconnaissance Aircraft.
Update 17 December 2020: Letter to editor, Canberra Times, from Dr Sue Wareham, President of Medical Association for Prevention of War (and Heritage Guardian)
Copied from our subscription Canberra Times:
From the word go, only one outcome has been acceptable for this proposal. “Consultation” has been nothing more than window-dressing, and public opinion has been treated as simply a barrier to be worn down.
Parliament has been repeatedly and grossly misled about the degree of public support for the project. The main piece of “evidence” for such support appears to be an online survey conducted in February 2020 in which respondents were told (not asked), with promotional images, that “The time has come to modernise and expand the Australian War Memorial’s galleries and buildings……”. There was no hint of the controversy, counter-arguments or the exorbitant cost. The exercise could have come straight from an advertising agency. It was a total sham.
The whole process has been shallow, secretive and dishonest. It is the very antithesis of what we should expect in commemorating our war dead. If the AWM redevelopment goes ahead, it will be a matter of deep shame that forever haunts one of our most important national institutions.
Dr Sue Wareham, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War
Update 14 December 2020: War Memorial does not need extra space larger than the MCG to tell the truth about Afghanistan and all our wars
It would be a tragedy if Anderson were to be thwarted [in his truth-telling] but, at the same time, the proposed $498 million extension to the Memorial went ahead. It would then be a case of more and more space being devoted to telling the same old simple, how we fight, “what heroes we Aussies are”, sanitised story rather than venturing into new, more honest subject matter …
The Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, should have rejected the Memorial’s heritage documentation rather than approving it under the EPBC Act. The PWC [parliamentary Public Works Committee] should report to the Parliament that there is no need for the project. Other options for the future of the Memorial should receive more than the cursory skim the Memorial has given them. Truth-telling at the Memorial does not need more space.
13 December 2020: This letter to the editor, Canberra Times, made a good point
How big will the AWM ultimately have to become?
In your Friday lead article (“AWM’s tick of approval”, December 11, p1) the Australian War Memorial’s new director welcomed the proposal’s approval. He said that the project “aims to honour the … 100,000 Australians who have served our country over the past 30 years”. His comments raise the question of what is to be built, after the next 30 years, to honour the 100,000 who will have served in the years 2020 to 2050 and so on, in perpetuity: 2080, 2110, 2140 etc?
Perhaps the residents of the suburbs of Reid and Campbell should prepare to vacate their homes in the long term. This project is short-sighted and self-serving, memorialising a tragic war that was based on a false premise.
11 December 2020: Environment Minister approves Memorial project – with some caveats
Ministerial decision under EPBC Act. Public Works Committee and National Capital Authority still to come.
7 December 2020: Architects’ social media campaign to save Anzac Hall and stop the War Memorial project
Update 19 December 2020: For historical interest, here’s the Memorial’s answer to a Senate Estimates question on what it would mean to the grand plan if the destruction of Anzac Hall was not allowed. Estimates Hansard (4 March 2020).
3 December 2020: Public Works Committee vacancy filled by Tony Pasin MP and new Chairperson, Rick Wilson MP, appointed; former Director, Brendon Kelson, on the history of the War Memorial
The Public Works Committee (PWC) has been down one member since Dr John McVeigh resigned from the Parliament earlier in the year. The PWC website shows that the vacancy has been filled by Tony Pasin MP. Liberal, South Australia. His parliamentary biodata shows his PWC term began on 30 November.
We noted on 12 November that War Memorial Council Chairman Stokes was badgering the Prime Minister to get a new PWC Chairperson appointed. Mr Stokes may have thought the lack of a Chairperson was delaying the PWC concluding its report on the War Memorial project. The PWC website today shows that PWC member, Rick Wilson, Liberal, Western Australia, has been elevated to the Chairpersonship.
Note also, though, that the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, has an extension up to 11 December to make her decision on heritage aspects of the project. Watch this space.
25 November 2020: Heritage Guardians letter to PM says he should not leave government spokesperson role to Director, War Memorial – and the Memorial slices more salami
To some extent, it’s been overtaken by events but Heritage Guardians put out this media release recently including text of a letter to the Prime Minister. The package is self-explanatory.
Meanwhile, in other news, continuing its tradition of ‘salami slicing’ the big $498m project in such ways that the whole thing becomes a fait accompli, the Memorial is changing the access route to the underground car park, which in itself had been extended in an earlier salami slice. There is to be a new tunnel out of the car park.
Like the Memorial’s earlier car park work, the National Capital Authority put a tick on this one as ‘minor works’. The cumulative effect of this salami slicing is to progressively circumvent the other approval processes (Public Works Committee, heritage approval under EPBC Act – for both, see earlier references in this campaign diary) which continue to lumber on.
A collection of links – and a reflection – on the complex set of issues arising from the Brereton report. Being updated.
A theme is developing:
- The War Memorial in recent years has to a large extent come to run its own show.
- The Memorial has been protected by the ‘Anzac cloak’ (which makes critics – and media – careful for fear of being seen to be anti-Anzac or anti-veteran or anti-soldier), by lax accountability mechanisms (especially in Senate Estimates, but also to government), and by the close connections between Memorial (narrowly-based) management and government.
- A sharp focus of the Memorial ‘show’ has been simplistic stories about ‘heroes’. (Former Director Nelson complained more than once that the Afghanistan probes were ‘tearing down our heroes’.)
- Consequently, Brereton’s revelations that there is much more to our war stories than heroes is particularly problematic for the Memorial. (The Memorial has traditionally focussed on how we have fought our wars, and not on more complex issues, like why, was it worth it, and the consequences.)
- If the Memorial’s $498m redevelopment is to be no more than a bigger, glitzier telling of heroes’ stories (complete with lots of retired military kit, made by the Memorial’s donors), that makes the project even more egregious.
14 November 2020: Open letter to PM from more than 70 Australians: reply from Director, War Memorial – and reply to the reply
The open letter is linked from the item below dated 23 October. The Director’s reply overstates the extent of change to the project as a result of the consultation but asks everyone to accept that the process has been done properly [!]. On the good side, it thanks people like the letter signatories for their passion and gives the views of the Australian Heritage Council more prominence in relative terms than the Director did in his recent appearance at Estimates.
The letter does not persist in the previous exaggerated claims about the degree of public support for the project and it looks forward to continued engagement.
Update 22 November 2020: upon reflection, Heritage Guardians believed there were some concerning aspects to the Director’s reply. A further letter went to the Prime Minister.
12 November 2020: Environment Minister gets extension of time to make a decision about War Memorial ‘extensions’
This just in from DAWE heritage people. Extension of time till 11 December (though decision could come at any point within that period).
An overheard conversation at the Memorial’s Remembrance Day ceremony raises all sorts of issues. Was this the old boy network in operation?
The text of the letter and 70 plus signatures – for those who came in late. Reply to the letter.
29 October 2020: Tom McIlroy in the Australian Financial Review quotes former Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, against the Memorial project
“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 post includes links to previous Heritage Guardians analysis, which throws into question some testimony from the Memorial to Senate Estimates.
28 October 2020: Three items in Nine Newspapers; Senate Estimates
Rachel Clun (lacking context) on employment aspects of the Memorial project. Mike Foley on the open letter to the Prime Minister. Katina Curtis on the open letter and Senate Estimates. Our take on Senate Estimates.
24 October 2020: Jon Kudelka cartoon in the Saturday Paper links Afghanistan war crimes investigation with Memorial build
23 October 2020: Open letter to the Prime Minister supporting the Australian Heritage Council’s submission against the Memorial project
More than 70 notable Australians signed this letter. The open letter urges the government not to accept the current Memorial proposal. The proposal should be withdrawn and significantly amended, or EPBC Act approval should be refused.
Among the signatories are: Paul Barratt (former Secretary of the Department of Defence), Paul Daley (author and journalist), Elizabeth Evatt (first Chief Justice of the Family Court), Steve Gower and Brendon Kelson (former Directors of the War Memorial), Carmen Lawrence (formerly Premier of Western Australia, federal Minister, and Chair of the Australian Heritage Council), Don Watson (author), architects, historians, former diplomats, and former officers of the Memorial.
Canberra Times report of Australian Institute of Architects call for halt as undermining of environmental legislation threatens.
19 October 2020: Professor Mark Kenny on the need for a comprehensive Indigenous museum in Canberra
Henry Parkes Oration 2020 at Old Parliament House makes the case for an Indigenous museum; contrasts it with spending on the War Memorial.
15 October 2020: Canberra Times editorial, project opponent letter, and local TV news
The editorial (pdf from our subscription) has a bit both ways – the project will happen but there are concerns – after giving too much space to standard Brendan Nelson emotive anecdote. The letter (our pdf) is from project opponent and former Memorial officer, Stewart Mitchell. WIN TV had a piece on the project last night, featuring the Australian Institute of Architects and Director Anderson.
9 October 2020: Analysis of the War Memorial’s document dump (‘Final Preliminary Documentation’) on heritage aspects of its $498m extension project
The post looks mainly at some places where the Memorial’s plans have changed in response to the 167 public submissions it received, presents some statistics relating to those submissions, and – because Honest History and Heritage Guardians have long opposed this project – draws attention to some notable submissions against it.
5 October 2020 updated: Government’s principal heritage adviser dumps a bucket on Memorial project
Tom McIlroy in the Financial Review reports on the Australian Heritage Council submission to the War Memorial’s EPBC Act process. The AHC is chaired by former Liberal Cabinet Minister, David Kemp AC. The Council’s final paragraph: ‘Regrettably the council cannot support the conclusion that the proposed redevelopment will not have a serious impact on the listed heritage values of the site and recommends that the matters above be given serious attention’.
The Memorial provides some guidance through a bundle of EPBC Act material – but a clear majority of public comments received are against the $498m redevelopment project.
Where we are up to with the Memorial and the heritage people working on the heritage aspects of the Memorial project. Includes a link to a Parliamentary Library paper on the project.
23 September 2020 updated: Director Anderson recycles Nelsonian arguments, flaws and all
Telling the stories is what the $498m extension project is all about, says Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, interviewed by City News, a Canberra paper available free in shopping centres. Heritage Guardians responded thus:
David Stephens, Convener, Heritage Guardians
Mr Anderson repeats and recycles arguments made familiar by the former Director, Dr Nelson. Two points he fails to confront, however: (1) every cultural institution in the world has to make hard decisions about how much of its collection can be on display at any one time; very few can display more than 5-10 per cent of their collection; to cover recent conflicts, the Memorial could repurpose the rarely visited Colonial Conflicts area on its lower floor and use the extensive Memorial building at Mitchell; (2) as Jack Waterford said in the Canberra Times at the weekend [below, entry for 21 September], the Memorial is primarily about commemorating the service and sacrifice of volunteer soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, not about ‘telling the stories’ of professional ADF members in the last couple of decades; the story-telling function is one for regimental museums and military theme parks, which is what the Memorial will look increasingly like if the current plans come to fruition.
There is more on these and other arguments here: http://honesthistory.net.au/wp/petition-on-change-org-against-proposed-war-memorial-extensions/ David Stephens, convener, Heritage Guardians; editor Honest History website.
