Stephens, David: ‘All you’ve got to do is dig, dig, dig!’ National Capital Authority waves through the War Memorial’s ‘early works’ application

David Stephens*

‘”All you’ve got to do is dig, dig, dig!”** National Capital Authority waves through the War Memorial’s “early works” application’, Honest History, 8 June 2021 updated

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.

We will do an analysis of the NCA’s consultation report at some point and link it from this post. The report proper is 13 pages long but the complete report runs to 1195 pages because of the need to summarise and comment on the 601 submissions the Authority received. Our quick look at this summarising effort suggests it is inadequate and a token effort.

The key sentence of the report is as follows:

The NCA considered all issues raised and concluded the proposal is not inconsistent with the National Capital Plan and is supported by the NCA (report, page 13).

The Authority has required the Memorial to plant 250 new trees to replace the 140 being destroyed (report, page 9).

Of the 601 submissions received, just three supported the Memorial’s proposal, 590 expressed concerns about some or all of the proposal, and eight were neutral (page 7). Late submissions were still trickling in while the Authority was considering the report.

The Memorial’s reaction.

The Minister’s media release.

Reaction from Medical Association for Prevention of War (below).

Reaction from Australian Greens (below). Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John.

Reaction from Australian Institute of Architects (below).

Canberra Times article. And a great cartoon by David Pope on 8 June. Canberra Times letters to the editor, including two from Dr Sue Wareham of MAPW and Heritage Guardians.

Nine Newspapers article.

The Riot Act (Canberra) article. Commentary in The Riot Act from Zoya Patel. More in The Riot Act: AWM and NCA defend their position.

The New Daily article. Architecture and Design.

Canberra Times editorial, 9 June.

From the moment former Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson started lobbying the government for a major redevelopment of the capital’s most visited and highly regarded institution, its fate was signed …

There is no doubt that there are gaps in what the War Memorial provides regarding coverage of more recent conflicts, and whether it provides the best experience, particularly for veterans.

But, even when there is agreement on those issues, there has not been a clear case made that the only answer was a $500 million redevelopment …

[V]ery little seems to have changed in the plan since it was first unveiled at Parliament House in 2018 …

[T]hose who made submissions to the many reviews, particularly that by the National Capital Authority, would be justified in feeling dismayed that their objections seem to have been ignored.

Despite hundreds of people calling for Anzac Hall to be retained, and for dozens of mature trees to be saved, the only requirement placed on the memorial was to plant more trees than will be removed. It doesn’t give the sense that the consultation has been genuine, or in good faith.

In the broadcast media, there was coverage on ABC Local Radio Canberra 666 (mark 2.12.00-2.25.00), and again later in the morning, ABC RN Breakfast (former ADF chief, Chris Barrie, from mark 9.00), ABC News, Nine News Canberra, ABC TV News Canberra, 3CR Melbourne, Phillip Adams on ABC Late Night Live (short burst at the start only), and other media.

Blog from Bishop George Browning.

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.

Bernard Keane in Crikey.

An article by Sarah Basford Canales in the Canberra Times about whether politicians actually value public consultation includes a comment from a deliberative democracy expert that the NCA’s Memorial consultation seems to have been a box-ticking exercise. Canales notes, however, the limited remit of the NCA – assessing projects against the National Capital Plan.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of the Heritage Guardians group opposing the War Memorial project.

** This is a reference to the message by the British commander, Sir Ian Hamilton, at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915: ‘All you’ve got to do is dig, dig, dig until you’re safe’. He said this when others were counselling withdrawal. Perhaps it will be a motto on bulldozers at the Memorial in the near future.



7 June 2021



The NCA today announced that “early works” at the AWM – in the form of the destruction of Anzac Hall, the removal of 140 trees, and major excavation at the front of the memorial – have been approved.

Dr Sue Wareham, President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), which has been prominent in opposing the proposed redevelopment, said today, “The whole consultation process has been an absolute disgrace, a sham from start to finish.

With the “early works” approved and the AWM reduced to a building site, the next step will be for the NCA to decide whether rebuilding should occur.  One could not imagine a more ludicrous situation.”

The NCA’s own report released today stated that the recent consultation process received 601 submissions, of which 3 (three) supported the works.  That’s ½%.  The other 99.5% who expressed concerns, including a large number of authoritative voices, have been over-ruled. 

The Chief Executive of the NCA, Sally Barnes, recently told Senate Estimates that the NCA’s role is “to maintain Canberra as a capital that all Australians can be proud of and that reflects the national value”.

Dr Wareham said, “How can we be proud of a national capital where decisions are made by powerful people behind closed doors, and public opinion is trampled on?  That’s how autocracies behave, not democracies.”

Dr Wareham was also very critical of the great speed with which 601 submissions were assessed and a decision made. “From our communication with the NCA, we understand that the Agency was struggling to properly handle such a large number of submissions, but within a very short space of time a decision has been made.”

The AWM has consistently lied about the extent of public support for their proposal, and the NCA is now complicit.

Dr Wareham said, “The fact that we’re talking about the commemoration of those who died for our democracy, makes the situation particularly damning.

This is a very sad day for Australia.  This decision must be reversed, and the NCA reformed, so that it reflects the views of the Australian people whom it is meant to represent.”

Australian Greens (ACT)




 ACT Greens condemn NCA approval as anti-democratic

The ACT Greens have today called the NCA approval of early works as part of the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial “outrageous and anti-democratic,” restating the ACT Greens commitment to standing with the community in opposing the project.

“The approval, which paves the way for the Morrison Government’s $500 million redevelopment, demonstrates that the ‘consultation process’ is a farce,” Greens candidate for Canberra, Tim Hollo, said today.

“The NCA received triple the number of submissions they have for any other issue, making it crystal clear that Canberrans do not support this development. It’s incredibly disappointing that they have waived this through without even taking the time to consult more widely,” Hollo also said.

“By the NCA’s own admission, of the record 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”, added Hollo

Under questioning by Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, head of the NCA Sally Barnes confirmed that the NCA can knock back proposals that are inconsistent with the National Capital Plan and are shown to be unpopular. See the full exchange here.

Comments attributable to Greens candidate for Canberra Tim Hollo:

“We knew that the NCA was receiving pressure from the War Memorial and Federal Government, but are genuinely shocked at the speed at which this proposal was approved.

This demonstrates a fundamental failure to engage seriously with the depth and breadth of community opposition.

This highlights the need for democratic reform of the NCA. Canberrans deserve to have a say in the shape and nature of the city we live in – something we will be talking about more in the coming weeks.

The NCA is responsible for maintaining Canberra’s symbolic role as the seat of Australian democracy. Their action today in ignoring the overwhelming community opposition and waving through this project shows how little they care about democracy and about their role in celebrating it.”

Australian Institute of Architects

7 June 2021

Statement on Anzac Hall

Comment from #HandsOffAnzacHall campaign spokesperson and former National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, Clare Cousins:

“Australia’s regulatory framework has failed Australians at every step of this abomination of an ‘assessment’ process.  Supposedly ‘independent’ decisionmakers have been shown to be nothing more than toothless tigers dancing to the tune of their political masters.

Expert advice on the significant negative heritage impacts to the AWM from demolishing Anzac Hall, as well as widespread community opposition, have been equally ignored.

The Environment Minister, the Parliamentary Public Works Committee and now the NCA have together created an abysmal precedent that endangers every other piece of public architecture in this country.”

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