‘”False premises”, “underplayed and glossed over”, “overblown claims and dodgy methodology”‘: Heritage Guardians takes a close look at War Memorial’s EPBC documentation’, Honest History, 2 August 2020
The Australian War Memorial’s ‘final preliminary documentation’ under the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act has been on the Memorial’s website since early July. The documentation relates to the Memorial’s $498m. redevelopment program.
The public comment period closed on Friday and Heritage Guardians understands a large number of submissions has been received. This repeats the experience of the parliamentary Public Works Committee (PWC) inquiry into the project, where the number of submissions received (80 per cent of them against the project) was by far the most received for a PWC inquiry for many decades.
The Heritage Guardians submission was lodged on Friday and, by agreement with the Memorial, it is made available here. A summary is below. The history of the Heritage Guardians campaign against this unnecessary and vainglorious project is here.
Summary of Heritage Guardians submission
The Memorial wrongly claims that treating servicemen and women from recent wars on an ‘equitable basis’ with men and women from earlier wars is required by the Memorial’s Act. The equitable basis argument actually derives from the Memorial’s Corporate Plans, documents signed off by the Memorial’s Director.
The Memorial wants more space to tell the stories of recent wars. But equating respect with space is nonsense: it would be better evidence of respect if the Memorial made hard decisions about the use of its existing space, for example, taking space from exhibits on wars long ago.
The Memorial claims that its exhibits can provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ and healing for veterans. There is a lack of medical evidence for this claim.
Ultimately, the Memorial relies on ‘the Anzac cloak’, inhibiting normal standards of accountability to justify open-ended spending.
A deeply flawed design choice process led to selection of the only option that included the destruction of Anzac Hall. The planned two-level Anzac Hall replacement has problematic design features.
The Memorial claims that the redevelopment will mean the southern façade of the Memorial is unchanged, but the Memorial’s own illustrations and the text of its EPBC submission give the lie to this claim.
The Memorial’s 2011 Heritage Management Plan (HMP) gives Anzac Hall a central place at the Memorial. Demolishing Anzac Hall breaches the HMP.
The Memorial’s consultations about the redevelopment have been selective and its reporting of them misleading. It lumps together results from four different consultation formats, despite the varying quality of the results from each format.
The Memorial also glosses over the fact that 70 per cent of its consultation events were in RSL or similar ex-service clubs or at the Memorial or the Shrine in Melbourne.
The Memorial’s consultation results are greatly at odds with public opinion gathered by the opponents of the redevelopment.
The Memorial’s so-called ‘online survey’ is actually an exercise of seeking feedback to leading questions about the redevelopment, presented to people who often had only sketchy knowledge of the Memorial’s role and the plans for its future.
The Memorial’s presentations to the public about the redevelopment gave a misleading picture of the plans.
Despite protestations from the Memorial Council Chair that decisions have not been made about what exhibits will occupy the Memorial’s extended space, there is plenty of evidence that the space will be filled by retired military equipment, which will tip the balance of the Memorial firmly towards military museum and away from memorial.
* David Stephens is convener of the Heritage Guardians group and editor of the Honest History website.