21 September 2020: Two strong pieces touch on arguments against Memorial project
William De Maria in Pearls and Irritations and Jack Waterford in Canberra Times. A telling argument from Waterford: ‘Purists, indeed, would insist that the AWM really is about mass civilian military service in all-out war, not deployment of professional soldiers’, like those who went to Afghanistan. Yet, a strong theme of the current push for the $498m extensions is to tell the stories of professional soldiers.
17 September 2020: Choose Option 4 in Memorial consultation on heritage!
The ponderous process on the Memorial’s big build continues. After a mix-up over emails, the Memorial is asking the commenters on the heritage aspects of the build to choose how they want their comments disclosed.
It’s complicated – more than it needed to be – but here are the details. Choose Option 4, folks! (Public disclosure: Your submission will be published with only your contact details redacted, your name will be made public.) Deadline 22 September but flexible.
11 September 2020: Heritage Guardians supports Architects on Anzac Hall – and calls out Memorial’s lax accountability performance
In the Canberra Times today, David Stephens of Heritage Guardians supports Julia Cambage of the Architects (entry for 4 September below) and notes that the War Memorial has questionable form on accountability: suppression of 2019 draft heritage management plan; obfuscation before a parliamentary inquiry; dodgy survey methodology. Pdf from our subscription.
4 September 2020: Some clarification on stumbling War Memorial heritage process – but Architects call out careless statements by Director Anderson
We noted previously the unhelpful addition to the Memorial’s website of ‘a list of comment authors’, which turned out not be quite that but a list of 156 submissions marked ‘Personal submission’ plus 11 from named organisations including Heritage Guardians, Medical Association for Prevention of War and the Australian Institute of Architects. Puzzled, we checked with the Memorial and were told the reason for this coyness was ‘privacy’. This puzzled us more because we knew the Memorial had committed to publishing the full text of comments received. How could names be sensitive when publication of full content was imminent?
Advice from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), responsible for heritage, has made things clearer, for which we are grateful. DAWE advises that the publication in full of comments received by the Memorial is more than the usual practice and more than the Act requires, but the Memorial has agreed to it.
This raised a question of privacy and commenters are being asked individually if they would prefer to have material redacted from their comment before publication. This might be simply an email address or phone number but might extend as far as redacting the commenter’s name and other identifying material – what is released is up to the person who provided the submission.
The work involved in contacting 167 commenters is considerable and will contribute to the slippage already identified in the process. The Department was unable to comment on the timeframe for this process.
Heritage Guardians made the points to the department that (1) the power of many comments would derive from including the name and curriculum vitae of the commenter and (2) most commenters would have no difficulty with the publication of their details.
Meanwhile, in other news, Julia Cambage, CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects, has a letter in the Canberra Times (pdf from our subscription) calling out some careless or misinformed statements by Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, on heritage aspects of the project, particularly to do with the destruction of Anzac Hall, when it is highlighted in the Memorial’s Heritage Management Plan.
The AWM board and management do not appear willing [Ms Cambage says] to concede that their processes have been grossly deficient, or even acknowledge the broad-based community concern over this project. The Australian people deserve better from the custodians of this unique institution and hugely significant site.
Protecting Anzac Hall has been a key theme also of the Heritage Guardians campaign. We have also noted deficiencies in public statements by Director Anderson and Memorial staff. See particularly our supplementary submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry (Submission No. 40.1), where we said, ‘For a public institution, the Memorial attains surprisingly low standards in the accountability sphere’.
2 September 2020: Former Memorial officer calls out current Memorial director on Memorial redevelopment program
Today’s Financial Review (paywall) has a letter (pdf from our subscription) from Stewart Mitchell, former head of buildings and services at the Australian War Memorial. Mitchell responds to an earlier letter from Director Anderson and concludes thus:
The memorial is one of the most important sites in the country. Please stop the rhetoric and look into why many are objecting to the proposal. This development must achieve what we all want – the best outcome for veterans, the memorial, and Australian architecture and heritage.
27 August 2020: Noel Turnbull scathing on government’s misplaced priorities; an emotional look at Brendan Nelson
Veteran PR man and commentator, Noel Turnbull, on things the government would be better doing rather than splurging on commemorative bricks and mortar. David Stephens examines the rhetorical shtick of former War Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson, one of Australia’s great performers – on a par with Turkish battlefield guides at Gallipoli.
23 August 2020 updated: Architects – and maybe some politicians – against the Memorial vanity project
Tom McIlroy reports in the Financial Review on the open letter from Australia’s architects against the Memorial project and adds that some MPs have strong reservations about the project. Director Anderson responds.
21 August 2020: Monuments body, architects, professional historians make strong statements on Memorial project
18 August 2020: War Memorial $498m redevelopment project: accountability round-up – Public Works Committee and EPBC Act
Up to date as at afternoon 18 August but Memorial is working on the next iteration. Unhelpful update of 20 August.
16 August 2020: Nine Newspapers has a detailed story canvassing views on both sides of the Memorial controversy
Katina Curtis writes. Mentions or quotes include Memorial Council member Susan Neuhaus, former Directors Brendon Kelson and Steve Gower, former soldier and RSL official, James Brown, Admiral Chris Barrie, and historian Joan Beaumont.
12 August 2020: Major General Gower, former Memorial Director, responds to criticism from former Director Nelson; article in Canberra City News
Letter to the Financial Review. Canberra writer, Paul Costigan, says that the Memorial is about people, not war machines.
11 August 2020 updated: Former Chief of Defence Force against War Memorial build; PM’s funding furphy
A flurry of media this morning includes a strong statement from former CDF, Admiral Chris Barrie, that the War Memorial building money would be better spent on looking after veterans suffering from PTSD. (It comes from his submission No. 37 to the Public Works Committee inquiry. The Riot Act.) The Prime Minister, meanwhile, trotted out the old furphy that ‘not a cent’ of the money for the Memorial project is coming from the veterans’ mental health budget.
Yes, but basic opportunity cost economics means that a dollar spent in one spot cannot be spent in another. The government made a decision to spend $500m on the Memorial and that meant the money could not be spent somewhere else, for example, on supporting veterans suffering from PTSD and supporting their families coping with veteran suicide.
The PM’s remarks came at an announcement of a posthumous Victoria Cross going to sailor Teddy Sheean. Former Memorial Director Brendan Nelson, chair of the Sheean committee, was also present and cast aspersions on the motives of opponents of the War Memorial project.
Transcript of PM’s presser. The section on the Memorial is below:
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Dr Nelson has remade the case for the expansion of the War Memorial, $500 million. Are you at all concerned about the risk to the heritage of that institution, you know, one of the great places of Australia? Are you aware of community concern about the size and scope of the work that you support?
PRIME MINISTER: I think it’s a tremendous project and I think it honours all of those who’ve served Australia and will serve Australia. And particularly those who have served Australia in more recent conflicts, which was the passion of the project that was brought to me by the War Memorial Board at the time that Dr Nelson was its director.
We do need to tell all the stories of Australia’s service. And there needs to be room and space and appropriate facilities there to recognise and reflect that. And I think the designs and the project that has been put together achieves that. And that’s why the government supports it. We’ll continue to work through if there are any other issues there as we consult, as you always do with a project of great sensitivity. But this will be the most significant improvement to the War Memorial since it was first built.
And that is not at the expense of resources being available for veterans, I hasten to add. Not one cent will be spent on that memorial that would otherwise be spent on support for veterans. The best memorial we can provide to our veterans is to ensure they’re well supported with their daily struggles. And that’s certainly what we’re seeking to do.
10 August 2020: Public Works Committee hearing transcript and supplementary submissions.
5 August 2020: Australian War Memorial is not just for recent veterans but for all Australians, says former Memorial officer
Michael Piggott’s submission to the current EPBC process argues that the Memorial under recent management is being turned into something that it was not intended to be. He makes suggestions for alternative futures.
The author believes the Memorial’s push for more space is based on a particular view of the function of the institution. ‘Who is the Memorial for now?’ he asks.
The short answer is and should be “all Australians”. A slightly longer answer would add “including those who have a family connection to a name on the Roll of Honour”. Not anymore. Now, apparently, the AWM is essentially, primarily, for a much narrower section of the community. In recent decades, the AWM Council and senior management have signalled to current and former members of the ADF that, first and foremost, it is for them.
4 August 2020: Queensland heritage experts say a project like the War Memorial build would not be permitted in Queensland; Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) EPBC submission
Queensland heritage experts, Judith McKay and Don Watson, have sent a submission to the War Memorial on heritage aspects of the Memorial project. Their submission is on the Honest History site and it is a scathing critique in detail and in general of the Memorial project. Among other things, the authors say this:
As professionals with considerable experience of heritage protection in Queensland, we believe that the proposed additions would not be permitted to a comparable building here; and that, if approved, would indicate a serious deficiency in heritage controls at a national level.
Also posted today, a link to resources on the MAPW site, including analysis of the human rights records of arms company donors to the War Memorial, and MAPW submissions to the Public Works Committee and EPBC processes on the Memorial building project.
2 August 2020: Heritage Guardians submission on EPBC heritage process: Memorial’s case is based on false premises, glosses over crucial design issues, and uses dodgy ‘survey’ methodology – and Kerry Stokes gets another 12 months on Memorial Council
The Heritage Guardians submission, with a handy summary. Kerry Stokes renewed on Memorial Council for 12 months, but will he still be Chair?
28 July 2020 updated: War Memorial clamps down on volunteers
War Memorial directive to volunteers not to speak out on public controversies. Apparently, ‘for we are young and free’, the Memorial’s latest slogan, only goes so far. Update 1 September 2020: Paddy Gourley writes in Canberra Times Public Sector Informant (paywall but copy of our subscription pdf).
23 July 2020: Vietnam veteran comes out against Memorial build, in favour of direct benefits to veterans
Kevin Gill, Vietnam veteran and former national president of the Vietnam Veterans Association, has a letter in the Canberra Times today saying there are ‘many, many veterans’ who object to the Memorial project. Many more feel the money would be better spent on direct benefit programs for veterans. And the destruction of Anzac Hall is unwarranted. There are other letters in today’s Canberra Times against the project.
18 July 2020: War Memorial consultation process marked by dodgy questions
Heritage Guardians is continuing to work through the 700 or so pages of the War Memorial’s ‘final preliminary documentation’ under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The material on the Memorial’s public consultation is particularly interesting, given remarks to the Public Works Committee (PWC) this week by the Memorial’s Director about the degree of public support he claims the project has.
In submission No. 40 to the PWC, Heritage Guardians said this (para 62):
The Executive Program Director of the Memorial project told Senate Estimates in March this year (page 148) that people attending the December consultation sessions were “[o]verwhelmingly … supportive” and that “a stakeholder engagement survey … went out to 512 Australians, of which four out of five were supportive of what we’re doing”.
Four months after that statement, and five to seven months after the ‘survey’, we can see the ‘survey’ results in the Memorial’s EPBC documentation. We’ll have more to say in our response to the Memorial on the documentation, but we endorse the initial reaction of Dr Sue Wareham, President of Medical Association for Prevention of War and member of the Heritage Guardians committee, after her first look at the ‘survey’:
Respondents were told, “The time has come to modernise and expand the Australian War Memorial’s galleries and buildings so it can tell the continuing story of Australia’s involvement in modern conflicts”, and they were shown some images. There was nothing about the cost, nothing about the huge controversy surrounding the proposal, none of the many arguments against it, nothing about other ways to achieve the stated goals, and nothing about the plans to politicise the Memorial with live ADF feed.
