Stephens, David: More lunge-parry-thrust in Senate Estimates on War Memorial matters

David Stephens*

More ‘lunge-parry-thrust** in Senate Estimates on War Memorial matters’, Honest History, 7 December 2022 updated

Update 3 May 2023: FOI claim on War Memorial delivers heavily redacted version of Memorial’s briefing notes for this Estimates hearing (Ref No. 2022-23-08). Very little information provided.


The format of Senate Estimates is not designed to bring out the truth. Not much emotion or angst either. Except, of course, when Senator Penny Wong in Opposition was in full cry at the Defence Department.

The Australian War Memorial has generally had an easy Estimates run, with the Anzac cloak snapping into place to protect the ‘sacred’ institution from too much probing. In earlier days, of course, there were also the bravura performances from the then Director, Brendan Nelson, back in his old parliamentary stamping ground with nods and winks aplenty for former colleagues.

This time around (on 8 November), the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee gave the Memorial 45 minutes, rather more time than it has had recently. We have analysed the 8 November hearing to bring out the Memorial’s backsliding on the Frontier Wars. Here’s some more.

Senator Canavan flogs the 2014 blog but is reminded of the wonders of interpretation

As foreshadowed by Geoff Chambers in The Australian, the Nationals, through Senator Canavan (Queensland; pp 30-34 and 36-37 of the Proof Hansard) came armed with a copy of a War Memorial blog dated 2014 which claimed the Memorial could not portray the Frontier Wars without a change to its legislation. After a long bout with Memorial Director Anderson, the Senator reluctantly accepted that the Memorial Council had the right to interpret its legislation to do the few things it has done on the Frontier Wars since 1986 – and that it had a legal opinion saying just that.

Senator Thorpe catches up with (some of) the history of the Memorial’s gargoyles

Senator Thorpe (Greens, Victoria; pp. 34-36) asked the Memorial about its gargoyles, specifically the ones representing an Indigenous man and woman. These sculptures do not have a happy history, but the Senator missed the main point of it: that the original 1941 gargoyles portrayed a First Nations man and woman as equivalent to fauna. Director Anderson pointed out that the two gargoyles of concern no longer had water running from their mouths and that all 26 gargoyles had been replaced in 2016-17 after a long process, including extensive consultation with First Nations people.

Senator Chandler gets an update on the big build – with some facts missing

Deputy Chair Senator Chandler (Liberal, Tasmania; p. 37) gave Director Anderson the chance to update Senators about the progress of the $548 million extensions program, which the Director duly did. He said nothing about the strange Budget manoeuvres associated with the $50 million extra the Memorial received in the dying days of the Morrison government, but then the Senator did not ask about that and if Senators do not ask, they are very unlikely to be told.

Senator Shoebridge (kind of) nails the Memorial’s willingness to play along with gunrunner donors

Update 13 December 2022: The section below is reprinted in Pearls & Irritations.


Senator Shoebridge, a fierce new Green from New South Wales (pp. 37-40), tabled a document which showed how keen the Memorial has been to oblige its corporate donors. The donor here was Lockheed Martin, in 2020 the world’s largest arms manufacturer by value of sales ($US58.2 billion), but which picks up a few ‘corporate responsibility’ brownie points by donating small change to the Memorial ($727,000 from 2013-14 to 2019-20 from Lockheed Martin Australia and the parent Lockheed Martin company: Question on Notice No. 42, 2019-20 Supplementary Estimates, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee).

Formally, the document (dated 2018) the Senator waved around is Lockheed Martin’s, obtained from the Memorial under FOI. We have seen it and a couple of similar ones. Signed off by the Memorial’s representative, it enables Lockheed Martin to say it is not making donations to a government body to influence its arms contracts with the Australian government – which are worth squillions. (Lockheed is competing, for example, with Northrop Grumman at present for a contract worth $2.7 billion, and that’s just one of many.) As the Senator said: ‘The purpose of having this limitation on behalf of Lockheed Martin is so that Lockheed Martin is not seen to be making financial contributions to governments, or any agency or association associated with a government, that it’s also selling weapons to. It’s an integrity measure.’

