Stephens, David: More on the War Memorial’s carelessness about naming rights

David Stephens*

‘More on the War Memorial’s carelessness about naming rights’, Honest History, 23 April 2019

A couple of weeks ago, Honest History posted some analysis about ‘naming rights’ at the Australian War Memorial. The piece was triggered by War Memorial Director Brendan Nelson’s claim to Steve Evans of the Canberra Times:

He [Dr Nelson] said that companies like Boeing (which makes warplanes and missiles as well as civilian aircraft) and Lockheed Martin (which makes the Trident nuclear missile as well as a range of other weapons systems) have no say in how their money is used.

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.)

Our piece pointed to the BAE Systems Theatre at the Memorial, which seems incontrovertibly to be an example of a feature or fixture of the Memorial bearing the name of a donor in consideration of its donations. There were also references to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, which were less clearly cases of naming rights, but certainly examples of useful exposure for a corporate brand – and, in the case of Boeing, a nice plaque for its Chief Executive Officer and Fellow of the Memorial.

Since the earlier piece, Heritage Guardians’ Dr Sue Wareham followed up with a letter published in the Canberra Times:

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, “nothing like that” (“Nelson defends memorial donations”, April 6).

As soon as one enters the AWM there are sponsors’ names prominently displayed near the entrance desk, including the world’s biggest war profiteer Lockheed Martin.

And who is the Memorial’s BAE Systems Theatre named after if it’s not the arms maker BAE Systems (which is a key supplier to the countries currently bombing Yemen into humanitarian catastrophe)?

Are you really suggesting that there’s nothing in it for them when they donate to the Memorial, Dr Nelson?

Here’s some more evidence, from page 21 of the Memorial’s Corporate Plan for 2014-2017, which said this, under the heading ‘Corporate support’:

Sponsorship and partnership arrangements have been established to support exhibitions, military history, and education and other public programs. These have funded specific initiatives or projects that have sometimes included naming rights; for example, the Qantas Aircraft Collection, the BAE Systems Theatre, and the Kingold Education and Media Centre. (Emphasis added.)

The Memorial’s current Corporate Plan (2018-2019) covers corporate support and stakeholder relations in vague terms only (pages 11, 24-27) but it is clear that at least two of these examples are still current. We mentioned the BAE Systems Theatre above.

Then there is the Kingold Centre. Kingold is Dr Chau Chak Wing’s company, admittedly not an arms company, as far as we know. Dr Chau has been noticed by ASIO for his alleged connections with the Chinese Communist Party. He is another Fellow of the War Memorial.

Dr Nelson also told Steve Evans that companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin (and presumably other donors) ‘have no say in how their money is spent’. Yet, Sally Whyte, writing in the Canberra Times on 24 May 2018 about Dr Chau Chak Wing’s generous donations to the Memorial said, ‘Dr Chau was approached by the Memorial’s Director Dr Brendan Nelson … “Dr Chau was open to support the memorial, if his support was directed to programs related to education“, a war memorial spokeswoman said.’ (Emphasis added.) That sounds rather like a donor having a say in how their money was spent.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website, co-editor of The Honest History Book, and a member of Heritage Guardians, the community committee organising the campaign against the $498m extensions to the War Memorial.



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