The sentence quoted by Dr Wareham was included in words that ‘survey’ respondents were asked to read. Then followed a brief description of the elements of the project and this concluding sentence: ‘Sensitively connected to the existing landscape, the detailed plans will ensure the heritage facade remains unchanged’. Questions pitched like that are bound to lead to favourable responses. The phrase, ‘They would say that, wouldn’t they?’, comes to mind.
The word ‘feedback’, which the Memorial uses at some points in its documentation, is a more accurate description of what it has done, or rather what its consultant, Faster Horses, has done for it. The 514 (not 512) people were asked to provide feedback on selected favourably worded statements about the Memorial’s role and about the project.
As for the accuracy of the statements, particularly the one above that ‘the heritage facade remains unchanged’, readers are urged to consider the pictures below, showing the facade as it is now and as it will look after the development is completed. Australians deserve a higher standard of public administration than this stuff from the Memorial.
15 July 2020 updated: Media coverage of Public Works Committee hearing
A roundup. More added over a number of days.
13 July 2020 updated: Financial Review previews Public Works Committee hearings on War Memorial building project
Tom McIlroy quotes former Directors Gower and Kelson and Heritage Guardians’ David Stephens.
See also, a puff piece on Channel 7, owned by Kerry Stokes, also Chair of the War Memorial. Unless you blink at the wrong instant, you will see a Heritage Guardians spokesperson, making a six word comment. ABC 666 Local Radio Canberra, 14 July (from the beginning) (and here, towards the end) also had interviews with Brendon Kelson, Peter Stanley, David Stephens, Sue Wareham and lots of comments against the project.
12 July 2020: Running heritage and Public Works Committee accountability processes simultaneously is bad form
Our post looks at timing for the consideration of heritage aspects and argues that this process should not be running at the same time as the Public Works Committee inquiry.
9 July 2020: Canberra paper The Riot Act on the Public Works Committee hearings: Former directors line up to oppose War Memorial redevelopment at parliamentary hearing
Ian Bushnell writes, noting the background of witnesses at the PWC and the predominance of submissions against the development. Comments lean against the development. Quotes from Heritage Guardians material on how the Memorial is treating the development as a fait accompli, in advance of approvals.
8 July 2020: Public Works Committee public hearing 14 July on War Memorial project
Timetable and witnesses. Listen live to teleconference.
7 July 2020 updated: What the War Memorial project means for the trees on the Campbell site; and another matter
Heritage Guardians and Honest History have started to work through the masses of material on the War Memorial website (under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act) looking at heritage aspects of the Memorial’s proposed $498m project. One element is the impact on trees, many of which are decades old. Table 6.1 on page 46 of the Memorial’s submission looks at six project areas and describes tree removals and ‘net gains’ from new plantings.
Then there’s this. Para 1.1 of the submission says this:
The scope of the Project is to construct additional exhibition spaces to enable the Memorial to continue to comply with the Australian War Memorial Act 1980; to equitably tell the stories of all Australian servicemen and servicewomen who have served overseas in conflicts and operations.
By the time we get to Para 3.1 we have this:
The Memorial’s Council considers that the Memorial currently does not adequately tell the stories of those servicemen and servicewomen who have served Australia in more recent conflicts and operations on an equitable basis as required by the Australian War Memorial Act 1980. (Emphasis added.)
We are searching the Act to find the reference to ‘equitable basis’. Update 13 July 2020: We asked the Memorial to help, but found the answer it provided rather confusing. We are looking further into the matter.
6 July 2020: E-newsletter on how to provide feedback to War Memorial on heritage matters under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
Public input is possible until 31 July. This newsletter links to an explanatory post, providing a guide to the Memorial’s EPBC Act documentation.
Many readers will have provided submissions to the concurrent Public Works Committee inquiry. While the EPBC exercise is separate from the PWC inquiry, the PWC will take note of the public feedback received on the Memorial’s documentation. It is important for interested readers to be involved in both processes. The Memorial has consistently made exaggerated claims about the degree of public support for this project and the best way to meet these claims is with evidence of opposition.
Eric Hunter of Cook takes War Memorial Director Anderson to task for his recent letter (below, 28 June) stressing the tourism and economic spin-offs of the project. Heritage Guardians’ Sue Wareham is critical of the Memorial’s close links with companies that make huge profits from war and with the proposed live feed from current conflicts.
4 July 2020: A guide to providing feedback on heritage aspects of the War Memorial project
This initial pass summarises some arguments against the project and points to key parts of the Memorial’s extensive documentation required under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Many readers will have provided submissions to the concurrent Public Works Committee inquiry. While the EPBC exercise is separate from the PWC inquiry, the PWC will take note of the public feedback received on the Memorial’s documentation. It is important for interested readers to be involved in both processes. The Memorial has consistently made exaggerated claims about the degree of public support for this project and the best way to meet these claims is with evidence of opposition.
3 July 2020 updated: Paul Daley in Guardian Australia on better ways of spending the War Memorial money – on living veterans and their needs
A roundup of one argument against the $498m Memorial project. ‘The statistics about veterans with post-traumatic stress are disturbing. Helping them would be worth spending $500m on.’ Just over 24 hours after the piece was posted we could not find one of 167 comments on it that supported the project.
29 June 2020: Roundup of War Memorial project news – as Public Works and heritage examinations crank up
Articles and letters around and after the weekend contrast the financial treatment of the War Memorial with that of other cultural institutions – and give an airing to the views of new Memorial Director, Matt Anderson.
The Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, contrasted the efficiency dividend-caused straits of the National Gallery with the royal road afforded the War Memorial.
18 June 2020: Is the War Memorial playing funny buggers or are they really just looking after some rusting guns? (They do have form.)
An item provoked by some shuffling of military vehicles and guns near Anzac Hall at the Australian War Memorial. There is a link to the Heritage Guardians submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry, which submission provides evidence of where the Memorial has treated their big proposal as a fait accompli, in advance of necessary approvals.
17 June 2020: Heritage Guardians submission to Public Works Committee inquiry on Australian War Memorial project
Heritage Guardians’ submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry on the Australian War Memorial project has been posted on the PWC site as Submission No. 40. It opens thus:
The Memorial can meet its obligations without continuing with the project.
The Memorial should manage within its existing space – and make hard decisions about how to use it.
The Memorial’s ambition to provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for recent veterans is inappropriate and misguided – and a smokescreen for its demand for space to display planes, helicopters, and other retired military equipment.
The post includes links to commentary on the submissions received.
Update 20 December 2020: The Memorial’s fullest justification for the ‘therapeutic milieu’ came in an answer to a question asked in March 2020 by Senator Steele-John at Senate Estimates. The answer is heavily qualified and some of the references relate to art therapy more than museum-located provision: A0359. Estimates Commitee Hansards.
16 June 2020: Eighty-two signatories on Heritage Guardians collective submission against War Memorial project
1 June 2020: Notable slippage in War Memorial extension approval processes
Paragraph 4.13.1 of the War Memorial’s submission to the parliamentary Public Works Committee inquiry into the Memorial’s $498m extensions project includes these words:
The Memorial has commenced the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) approval process. This has included the submission of the Referral under the EPBC Act including the Heritage Impact Assessment. The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment [DAWE] have assessed the action as a controlled action, which met the Memorial’s expectations … The Memorial expects that a decision [by the delegate of the Department] on the proposed design will be handed down by the end of May 2020.
Well, here we are past the end of May and there has been no such decision from DAWE. DAWE and the Memorial have been engaged in an ‘iterative process’ for more than three months (see post of 19 May below and linked post) but ‘final preliminary documentation’ from the Memorial has still not even appeared on the DAWE site. What is going on, one wonders.
19 May 2020: Can these messy, overlapping approvals processes deliver good outcomes for the $498m War Memorial extensions?
Analyses the current states of play in heritage approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (delayed) and Public Works Committee approval (charging ahead).
All in all, this is an exceedingly odd piece of public administration. Heritage Guardians has already drawn attention to the many unsatisfactory aspects of the process, but it rolls on, protected by ‘bipartisan support’ – although Labor under Shorten may have been told rather less about the project than the government was – and by the sacred status of the Memorial. (‘It is sacred to us all’, the Prime Minister said at the launch.) The murky genesis of the extensions project will haunt it, even as the new walls and cavernous exhibition spaces (to be stacked with retired machinery of war) emerge from the limestone plains at the foot of Mount Ainslie.
12 May 2020: Sue Wareham of Medical Association for Prevention of War skewers spurious spin from War Memorial on consultation (Canberra Times today)
Well may Wayne Hitches, director of the redevelopment at the Australian War Memorial, say (Letters, May 8) that they are looking forward to demonstrating to the federal Public Works Committee (PWC) the importance of this project.
No doubt they are looking forward to moving on to a smaller audience, in the form of a government-controlled committee, having utterly failed to demonstrate the importance of the project to most people thus far.
Hitches has still not produced evidence to back up astonishing claims of public support for the project (Letters, April 24). The tactic seems to be to eventually bury any figures about “consultation” in a much longer document which few people will read. The whole process has been a disgrace.
It’s time for the AWM management to stop telling us what’s important in commemorating the memory of our war dead, whose memory does not belong to a redevelopment team, and start listening.
There is one point of agreement with Hitches however: readers should make a submission to the PWC by June 17. Material that might be helpful is available on the Honest History website; look for “Inside track for War Memorial expansion”.
Sue Wareham, president, Medical Association for Prevention of War
9 May 2020: Canberra Times letters exchange on what is ‘normal’ process – and something on the War Memorial’s rush to build
David Stephens of Heritage Guardians responds to War Memorial official, Wayne Hitches on the significance of the Governor-General’s referral of the War Memorial project to the Public Works Committee. Our summary: it is rare but legal; it shows the War Memorial’s desire to push the processes to suit a timetable it has set itself in advance of necessary approvals.
There’s also this on the compressed and overlapping timetables of the Heritage and Public Works Committee:
On the point about the two processes, note that there will be 20 business days for public comment on ‘final preliminary documentation’ from the War Memorial on heritage aspects of the project, followed by time to allow a decision by the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, or her delegate. Even if the War Memorial documentation is posted on Monday next [11 May], that timetable will extend well into June. Meanwhile, the Public Works Committee wants submissions to be in by 17 June. These compressed and overlapping timetables are a blot on good public administration.
Using the outside-Parliamentary sitting period-provisions of the PWC Act, the Governor-General in Council starts the inquiry into the War Memorial project, with submissions due by 17 June. The post includes links to material in this Heritage Guardians campaign diary that may help people wishing to make submissions to the PWC.
War Memorial arguments that recent wars are under-represented at the Memorial is not borne out by the history of its Afghanistan coverage since 2013.
26 April 2020: Much the same tune from new War Memorial Director
New Australian War Memorial head, Matthew Anderson, gave a couple of interviews for Anzac Day (ABC, Canberra Times) which suggest that the previous Memorial lines will be continued on expansion of the place and the importance of corporate donations, including from arms manufacturers.