So, an official at the Memorial signed an ‘international contributions compliance certification form’ provided by Lockheed Martin that said

[t]he Recipient Organization [the Memorial] is not an agency, organization, association, or instrumentality of the Australian government, any political party in Australia or a public international organization, and is not otherwise owned, in whole or in part, or controlled by the Australian government or any Australian political party or government official, or an official of a public international organization. [Spelling slightly revised from the Hansard to match the original.]

There was more in the form about not using Lockheed’s money to ‘improperly influence’ Australian officials or obtain an ‘improper advantage’.

Senator Shoebridge asked Director Anderson to admit that the statement signed off by the Memorial officer was ‘plainly wrong’, in that the Memorial clearly was ‘an agency, organisation, association or instrumentality of the Australian government’. The Director pointed out instead that the Memorial had inserted words (in red, indeed) in the form: ‘The Memorial is a statutory authority of the Australian government, with an independent governing council’.

The Department of Finance two page ‘Flipchart of PGPA Act [Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013] Commonwealth entities and companies‘ dated 15 November 2022 shows lots of statutory authorities, but the term ‘statutory authority’ simply means ‘an Australian Government body established through legislation for a public purpose‘. It is not defined in the relevant current legislation, the PGPA Act, which is written in terms of ‘Commonwealth entities’ and divides all except 17 of the 190 entities listed into ‘corporate’ or ‘non-corporate’. (The other 17 are companies under the Corporations Act.)

The Flipchart classifies the Memorial as a ‘Corporate Commonwealth entity’, one of 72 in that category. The category also includes the Australian National University, the ABC, the National Gallery, the National Library, and the National Museum, each of them with its own Act and similar words about the powers and functions of their governing Boards or Councils as are found in the Australian War Memorial Act 1980.

In essence, the Memorial representative in signing the 2018 form – and Director Anderson at Estimates – were using the generic but legally meaningless category ‘statutory authority’ as a figleaf to cover the Memorial’s paving the way for Lockheed. The fact that the Memorial can be called a statutory authority does not mean it is not at the same time a ‘Commonwealth entity’ as on the PGPA Flipchart or, in Lockheed’s terms ‘an agency, organisation, association or instrumentality of the Australian government’.

What fibs bureaucrats have to tell to cadge a dribble of funds out of donors. To complete the story, though, we need to mention that other evidence, dated 4 October 2022, is a letter where a Memorial officer admits (to someone not Lockheed), ‘The ongoing relationship the Memorial has with Lockheed Martin would lead a reasonable person to understand the Memorial is funded by and a part of the Australian Government’.

So, what the Memorial says depends upon whom it is addressing. Perhaps Director Anderson should have had this letter in hand to parry the lunging thrusts of the fierce Senator from Sydney.

And there’s this: military-industrial-commemorative complex

By the way, Kim Beazley, newly elected and appointed as the Chair of the War Memorial Council, was also from 2016 to 2018 a member of the Board of Lockheed Martin Australia (see above). Another example of what we have called ‘the military-industrial-commemorative complex’ and others have labelled simply ‘the revolving door’.

*David Stephens is the editor of the Honest History website and has been convener of the Heritage Guardians group opposed to the $548 million War Memorial extensions.

**Lunge, parry and thrust are three basic moves of the sport of fencing. Using those terms here probably attributes more finesse than applies to the average Estimates Committee encounter.


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2 comments on “Stephens, David: More lunge-parry-thrust in Senate Estimates on War Memorial matters
  1. admin says:

    Stamping or stomping. It’s a cultural thing.

  2. Leighton View says:

    Grand summation, David, brings a lot of the “quiet continuing swirl of baloney” into focus as regards the “Brendan Bunker” ongoing saga. By the way, is it “stamping” or “stomping” ground? I’ve always heard “stomping”.

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