Stephens, David: Another skirmish of attrition in Senate Estimates

David Stephens*

‘Another skirmish of attrition in Senate Estimates’, Honest History, 23 February 2023

Honest History watched this live on 15 February for the War Memorial’s appearance. We glanced at the video (from 20.07). Nothing leapt out from either medium. Indeed, there was a sense of deja vu with some of the questioning. We decided to wait till the Proof Hansard appeared to see if we had missed something. We hadn’t.

Memorial told big fibs to pick up small change from gunrunner company (pages 94-98, 103-06 of the Proof Hansard)

As he had done previously (Question on Notice N0. 20), Senator Shoebridge (Greens, NSW) questioned Memorial Director Anderson on some documents which showed that over a number of years the Memorial’s representatives had signed off that the Memorial was not an Australian government body. This was so that Lockheed Martin, world’s richest manufacturer of weapons of war, could make its small change donations to the Memorial but could, hand on heart, claim it was not by these donations trying to get an inside track on one or more of its many contracts with – the Australian government.

Senator Shoebridge claimed continually that the Memorial had told fibs, that the Memorial was indeed an Australian government body; Director Anderson responded again and again that it was OK because the Memorial was a statutory authority, with an independent Council. Of course it is, but it is also an Australian government body. As the current official ‘Flipchart’ of Commonwealth entities and companies – which, for some reason Senator Shoebridge did not refer to – makes abundantly clear: there it is, under ‘Veterans Affairs (part of the Defence portfolio) Australian War Memorial’.

Frontier Wars and cost of Memorial redevelopment only get passing mentions (pages 100-102, 105-08)

Senator Canavan (Nat. QLD) asked if Memorial Council Chair Beazley had, prior to his interview with Patricia Karvelas on the ABC on 6 February, received a briefing about that interview. Director Anderson said there was no such briefing but that Mr Beazley had met the Memorial’s Indigenous Liaison Officer and other officers, ‘so he would certainly be across the issues as they affect the Australian War Memorial’. It is not clear whether these meetings with folks at the Memorial were before or after the Karvelas interview.

Senator Shoebridge made no attempt to probe for any differences between Mr Beazley and Memorial management on the Frontier Wars but there was this brief exchange:

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: [C]an I indicate that the steps that the Australian War Memorial is taking to acknowledge the frontier wars—which I think, on any view, are consistent with the functions of the memorial under section 5(1)(a)(ii) of the act—are noted, and I hope that they have a degree of prominence in the new display that will be opened at some time.
Mr Anderson: Thank you, Senator.

There was inconclusive discussion about whether the Memorial’s current Act allowed it to cover the Frontier Wars: Director Anderson said it did; Senator Canavan was not convinced.

Finally, the Memorial advised Senator Canavan that the $10.1 million geothermal energy project included in the redevelopment was pretty much on track and on budget. No-one raised the bigger issue whether the Memorial was worried about a cost blowout on the overall redevelopment project, even though there was information in the public domain (collated by the current author) that the Memorial had quietly revised downward its estimates of how much new space would be created by the project.

What’s it like working at the Memorial? (pages 93-94, 99)

Senator David Pocock (Ind., ACT) asked a couple of questions on the recent Australian Public Service Employment Census. The survey answers from Memorial staff suggested it was a less than ideal place to work in terms of inclusive culture, salaries, and disruption caused by the current redevelopment. Director Anderson recognised the issues and said the Memorial was improving and everyone was being brought together and being encouraged to own the redevelopment.

Later, Senator Canavan asked if any staff had shown reluctance to work on Anzac Day, following a government decision that revoked a requirement from the previous government that staff should work on that day. The question was taken on notice, particularly in regard to any consultation there may or may not have been with ex-service organisations, although there was some dispute about the strength of the previous requirement.

Also ran

Senator Fawcett (Lib, SA) and Senator Roberts (Hanson, Qld) spoke briefly.

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

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