Update 28 April 2020: Mr Anderson podcast with Defence Connect. Makes clear that the plan under his leadership is ‘steady as she goes’. Notes the potential economic stimulation arising from the expansion program. Mr Anderson says this is ‘the greatest job in the world’ and ‘the greatest honour of my career … This is Australia’s most sacred place.’ The second half of the podcast is particularly interesting, with his emphasis on digitisation.
He sees his ‘key stakeholders’ as particularly defence and ex-defence groups and people: ‘everyone who wears the uniform or has worn the uniform … [His focus is on] the fabric of the Australian Defence Force and its remarkable achievements over a century’.
As for arms industry funding, Mr Anderson says their support is welcome in telling the story of our experience of war – which they have been part of – but cannot be mentioned in the commemorative areas. It is not entirely clear why this distinction is drawn. We are relentlessly told that the War Memorial is about ‘service and sacrifice’; that is what our experience of war is all about. Why not then let the arms industry be acknowledged in the commemorative areas, too?
The MC of the Podcast did not ask about Mr Anderson’s collected works, three war books for children, nor did Mr Anderson mention them.
Analysis of the effects of coronavirus on the work of government and, in turn, possibly on the progress of the Memorial expansion project.
Update 17 April 2020: couple of things on timing.
Update 20 April 2020: Canberra Times catches up.
Update 21 April 2020: The Riot Act plus a hint on timing from the Memorial.
8 April 2020 (updated): War Memorial varies proposal but still in iterative process with Heritage
Information is available on the Heritage webpage about Referral 2019/8574, the War Memorial project, that the project documentation has been added to, to include ‘extension and refurbishment of the C.E.W. Bean Building, a new Research centre and Public Realm improvement works’. (These were included in the original project, but had been left out of the documentation provided to Heritage.) Key components, notably the demolition of Anzac Hall, remain. The additions have been agreed by Heritage (now part of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment).
We understand, from advice received from Heritage, that the Memorial will now include these additional components in assessment documentation for the redevelopment works (the preliminary documentation). Once the Memorial submits the final preliminary documentation to Heritage, a notice will be published in the media and on the Department’s website to advise that the preliminary documentation is available for public comment.
The Memorial will make the preliminary documentation available in hard copy at a location that is publicly accessible as well as online on their website for a period of 10 business days. During this time the public will have an opportunity to comment on the preliminary documentation.
Heritage understands that the Memorial is still preparing its preliminary documentation and Heritage has not received notification of when the final preliminary documentation is likely to be submitted. This advice from Heritage was dated 24 March and, at the time of posting this entry (8 April) no further information was available. For earlier information, see diary entry for 20 January below.
Pages 99-102 are the transcript of a brief appearance by Memorial officers which included an update on consultations about the extensions. There was no indication as to when information will appear on the Heritage portal about EPBC Act consultations.
Jan Bartlett put the questions. Topics covered included change of Director (Brendan Nelson replaced by Matthew Anderson), the Memorial’s attitude to chasing donations from arms manufacturers, the future of the Memorial Council, including the possible promotion of Tony Abbott to Chair, the justification for the Memorial’s $498 million extension, and Nelson’s move to a senior position with Boeing as an example of the military-industrial-commemorative complex.
16 February 2020: What role can the War Memorial play in helping service people dealing with psychological stress?
31 January 2020: What will be the Nelsonian legacy at the War Memorial?
David Stephens in Pearls and Irritations asks: will the legacy be massive extensions or an addiction to donations from arms manufacturers? Or both?
25 January 2020: Military-industrial-commemorative complex
Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper mentions the War Memorial expansion in a piece on the ramifications of the military industries.
20 January 2020: War Memorial expansion declared ‘controlled action’
Analysis of the submissions from the Australian Institute of Architects and Medical Association for Prevention of War to the Department of the Environment in relation to the Referral from the Australian War Memorial under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Both submissions are critical of a number of aspects of the Memorial’s documentation.
16 December 2019: New Memorial Director gives first interview
A piece in Nine Newspapers quotes new incumbent, Matt Anderson, at length, disclosing considerable continuity with the views of the current Director, Brendan Nelson, on priorities for the Memorial. Commenters on the article, however, were almost all opposed to the $500m expansion which Mr Anderson will oversee.
13 December 2019: Petition to stop the destruction of Anzac Hall as part of the War Memorial expansion
Signing the petition will give the lie to Memorial spinners who claim low attendance at their poorly-advertised ‘consultations’ indicates public support for the expansion.
5 December 2019: Heritage Guardians submission on War Memorial Heritage Referral under EPBC Act; an op ed on the War Memorial and the Frontier Wars
We are pleased to post the Heritage Guardians submission on the War Memorial’s initial Referral to the Department of the Environment in relation to the Memorial’s $498m build. The heading of the article provides a good summary: ‘Heritage values threatened, misleading documentation presented, gaming of the approvals process’. (We foreshadowed this submission in the entry for 3 December below.)
The post contains a summary of the submission but please read the submission in full and consider lodging your own submission – either before 13 December for this Referral or later for the next Referral. (If that sounds strange look for our references to ‘salami slicing’ and things will become clearer.)
4 December 2019: Money committed to the extravagant bricks and mortar project at the War Memorial could go instead to a Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide and to direct benefits to veterans
3 December 2019 updated: ‘Salami slicing’ a big project is a way of gaming the approvals process
A look at the two Environment Planning and Biodiversity Conservation Act referrals presently being juggled by the War Memorial. Does anyone anywhere really understand what is going on? There are chances to have a say, nevertheless. (For more, see entry for 5 December above.)
30 November 2019: Architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly is not impressed by the Memorial project; oral historian Mia Martin Hobbs on the context of the Memorial project and how it fits into our approach to post-traumatic stress
Piece in Nine Newspapers puts the Memorial project in the context of the history of Canberra planning.
This is no mere hangar for guns and poppies. This building will represent who we are now, at the intersection of one of the most important songlines in the country (Mt Ainslie to the parliament) with perhaps the most critical moment in history. Can we recreate Bean’s uncolossal gem? Or is dull, wasteful, overblown and smug the best Australia we can find?
Mia Martin Hobbs says the Memorial should get into telling the stories of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.
29 November 2019 updated: A deceptive op ed about the Memorial project
War Memorial Council member, Sharon Bown, supports the project in an op ed in Nine Newspapers. But her membership of the Council is not mentioned. And the Memorial website reprinted the op ed and did not mention Ms Bown’s Council role either. Update 2 December 2019: Memorial website now fixed.
23 November 2019: Humpty Dumpty games as the National Capital Authority waves through the War Memorial’s carpark; Canberra Times analysis of Memorial’s consultation report
The National Capital Authority has approved the carparking works associated with the War Memorial’s big project, noting, however, that there is no physical connection between the carparking and the big project – which somehow makes a difference. As Humpty Dumpty said in Through the Looking Glass, words mean just what I choose them to mean.
Daniella White in the Canberra Times looks at the recent consultation report published by the War Memorial as part of its documentation on the big project.
22 November 2019: Bernard Keane in Crikey on the Memorial’s ‘therapeutic milieu’ fetish and the Liberals’ fetishisation of the military (‘Thank you for your service’); War Memorial heritage referral is open for comments
A trenchant Keane piece in Crikey is well worth getting behind the paywall. Among other things, Keane says this:
The transformation, at colossal expense, of the War Memorial from sombre place of reflection to an exhibition of military hardware (supported by the defence companies that make up the “corporate partners” of the AWM) is in keeping with the relentless fetishisation of the Australian military by the conservative side of politics, which has now reached cult-like levels.
Meanwhile, the Memorial’s heritage referral has appeared on the Department of the Environment’s website. The next step is to prove to the department that the Memorial’s plans constitute a controlled action – which requires more consultation. Over to you, folks.
21 November 2019 updated: Former War Memorial Director Major General Steve Gower critical of expansion plans
A considered op ed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Among other points, Major General Gower describes the decision to demolish Anzac Hall in scathing terms:
There were other viable options, but only the one requiring demolition was selected. The decision is a prize example of philistine vandalism masquerading as progress. It is an egregious waste of money.
Having studied in depth the papers released by the Memorial on how options were sifted we are mystified as to how Anzac Hall was deleted and why. Our analysis by former War Memorial senior officer, Richard Llewellyn, put the question like this:
Nor do the [released] documents tell us why – and precisely how – the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall came to be part of the preferred option. It is important to know this, given the vehemence of opposition – especially from architects – to this part of the project. Did individual members of the Memorial Council, perhaps the Chairman, have strong views on deleting Anzac Hall? What did other Council members say?
Including ‘implacable opposition’ from at least some architects to demolition of Anzac Hall at the War Memorial. Plus a thoughtful piece on the difficulties of being both a memorial and a museum.
Round-up of this week’s announcement.
Includes links to an article by Paul Daley on how we miss the point on Remembrance Day and one by Sue Wareham on the continuing, accountability-free rolling juggernaut of the War Memorial extensions.
7 November 2019: Heritage Guardians submission on National Capital Authority consultation on War Memorial carparking
The submission argues that ‘salami slicing’ large projects amounts to gaming the approvals system. Director’s video for the Daily Telegraph assumes carpark will be approved, indeed assumes all necessary approvals have been received.
5 November 2019: Further analysis of Dr Nelson’s farewell appearance at Senate Estimates
The hearings of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on 23 October are further examined.
30 October 2019: Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
Hansard of brief appearance of National Capital Authority officers before this committee gives some details of War Memorial expansion plans.
27 October 2019: Estimates gives some hints on what is to come at the War Memorial
A preliminary roundup covers arrangements for choosing the new Director at the Memorial, some inconsistent remarks from the Director, and an undignified pile-on from honourable Senators. There is also an email from the National Capital Authority relating to a fence around a proposed carpark; it raises questions of accountability.
18 October 2019: War Memorial Works Approval application to National Capital Authority: the thin end of the wedge?
11 October 2019: More on the really unsuitable appointment of Tony Abbott to the War Memorial Council
Heritage Guardian Sue Wareham writes for Pearls and Irritations. For more on this appointment, scroll down.
10 October 2019 updated: Spin at Fort Campbell: heard on the grapevine
A little bird, as the saying goes, told us that a recent staff meeting at the Australian War Memorial was instructed that the term ‘redevelopment’ was no longer to be used in reference to the Memorial’s planned … redevelopment. Instead, the words ‘our continuing story’, are to be used.
Spinners will spin. On the positive side, perhaps this, along with other straws in the wind (like Director Nelson’s careful response to Brendon Kelson’s second letter: 27 September below), indicates the Memorial is taking note of at least some of the critique coming in its direction.
Meanwhile, we note that the Memorial’s website still has a section headed ‘Redevelopment’. Perhaps a change is coming there, too. (Update 16 October: now headed ‘Memorial Development Project’ with words about ‘continuing story’.)
If we have got this story wrong, we will, as always, print without amendment any correction received. Over to you, AWM spinners.
9 October 2019: History buff Abbott onto the Memorial Council is like having homeopaths on hospital boards
Paul Daley in Guardian Australia quotes Heritage Guardians, Peter Stanley and David Stephens, and historian Peter Cochrane.
7 October 2019: Fin Review story on Stokes guarantee for the Memorial project
4 October 2019: War Memorial FOI documents leave questions answered, particularly about whether Chairman Stokes’ personal guarantee helped clinch the $498m deal
Our analysis of Interdepartmental Committee Minutes released under FOI looks particularly at how the funding deal was clinched independently of the development of the Detailed Business Case and, secondly, whether the clinching of the deal might have turned on a ‘personal guarantee’ from Memorial Council Chair, Kerry Stokes.
1 October 2019: Kite successfully flown, Tony Abbott appointed to War Memorial Council
Kite flown (7 August below). Appointment made. Opportunity lost.
1 October 2019: New study estimates there are more than 5000 homeless veterans in Australia – a better target for funding than the War Memorial project?
27 September 2019: Director Nelson responds on behalf of Minister to letter from Heritage Guardian, Brendon Kelson
This letter makes a better fist of responding to Kelson than did a previous effort from the Minister’s chief of staff.
25 September 2019 updated: Memorial car park plan upsets former Director and local residents
Steve Gower and local residents interviewed about Memorial plans to remove 80 trees for a car park for workers. Director Nelson responded, mostly about the trees and that link has been added.
16 September 2019: ‘Big Things in Store’ at AWM Mitchell 5 October is a day for tyre-kickers and rev-heads; but Mitchell could be so much more
Link to item in The Senior promoting the Memorial’s reinstated annual day of display at its Mitchell annexe – a facility designed for display as well as storage. Management decisions are holding the site back from its full potential.
5 September 2019: Paul Daley in Guardian Australia compares the War Memorial to Disneyland
Daley’s piece quotes from Brendon Kelson’s letter (below 3 September).
The last word should belong to another revered public servant, Charles Bean, official historian of Australia in the first world war and founding father of the Australian War Memorial, who, as Kelson pointed out to the prime minister, wrote: “The national memorial building should not be colossal in scale but rather a gem of its kind.”
That’s the difference between a thoughtfully curated, inspiring museum that inspires quiet reflection and … well, Disneyland.
Related piece by Daley in ArtsHub on who should be Brendan Nelson’s successor at the Memorial (see 7 August for this issue also).
3 September 2019: Quite big enough, thank you! Recent developments in the Heritage Guardians campaign against the $498 million War Memorial extensions – and Nelson waves farewell
Five documents ranging from a letter from former Memorial Director, Brendon Kelson, to the Minister to an advertisement for the Director’s job. Plus five arguments against the project and two documents on heritage aspects.
7 August 2019 updated: Tony Abbott has form on commemoration but is the wrong choice for the War Memorial Council
David Stephens had this in The Riot Act on 7 August.
If Abbott were to join the Council or take Nelson’s job, the latter’s grandiose expansion plans (if they go ahead) could hardly be in better hands. The Memorial would look even more like the commemorative arm of an increasingly militarised state, its broad spaces filled with decommissioned military equipment, its visitors able to watch direct video feeds from the Defence Department, its ceremonial occasions marked by florid speeches, its excesses tolerated, even encouraged.
Nelson has paved the way for Abbott, another failed politician, to oversee an institution which has been able to largely ignore criticism. Abbott would love that.
Update 2 September: Paul Daley in Arts Hub says there is an opportunity, with the departure of Nelson, to make fundamental changes at the Memorial.
The memorial council needs an overhaul. Just like the RSL, it needs the voices of younger veterans. It needs to include progressive Indigenous voices and those of historians whose livelihoods have not been dependent on mythologising Anzac history. A new director needs to reconsider several critical issues consistent with its mandate to help Australians ‘remember, interpret and understand’ the country’s war experiences. This means reconsidering Nelson’s decision to include exhibits about current conflicts. Is it possible for the AWM and its historians to adequately parse the social and other impacts of a war in which Australia is still committed? No. That takes a reflective approach, a historical methodology, that only time can bring.
6 August 2019: Canberra Times story confirms Memorial will build car parking only on its own land and not on the Remembrance Nature Park
It’s hardly the retreat from Moscow, but it seems to be a response partly to public opposition and partly to the ACT government foreshadowing some hard questions about environmental impacts. Canberra Times story; includes material from Richard Thwaites, son of the proponents of the threatened Remembrance Nature Park. See earlier entries 30 and 25 July. It’s difficult to see how we can have a firm costing figure for the expansion ($498m) when the Memorial seems to be making it up as it goes along.
30 July 2019 (updated): Canberra Times story shows ACT government was onside with Memorial’s Remembrance Park car parking option, but the government’s caveats seem to have helped push the Memorial back onto its own land; plus: National Archives shows how Mitchell option works
Doug Dingwall in the Canberra Times reports the outcome of an FOI claim that uncovered correspondence between the War Memorial and the ACT government. The latter was pretty much onside (‘in-principle support’) with building car parking on the Mount Ainslie Remembrance Park as part of the expansion plan. But this depended on there being ‘an acceptable planning outcome’ and the impact of the construction buildings being ‘acceptable’. The government was still waiting for more information from the Memorial.
Meanwhile, at the Memorial’s ‘drop-in session’ last week, an official representing the Memorial claimed the Remembrance Park car park was just one option that had somehow leaked (see below entry for 25 July). Dingwall’s article confirms that the ‘leaked option’ story was deceptive, if not downright dishonest. The FOI material, and the public record of Director Nelson’s remarks at Estimates in February, together show that the Remembrance Park option was live at least until it was brought up short by the ACT government’s muttering about things being ‘acceptable’, along with the public opposition that was evident by the first week of March: here and here.
David Stephens (Honest History) made this comment on the Dingwall piece:
The Memorial is really making this up as it goes along – and being deceptive as well. One official at last week’s ‘drop-in session’, when asked about the Remembrance Park option, said this was one of a number of options – one that had ‘leaked’. The FOI documentation – and what Director Nelson said at Estimates – shows this was clearly not the case: the Memorial was gung-ho for the Remembrance Park option until residents started to protest. It is up to residents and other interested people to continue to hold the Memorial accountable – in a way that Commonwealth government mechanisms have so far failed to do. This has always been a monumentally silly project; it has been characterised by flawed process, too.
If the Memorial does get around to further public consultation (see below 25 July) it is to be hoped that its representatives are better briefed and/or more forthcoming on ‘the story to date’. Meanwhile, the National Archives has made a great story of an announcement that ‘gifts to Australian prime ministers over the decades are about to move to a state-of-the art facility’ at Mitchell. The War Memorial could make much more of its Mitchell campus – as former senior Memorial officer, Richard Llewellyn has said – and both the Archives and the Memorial could both encourage visitors to take the tram out to Mitchell to view what is on offer.
27 July 2019: Two letters, one to and one from
Heritage Guardian Dr Sue Wareham had this in the Canberra Times today, following the ‘drop-in session’ reported below:
Still time to stop for consultation
Wayne Hitches, program lead for the proposed Australian War Memorial demolition and expansion, promises us a public engagement plan late this year (“War memorial plans fan passionate views”, July 25, p3). What sort of public “engagement” happens after a project is already under way? Instead we have a process of telling us what’s happening, and perhaps asking our views on minor details so an announcement can be made that the memorial is listening.
One would have hoped that a Canberra Times poll that had 80 per cent of respondents supporting the former memorial director Brendon Kelson’s call to drop the proposal would send a message to the memorial to pause and reconsider (“Insider readers panel”, June 29, p33). So much for the democracy our war dead believed in.
This is not done and dusted yet, but the memorial is paying scant regard to the fact that the memorial belongs to all of us, not simply to the director and his board. There is still opportunity to go back to square one and engage in proper consultation if that’s what the memorial wants.
Sue Wareham, president, Medical Association for Prevention of War, Cook
Meanwhile, Heritage Guardian Brendon Kelson has received a response to his letter to the Prime Minister (24 June below). The letter was flicked from the PM to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the reply came from the Minister’s Chief of Staff. It seems to have been drafted in the War Memorial, is full of emotive rhetoric and fails to address many of the points in the original letter.
25 July 2019: War Memorial’s ‘drop in session’ reported
The Memorial’s ‘drop in session’ happened last evening and was reported in the Canberra Times with an emphasis on opposition from local residents. Honest History attended the session briefly. Project manager Wayne Hitches foreshadowed ‘a wider outreach as the project progressed and a public engagement plan later this year’.
Meanwhile, full steam ahead, apparently, though the officials present (a lot of them) seemed to lack knowledge of how the project had got to where it was. One official claimed the Remembrance Park car park was just one option that had somehow leaked. This is rather odd, as Director Nelson seemed pretty clear in Senate Estimates in February this year, p. 153.
What we want to do is to start this year. We started negotiations with the ACT government. The land that is immediately behind Treloar Crescent, behind the existing Anzac Hall, just across the road, we need to acquire that land. We don’t anticipate that will be a problem. The ACT government has been very supportive with this project. We want to acquire that land and build the facilities for the construction teams that will be coming in next year to work on the project.
Senator MOORE: So that would be site management in that location?
Dr Nelson: Exactly. The other thing is that in the longer term there will be 118 new car parks that will be built on that land across the road, on Treloar Crescent behind Anzac Hall.
Senator MOORE: Post construction that will still be your property and you will use it as a car park?
Perhaps the Memorial has reacted to public criticism by keeping the car parks on site. Interestingly, though, we were told that even works entirely on the Memorial’s grounds (as now proposed for the car parks) will need approval from Heritage, Public Works Committee and National Capital Authority. Car parks within the grounds are to be completed by May 2020.
24 July 2019: Don’t focus too sharply on that $498m price ticket for the War Memorial vanity project; it’s actually over $500m
Today’s piece in the Canberra Times notes additional spending on scoping the works and fundraising tips. A figure of $506m sounds about right but what’s the bet the total cost will be north of that?
23 July 2019: Cocktail party at War Memorial seems to be based on flimsy premise: is it on the level?
Tonight at 6.00 pm, there will assemble outside the Australian War Memorial invited guests for a function put on by Trippas White Group, which describes itself as ‘a leader in the hospitality industry, operating restaurants, cafés, events and catering facilities across Australia’. A copy of the invitation is below, but readers are too late to RSVP (closed last evening).
We were particularly interested in this line in the invitation: ‘A new Anzac Hall will be larger and across two-levels …’. Yet the Memorial’s own FAQs document (then scroll down to pdf) says this, amid lots of flannel-words (and a repeated paragraph), ‘The Design Competition does not instruct Designers to demolish Anzac Hall but does require them to provide a Value for Money solution’.
So, as we said in our entry of 5 July below, maybe Anzac Hall is safe after all. But that is a single-level Anzac Hall, not the two-level one about which punters are being pitched tomorrow. (Update 25 July: note that an official at the ‘drop-in session’ on 24 July said that a retained Anzac Hall could still be given two levels.)
Who knows what, if anything, will emerge out of this shemozzle? There is an air of ‘making it up as we go along’, and the project still has to go through Heritage, Public Works Committee and National Capital Authority approval.
22 July 2019 (updated): Former senior War Memorial officer reassesses the ‘Mitchell Option’ for future development of the Memorial – and finds it a better choice all round
Richard Llewellyn has produced a detailed analysis of how the Memorial has argued inconsistently for development options and how development at Mitchell could be done far more cheaply than at Campbell. There is a media release to accompany the paper. The release says, in part:
In 2017 the Memorial promoted Mitchell to the Public Works Committee ‘as an integral component of the Australian War Memorial and home to a significant national collection’ while virtually simultaneously arguing – in the context of the Campbell project – that further developing Mitchell ‘would result in the Memorial at Campbell not being considered as Australia’s “national” War Memorial, thereby lessening the importance of the Campbell site and commemorations told within.
The paper considers comparative costs for the recently completed new space at Mitchell and
the proposed new space at Campbell.
It looks as if space at Campbell will cost around 14 times as much per square metre as space at Mitchell. Yet much of the space at Campbell will be used for the same purposes as the space at Mitchell – to park large pieces of retired military kit, like fighter jets and helicopters.
The Australian War Memorial is to hold a ‘drop-in session’ next Wednesday, 24 July, from 4 pm to explain its plans for ‘early works’ associated with its proposed $498m extensions. It seems that car parking associated with the proposed extensions is now to be entirely on site.
The changes to earlier plans (including pinching some of the Mount Ainslie Remembrance Park) may well be in response to public pressure and to that extent they are welcome. There is, however, the issue of whether the Memorial is jumping the gun, by talking of the detail of its plans prior to Heritage, Public Works Committee, and National Capital Authority consideration of the project.
12 July 2019: Productivity Commission report on veterans’ services also has something to say on Australian War Memorial
This report is mostly about future delivery of services, though it recommends the administration of war graves should go the Memorial. The Commission backed away, perhaps reluctantly, from an earlier thought that the Memorial could also take on commemoration. There are some opaque thoughts on opportunity cost in the context of the proposed $498m extensions of the Memorial.
5 July 2019: War Memorial’s ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ leave answers hanging
We’ve discovered, lurking on the War Memorial’s website (then scroll to the bottom of the page) and without a date, a brief document entitled ‘Memorial Redevelopment Program: Frequently Asked Questions’. The document leaves us wondering on a couple of points.
First, on Anzac Hall. Having said all the things that are said to be wrong with Anzac Hall, the document says this:
The Design Competition does not instruct Designers to demolish Anzac Hall but does require them to provide a Value for Money solution. The solution must remain within the approved project budget, manage heritage related risks and, by connecting the Main Building to the new hall through a glazed atrium, provide an enhanced visitor experience by ensuring connection of the larger gallery space to the commemorative heart of the Memorial – the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.
So, maybe Anzac Hall is safe after all. Maybe.
Secondly, there is this garbled couple of sentences about the possible grab of a piece of the Mount Ainslie Remembrance Park for a carpark:
Q: Why is the Memorial proposing to build a car park at the base of Mt Ainslie?
A: The Memorial has considered a variety of options for contractor facilities, including parking, to support the Memorial Redevelopment Project. Whilst one of the early proposals considered was for the use of a modest parcel of land at the base of Mt Ainslie in the Remembrance Park site for car parking and contractor facilities. The intension was to leave the car parking for permanent use for visitors to the Memorial, Remembrance Park and for the Mt Ainslie summit walk. The Memorial has also examined, and continues to pursue its preference to locate these facilities on the Memorial’s own grounds.
So, again, maybe the Remembrance Park is safe. Maybe.
The FAQ document has a couple of typoes (‘intension’ above) and one paragraph is repeated. It has all the signs of a quickie, thrown together on the run, then never looked at again. But then the whole process relating to the extensions has been notable for its unusual features.
29 June 2019: Overwhelming support from Canberra Times Insider poll for Brendon Kelson’s view about the Memorial project
The Canberra Times Insider poll asked 329 people this question: ‘Do you support the call by former War Memorial director Brendon Kelson that the proposed $500m expansion should be dropped?’ The hard copy of the paper on 29 June (p. 33) recorded that 80 per cent answered ‘Yes’, 12 per cent ‘No’, with 8 per cent ‘Unsure’.
24 June 2019: Former War Memorial Director Brendon Kelson calls upon the Prime Minister to halt the Memorial project; former Memorial officer Richard Llewellyn demolishes Memorial documentation on the design choice
Brendon Kelson’s letter features in an article by Finbar O’Mallon in the Canberra Times; O’Mallon interviews Kelson. Former Memorial Registrar Richard Llewellyn points to questionable process relating to the extensions project – including evidence that Department of Finance rules have been flouted – and to problems with the proposed design, particularly the ‘new’ two-level Anzac Hall. There is an accompanying media release.
19 June 2019: Peter Stanley argues that healing for veterans is not part of the charter of the Australian War Memorial
The Memorial’s Act makes no reference to veterans. Australians have been conned into thinking that the Memorial belongs to veterans. Like Anzac Day, the Memorial belongs to all Australians. If Dr Nelson wants to fundamentally change the Memorial’s purpose [to provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for veterans], he should ask Parliament to change its Act. That might open a welcome debate
17 June 2019: Daily Telegraph campaign on veteran suicide is relevant to War Memorial extensions extravagance; more on the F-111 at the Memorial
Clarissa Bye’s detailed article on veteran suicide continues the Telegraph‘s campaign. Honest History has had a go at an op ed on the subject and it’s included in the post. And Heritage Guardians’ Brendon Kelson makes some trenchant points in the Canberra Times about the asbestos-ridden F-111 taken on by the War Memorial. Kelson said:
AWM should not be a ‘theme park’
That the newly acquired F1-11 will hold “pride of place” in an expanded Australian War Memorial says a lot. An aircraft that never saw combat with the RAAF – reconnaissance missions only – plagued with issues (eight lost in crashes, 10 airmen dead), and loaded with asbestos, should be a centre piece in the national memorial to Australian sacrifice and service in war defies belief.
The memorial is not a museum for devotees and enthusiasts of military hardware and technology, but a place to commemorate and reflect on the human costs of war to Australia.
By all means settle it in the memorial’s big objects facility in Mitchell, but keep it there and don’t further defile the memorial and turn it into another military “theme park”.
Brendon Kelson, Isabella Plains
13 June: F-111 asbestos issues set out in Audit Office report – but Memorial says all is well
Andrew Brown writes in the Canberra Times about the asbestos in the War Memorial’s recently acquired F-111. The presence of asbestos in the aircraft seems not to have been mentioned at the ceremony where the F-111 was welcomed (31 May below) but it was thoroughly examined in an Australian National Audit Office report in 2015.
The [ANAO] report said asbestos was used in adhesive throughout the fighter jets in bonded panels as well as flight control surfaces. “It is not practical to remove all asbestos from an F-111 and certify the aircraft as asbestos free,” the auditor-general report said. “This is due to potential presence of asbestos-containing adhesive within all bonded panels and primary structure of the aircraft. “An F-111 aircraft can only practicably be preserved on the basis that it still contains in situ asbestos.”
The F-111 will be displayed initially in the Memorial’s Mitchell Annex and eventually in the proposed extensions.
In a statement, a memorial spokeswoman said while the F-111 fighter jet going on display contained asbestos, there wasn’t a need for concern. “We have comprehensive documentation of the remaining encapsulated asbestos in the F-111 and manage it in accordance with workplace health and safety regulations,” the spokeswoman said. “We do not intend to allow access to the interior of the aircraft.”
An observer might ask: if no-one is allowed inside the aircraft might it be better presented digitally, with prospects of virtual operation?
9 June: MAPW calls out the War Memorial’s links with gunrunners, as seen in its eagerness to house a retired F-111
Sue Wareham OAM, President of Medical Association for Prevention of War and a member of Heritage Guardians, had this in today’s Canberra Times:
Memorial’s role in glorifying war
As the Australian War Memorial continues to honour machines such as the F1-11 [see 31 May below] along with our war dead (“‘Best in the world’: Jet added to war memorial collection”, May 31, p11), the memorial’s focus shifts more and more to a glorification of warfare itself rather than a commemoration of those who have fought and died.
Military museums – as distinct from memorials – serve a legitimate purpose in displaying old military hardware. The F1-11 is to be displayed in the short-term in the AWM’s annex at Mitchell. However, we are told it will eventually have “pride of place” in the proposed $498 million demolition/expansion of the AWM. If it can be displayed at Mitchell in the short term, why not in the long term?
Why must it be placed alongside the memory of our veterans who have died, as if the machinery of warfare has a claim on the nation’s gratitude and respect equal to that of people who have died?
How convenient all this is for the war profiteers, including Thales, the weapons company which AWM Director Brendan Nelson serves as a member of their advisory board.
Unless there is reversal of the current proposal to knock down part of the current AWM and rebuild a hugely expanded version, the war profiteers will receive a further gift in the form of taxpayer-funded display and promotion in one of our most hallowed institutions.
Dr Sue Wareham, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War
31 May: An academic analysis of the early stages of the extensions saga; an F-111 arrives at the War Memorial for future display
Nicholas Brown from the ANU History Department writes in Australian Historical Studies about the War Memorial project, though the piece seems to have been written late last year, so misses more recent developments. Brown seizes on the remark by Director Nelson, quoting with approval an unidentified veteran: ‘We’ve paid in blood, and whatever the government spends on the Australian War Memorial … will never be enough’. That would be a great accountability standard.
Brown examines the case for the Memorial project, looks at previous controversies over Canberra’s cultural institutions, and analyses the ‘therapeutic milieu’ argument. He also muses about the plan for ‘live crosses’ from the Memorial to defence exercises.
Another Brown, Andrew of the Canberra Times, reports the Memorial’s taking delivery of a superannuated F-111 to display initially at its Mitchell premises, and later at Campbell, assuming the large space offered by the extensions is delivered. There is a brief clip on the ABC’s Canberra TV News (30 May, from mark 21.0). WIN News. The Riot Act.
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show that the then Minister, Senator Ronaldson, warned War Memorial Director Nelson of potential conflicts between his roles as a member of the Thales Australia Advisory Board and as Director. The article details a number of cases where the Director was involved with or praised Thales.
Earlier story 25 April below.
23 May: Retired GP with experience in psychological medicine questions the idea of a ‘therapeutical milieu’ at the War Memorial
To justify the expansion of the Memorial on therapeutic grounds is a further betrayal of veterans not receiving adequate clinical therapy, and of family survivors of veteran suicide. A portrayal of warfare which devalues the price that veterans and others pay will ultimately increase the risks of future Defence Force personnel suffering the same fate.
12 May: Here’s how you can help the campaign for equity between cultural institutions and against the $498m. War Memorial vanity project
Our petition is closed but, as the election campaign continues, we have been asked how people can make a point about the two issues above. While the Memorial project is said to have bipartisan support, there is still, we believe, a chance to lever Labor away from its current position. Please write to your federal MP or candidate – from any party. There are talking points in the original open letter signed by 83 distinguished Australians and in the petition signed by 1236 people (post of 14 April below).
9 May: Getting the focus back to where it should be: the welfare of veterans; one of them writes for Independent Australia
Veteran Bert Hoebee writes an open letter on the need for a better go for veterans. IA contrasts with the proposed extensions to the War Memorial.
9 May: War Memorial Director for 16 years, Steve Gower, weighs in on Memorial’s reaction to the opposition to the project
Former War Memorial Director Steve Gower has written in Canberra City News about his new book on the history of the Memorial. In a long article he says this:
I’m not going to comment on the present director’s plans to demolish Anzac Hall except to observe that his recent delayed attempt to justify it asserts, amongst other things, that it is “no longer fit for purpose”.
That is nonsense (in the context of the many possible other options) as is the claim that it’s the content that is special, not the building.
On that basis even the heritage main building might be demolished! Community outrage cannot be dismissed so airily; the ongoing controversy is both disturbing and damaging. Perhaps it is time for an independent review.
4 May updated: An excellent letter to the Saturday Paper (4-10 May edition) pulls some themes together
Jack Robertson of Birchgrove, NSW, said this:
A timely Anzac Day reset
If as I suspect the small fraternity of professional sentimentalists, conspiracists and careerists who’ve cornered the market in Anzac bullshitology are too self-absorbed to get through Mark Dapin’s implacably calm Vietnam corrective, Australia’s Vietnam, they should at least read Hamish McDonald’s pitch-perfect review of it (Books, April 27-May 3). A robust antidote to the narcissistic boomer lens through which we’ve come to view that conflict is decades overdue. Even more damaging has been that woefully misread period’s distorting influence on how we now mythologise Anzac in its entirety: an increasingly jarring potpourri of self-important chest-beating, over indulgent “hyper-brokenness” and sentimental tripe, embarrassing military ignorance, and – above all – a toxic usurping by “the Digger” of all other elements of our national history and identity. As a former soldier whose family has put (and often lost) uniformed skin in every Australian conflict since Federation, including the current one, I find my reluctantly growing private sentiment each year on April 25 to be: Let’s we forget. Or at least give it a bloody rest for a bit.
2 May: Here’s a bit more evidence on those naming rights that the Memorial says it does not grant to its donors
We have been on this bandwagon for nearly a month, since Director Nelson, discussing naming rights, told Steve Evans of the Canberra Times, ‘There’s nothing like that at the Australian War Memorial’. See also below entries for 23 April and 11 April.
Here’s a bit more evidence that belies that assertion. The speaker is Anne Bennie of the Memorial, at Senate Estimates in February last year (page 114 of the Proof Hansard). We have added the emphasis:
Ms Bennie: The memorial certainly needed to seek non-government funding. We have had a number of supporters from a philanthropic perspective over a number of years that have supported individual projects particularly. Education is a lot of what philanthropic sponsors seek. There are certainly a number of education projects in the space of individual research around providing case studies and programs, and, indeed, videoconferencing, for which we have had some support to date. As the director, Dr Nelson, said, there is often a direct approach, and we look to speak to companies about their support. They are often defence contractors, but the likes of Qantas and Virgin, for example, also support the Australian War Memorial in individual ways to support the message. They provide the memorial with benefits. Often it can be in the form of naming rights. We have a Qantas aircraft collection at the moment; when we refer to our collection, it is the Qantas aircraft collection, particularly around, obviously, aircraft. There are other ways we do that. We don’t necessarily name galleries, but we will recognise sponsors on interpretive panels or specific aspects that they have supported within our galleries. We have a range of defence contractors, and, indeed, they look to support the memorial because of the role it has within the nation. Corporate and philanthropic sponsors are really looking to support the memorial similarly around that message.
The other way in which we recognise sponsors is through looking at various mentions, whether it be on our website or in our annual report. We have some recognition within our orientation gallery upon entering into the memorial for significant sponsors, both in a board-type format and again in a digital display. It’d be fair to say that a lot of supporters of the memorial aren’t seeking things in lights. Certainly, that is not what we would do. There are certainly areas where we will not put sponsors’ names. It is about them supporting the ethos of the memorial and not necessarily looking for brand recognition, if I can put it that way.
All in all, that is quite a comprehensive statement of the relationship between the Memorial and corporate benefactors. It does not, of course, cover Director Nelson’s work with Thales, for which see entries for 27, 26 and 25 April below.
‘The director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson, wants to extend the memorial at a cost of $498 million. The case he outlined in a recent ‘Strategist Six’ is as full of holes as a second-hand camouflage net.’
28 April: Here’s how you can help the campaign for equity between cultural institutions and against the $498m. War Memorial vanity project
As the election campaign continues we have been asked how people can make a point about the two issues above. While the Memorial project is said to have bipartisan support, there is still, we believe, a chance to lever Labor away from its current position. Please write to your federal MP or candidate – from any party. There are talking points below from the original open letter signed by 83 distinguished Australians and from the petition signed by 1236 people (post of 14 April below). There’s further material in the posts below.
The open letter
The Australian War Memorial’s $498 million extensions should not proceed. They cannot be justified, they show the Memorial is being given preference over other national institutions, and the money could be better spent.
The Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, touts the Memorial as telling ‘our story’. The Memorial should be revered, but Australia has many stories and Dr Nelson’s excessive veneration of the Anzac story denies the richness of our history.
Dr Nelson wants added space to display more of the big artefacts representing recent, but purportedly ‘forgotten’ conflicts, and to ‘heal’ veterans. Recent conflicts should instead be presented in proportion to their significance; responsibility for veterans’ welfare belongs with Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.
The extensions offer Dr Nelson a permanent legacy like that of none of his predecessors. His and his Council’s ambitions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of Anzac Hall, opened in 2001 and winner of the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture.
The Memorial has been treated most generously by successive governments, and has suffered less from the ‘efficiency dividend’ that has damaged other institutions.
We have just seen over $350 million spent by the Commonwealth on the Anzac Centenary and the Sir John Monash Centre in France. Should further money be spent on these extensions rather than on other needy cultural institutions or direct benefits to veterans and their families?
Oppose the Australian War Memorial’s plan for $498m extensions
- The money would be better spent on direct benefits to veterans and their families, other cultural institutions, overseas aid to war-torn countries, or other areas of pressing need.
- The extensions favour the Memorial over other national institutions, even though it presents only a small part of our rich national history.
- The extensions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall.
- Much of the extended space will be taken up with a grandiose foyer and space for decommissioned planes and helicopters which do little to promote an understanding of Australia’s wars.
- The planned direct feed on current Defence Department activities is totally inappropriate in a war memorial.
- The plan has been pushed through with a minimum of public consultation.
27 April: David Stephens on 4ZZZ community radio Brisbane; Sue Wareham and Phil Creaser in Canberra Times letters
Heritage Guardian David Stephens was interviewed by Ian Curr yesterday on 4ZZZ Brisbane. The tape is here (from mark 20.00 for about 20 minutes). Covers the AWM extensions, the Thales-Nelson buddy system and related issues.
Heritage Guardian Sue Wareham had this in the Canberra Times:
AWM funding conflict concerns
On Anzac Day media reports revealed the Australian War Memorial’s director, Dr Brendan Nelson, receives payments from a large weapons making company, Thales, for his work as a Thales board member.
In his defence, the AWM states Dr Nelson donates his payment to the memorial. This does not absolve the director or the memorial of any conflict of interests however.
In December 2015 Dr Nelson extolled the virtues of the Bushmaster protected vehicle, specifically mentioning its maker Thales, when the vehicle was installed on the AWM grounds.
The fact Dr Nelson claims to have the relevant approvals for his role with Thales from the AWM Council, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Minister for Veterans Affairs and the Australian Public Service Commissioner compounds this problem.
Did not a single one of those people consider that payments to our pre-eminent place of war commemoration from a company that profits hugely from warfare represents a conflict of interest?
Dr Sue Wareham, Medical Association for Prevention of War president
Phil Creaser, a Heritage Guardians ‘fellow traveller’ (term courtesy of Brendan Nelson) had this in the Canberra Times:
AWM expansion plan absurd
Dr Nelson has made his case (“The stories that heal”, April 20, p28) for the half-a-billion dollar expansion of the Australian War Memorial. Superficially it appears to be sound but when it is considered in detail, it is far from convincing.
While nobody could deny the need to tell stories that heal and the need to help and assist veterans, there is no hard evidence to argue why a vast sum of money is required to tell these stories.
Dr Nelson seems to believe that more and more space is vital to display large objects. There is not one major cultural institution anywhere in the world that can display anything more than a very tiny percentage of objects in their collection.
No institution can keep expanding. Hard decisions have to be made and priorities determined to tell the most significant stories and the objects that support them. You can’t do everything.
It is true that the Memorial is like no other cultural institution. The same could be said for every national cultural institution in Australia, some of whom really need urgent financial assistance to undertake core functions such as the National Archives. One could consider such basic services more important than a glorified wish list for half a billion dollars.
Phil Creaser, Civic
Also a letter from David Purnell on whatever happened to the idea that there should be a Peace Institute or similar in Canberra. We understand the reason was that a Canberra bureaucrat thought the term ‘Peace’ was communist and scratched the plan.
Check out the brilliant vicious circle, the reference to former War Memorial Director, Brendon Kelson, one of the Heritage Guardians and not to be confused with Brendan Nelson, plus the excoriation of the Thales-Brendan Nelson buddy arrangement.
On the latter, in case there is any doubt about why Director Nelson does his unpaid thing for Thales – and what this thing is – this is what he said to Patricia Karvelas last evening on ABC RN Drive:
Dr Nelson: ‘I was invited in 2015 to join the advisory board of Thales Australia, a major employer in this country … I do it because I bring to the task, I think, some guidance which can help Thales in this case in its decision-making in relation to the employment of Australians, and also reading the broader political, economic and social milieu in which decisions are having to be made’.
As First Dog mentions in a footnote, Thales has an interesting track record in terms of cosying up to people:
The French multi-national, which is one of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers, has been involved in several notable scandals. In 2006 the World Bank’s Integrity Unit blacklisted Thales for its large scale use of bribery across the globe. The move meant Thales was barred from involvement in all World Bank projects and programmes.
The company’s biggest scandal came in 2011 when it, along with the French state, was sentenced to pay a total of €630 million to the Taiwanese government for bribing officials in order to secure contracts to build six frigates. The fine was the biggest handed down in a French corruption case to date.
BAE Systems, like Thales a donor to the War Memorial, also racked up a notable fine in an American corruption case. In BAE’s case the fine was $US400m. No wonder these companies need help ‘reading the broader political, economic and social milieu in which decisions are having to be made’.
‘D]ebate about how to celebrate Anzac Day must continue to make sure it is meaningful for future generations.’ Mentions the open letter opposing the War Memorial extensions.
25 April: Christopher Knaus in Guardian Australia (plus a comment) on the not unrelated issue of Director Nelson’s advisory role with Thales Australia
Raises issues of potential conflict of interest.
25 April: David Stephens writes (Canberra Times letters) that Director Nelson’s emotive rhetoric misses key points about the proposed expansion of the War Memorial
AWM funding needs scrutiny
War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson is a master of emotive rhetoric (“A home for the stories that heal,” April 20, p.28 [see below]) but he still fails to address three crucial questions. Why should the AWM continue to expand when most cultural institutions around the world only have the space to display a small proportion of their total collection? How is what he calls a “therapeutic milieu” at the AWM better for veterans than direct expenditure on them and their families? Why does the memorial fare better in the funding game than other institutions?
Dr Nelson says “the memorial is like no other cultural institution”. This is true but not in the way Dr Nelson means. It has been granted an inside track to extravagant expenditure. The AWM should be incorporated into the arts portfolio where it would have to compete with other cultural institutions for funding.
Heritage Guardians, Bruce
24 April: Margaret Beavis, GP and former President of Medical Association for Prevention of War has a different take to the Memorial on how best to help veterans – and it isn’t building lots of extra space
[T]he healing claim [Director Nelson talks about a ‘therapeutic milieu’] is an astonishing trivialisation of the complexity and long-term treatment needed to successfully treat mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
The $498 million spent on the war memorial is $498 million not spent on veterans’ health care.
Contrary to the claims by the prime minister and by AWM Director Brendan Nelson, the $498 million is not an investment in the telling of history so much as the bolstering of mythology. After all, what does the ostentatious display of planes and helicopters or the proposed live feed of current Australian Defence Force operations have to teach us about the past? Rather, their function is to project the Memorial into the sphere of public relations …
More fundamentally, the Memorial redevelopment completes the transformation of the Anzac myth from one earlier generations would have recognised –a muted, reflective phenomenon, for all its ahistoricism – into the triumphalist spectacle it has become today. Beginning around the time of the 1988 bicentenary, and supercharged by John Howard and every successive prime minister since, the resurgence of Anzac as Australia’s totalising creation myth was not inevitable but the result of a thorough, bipartisan campaign to place it at the centre of our national identity.
The Memorial’s Corporate Plan for 2014-17 includes three examples of naming rights although the Memorial’s Director says there is nothing like that in his institution. See earlier item, 11 April below.
Murray Upton of Belconnen says, ‘To comment that “Anzac Hall is no longer fit for purpose” is nonsense. It may not be fit for what Dr Nelson now feels its purpose should be.’
Charlotte Palmer of Downer, one of the Heritage Guardians organising the community campaign says this:
Brendan Nelson appears to be a man with great compassion for veterans and their families. But, the enacting legislation for the Australian War Memorial says nothing about it being a therapy centre. If he truly cared he would relinquish the obscenely large $498 million proposed for the AWM to provide resources for post-traumatic stress.
The fear of being seen to disrespect Anzac has meant political support for the unnecessary expansion … Australia has not witnessed a more profligate cultural expense proceed with such a shamefully reckless absence of political scrutiny as the proposed half billion dollar expansion of the Australian War Memorial.
More than 500 comments within 24 hours of posting this piece – and many hundreds of likes. About 90 per cent of comments agreed with Daley’s arguments against the project.
22 April: What about finding some space at the Memorial for the Frontier Wars?
Canberra poet Geoff Page had this published in today’s Canberra Times:
It’s more than heartening to see Dr Brendan Nelson energetically defending the Australian War Memorial’s need to expand (“A home for stories that heal”, April 20, p28).
Maybe now he will be able to find at least a little alcove or portico to commemorate the Frontier Wars which are no less a part of our history than the more recent wars for which he plans to provide many additional cubic metres.
Geoff Page, Narrabundah
20 April (updated): War Memorial Director makes the case; Heritage Guardians response
The Canberra Times contains a piece from War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson making the case for the proposed $498m extensions. (The paper had previously been critical of him for not engaging with critics: see below 14 April.) The Strategist re-runs Dr Nelson’s remarks (and David Stephens refutes them: above 2 May).
‘The Memorial tells stories of men and women that hurt, and stories that heal’, Dr Nelson says. ‘Stories of our heroes must be told as a means of seeking to inspire us.’
Peter Stanley of Heritage Guardians had this in today’s Canberra Times (21 April 2019):
Need to make tough choices
Dr Brendan Nelson claims the AWM is “like no other” cultural institution (“A home for the stories that heal”, April 20, p28). Indeed: it is given everything it wants (not “needs”) – much more than other institutions.
Dr Nelson seems not to understand that if he wants to display more stuff he should do what other cultural institutions do – decide what can and cannot be displayed within the budgets provided. This may demand hard choices, but I doubt that removing the “Emden gun” from display will upset very many RAN veterans of the Great War.
Dr Nelson needs to learn that leaders of museums have to make choices within reasonable budgets – that is, to manage, and not indulge in emotional special pleading.
Peter Stanley, Dickson
16 April: A small victory for people power: War Memorial quietly posts some material relevant to its decision-making on the $498m extensions project
One of the criticisms of the way the War Memorial has gone about promoting its plans to spend $498m of your money on extending its premises is that it has done so behind closed doors. The big launch on 1 November followed provisions in a couple of Budgets for scoping studies and some broad hints from Director Nelson in Senate Estimates. Consultation with the public was minimal and gathered ‘feedback’ from just 134 individuals. Director Nelson has been criticised in the Canberra Times (see below 14 April) for his failure to engage with critics.
This has changed. Following the recent open letter and petition against the plans, the Memorial has seen fit to post on its website a 2017 consultant’s report (GHD) on options plus an Agenda Paper for a July 2018 Council meeting which discussed options. (The former document was released in response to an FOI claim.) We’ll be reading this material closely, as will other people who are interested in the project.
The Memorial has traded on its ‘sacred’ status to achieve better financial outcomes than other national cultural institutions. It has suffered less from the efficiency dividend than have other institutions and it gets an easy run through accountability mechanisms like Senate Estimates and annual reporting. It needs to be held to account more rigorously than it has been.
When people in powerful positions choose to not provide their side of the story, our readers are poorer for it, as are the people who refuse to provide it …
Dr Nelson has been approached for comment for each and every story we’ve published. But as it stands, Dr Nelson has opted against responding to many of the specific complaints. He was offered the opportunity to explain via an opinion piece why the half-a-billion-dollar redevelopment was needed, however he declined …
Of course you’ll rarely have full agreement on any project, minor or major. But more engagement with those who have expressed their concerns or opposition would strengthen the memorial’s case that it enjoys broad public support.
13 April: Canberra Times poll says two-thirds are not comfortable with the Australian War Memorial receiving funding from ‘gun-runners’
Today’s Canberra Times – hard copy p. 35, hard to find online – says 64 per cent of those polled answered ‘No’ to the question ‘Are you comfortable with the Australian War Memorial receiving funding from companies which make weapons’. ‘Yes’ tallied 28 per cent and ‘Unsure’ 8 per cent. There were 403 respondents to this Canberra Times Insider poll, members of a panel of readers who give feedback each week.
Two respondents’ comments:
It sickens me that the War Memorial’s major theatre should honour BAE Systems, a merchant of war that has been creating so much death and misery in Yemen and elsewhere.
It is quite wrong for the memorial to seek and accept funding from the so-called gun-runners. I suggest its administration has lost its moral compass.
Explanation: (1) Honest History sees the issue of arms company funding of the Memorial as closely related to the campaign against the Memorial’s extensions. In both instances, the Memorial shows a disregard for public opinion. (2) ‘Gun-runners’ is a term used by senior Australian Defence Force officers to describe arms manufacturers.
12 April: This sort of hyperbole calls for a sartorial response
During his ABC Radio Canberra interview this week, War Memorial Director Brendan Nelson claimed that, of the 83 signatories to the open letter against the extensions, he had only ever seen three of us at the Memorial. This is hyperbole of the highest Nelsonian calibre. For example, I have visited the Memorial more than two dozen times in the six and a bit years since Dr Nelson took the job and, from a quick skim through the list of 83, I can see many others whose professional work, let alone private interests, would have taken them there also. Clearly, the signatories need to identify themselves, perhaps with a tee-shirt looking something like this.
12 April: The architects dig in against the extensions, while the War Memorial shifts ground, and the ABC offers a strange perspective. An extract:
The War Memorial belongs to all Australians, not just ‘veterans and current service men and women’, yet its future seems to have been hijacked after minimal public consultation – just 134 individuals provided feedback to the Memorial’s consultation process last year – and on the basis of confused and inconsistent arguments. As Mr [Philip] Leeson [ACT Chapter President, AIA] said in the AIA statement, ‘If the Australian War Memorial’s management thought our and the community’s opposition to their destructive plans would simply fade away, they have grossly miscalculated’.
11 April: A comment on War Memorial Director Nelson’s interview with ABC Radio Canberra, plus what didn’t happen at Senate Estimates, and some close analysis of what constitutes a naming right. Here’s an extract:
Some donors in other museums and public sites get “naming rights” – the peace bell in Canberra, for example, is officially the Canberra Rotary Peace Bell. But, Dr Nelson said, the arms companies which donate do not insist or get those rights. “There’s nothing like that at the Australian War Memorial,” he said. (Emphasis added.)
Nothing like that? Exhibit 1. The War Memorial’s theatre is the BAE Systems Theatre. ‘During the year a successful sponsorship agreement was reached with BAE Systems for the Memorial’s theatre’, says the Memorial’s Annual Report for 2008-09 at page 48. The agreement was renewed in 2013 and here is a picture of a wreath laying ceremony in the theatre in 2016. There is another picture of the theatre on the Memorial’s ‘Venue Hire’ page, in which the BAE Systems logo appears in a place of honour above the War Memorial logo. BAE Systems’ name also appears in large letters above the door of the theatre, so those who enter have no doubt whose largesse they are enjoying.
Update 14 April: Sue Wareham in the Canberra Times on naming rights: ‘Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson is getting very careless with his facts when he states that arms companies that donate to the Memorial don’t have naming rights’. More to come soon on naming rights. Anyone heard of the Kingold Education and Media Centre?
For more evidence, see 23 April above.
Our petition on change.org against the proposed $498m extensions to the Australian War Memorial closed on 7 April 2019. It received 1236 signatures and we will now take steps to bring it to the attention of Bill Shorten and other relevant people. Of those who signed, 224 (18 per cent) made comments. We launched the petition following the extraordinary support received on Twitter after the front page story on 23 March in the Canberra Times and online in Nine (Fairfax) papers.
9 April 2019
What the petition said
Oppose the Australian War Memorial’s plan for $498m extensions
The money would be better spent on direct benefits to veterans and their families, other cultural institutions, overseas aid to war-torn countries, or other areas of pressing need.
The extensions favour the Memorial over other national institutions, even though it presents only a small part of our rich national history.
The extensions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall.
Much of the extended space will be taken up with a grandiose foyer and space for decommissioned planes and helicopters which do little to promote an understanding of Australia’s wars.
The planned direct feed on current Defence Department activities is totally inappropriate in a war memorial.
The plan has been pushed through with a minimum of public consultation.
The petition analysed
For people of my generation – I was born in 1949 and had relatives killed in both world wars – commemoration is not speeches by politicians, or parades and wreaths and children waving flags, or even emotive tours [of the War Memorial] with Dr Nelson; instead, it is something families live every day and every week, forever and down through the generations. People – of my generation or any generation – who grasp that fact do not need coaching in commemoration from Dr Nelson. And they do not need a bigger War Memorial.
- Opposition to War Memorial’s $498 million extensions grows; more than 80 distinguished Australians sign letter (23 March 2019). Includes the letter signed by 83 distinguished Australians and the list of signatories, as well as later media coverage. Open for comments.
- Total Australian spending on the Anzac centenary is around $A600 million – or $1.1 billion if you include the proposed War Memorial extensions (19 February 2019).
The campaign is being wrangled by Heritage Guardians, a small committee. The members of the committee are:
- Brendon Kelson, former Director, Australian War Memorial
- Dr Charlotte Palmer, committee member, Medical Association for Prevention of War (ACT Branch)
- Professor Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra
- Dr David Stephens, Editor, Honest History website
- Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War.
24 March 2019 updated
Heritage Guardians: coordinating community action on the War Memorial extensions
‘[It should] … not be colossal in scale but rather a gem of its kind’ (Charles Bean and the Australian War Museum Committee, 11 October 1923, on the proposed building and collection)