Stephens, David: Pulling the plug on the Governor-General’s $18 million pet project: are other boondoggles* safe?

David Stephens*

‘Pulling the plug on the Governor-General’s $18 million pet project: are other boondoggles* safe?’, Honest History, 8 September 2022

The government has scrapped a grant of $18 million for a leadership program promoted by Governor-General David Hurley. The program had been criticised for lacking a track record, a website and staff.

What we are doing [said Treasurer Jim Chalmers, referring to the current Audit of Wasteful Spending in the context of the October Budget] is we are going right through the budget, line by line, to make sure that we are getting value for money for some of the commitments … That one didn’t pass muster from our point of view, and so we won’t be providing that $18 million [nor] the ongoing funding after that as well. We have to take some difficult decisions in the budget.

Which brings us to the War Memorial, where the extensions project has been the subject of close attention from this website and other observers. We have used the word ‘boondoggle’ more than once about this $548 million build, arguing that it is an unjustifiable vanity project and that the money could be better spent on direct benefits to veterans and their families or on other cultural institutions. Many, many Australians have agreed with us.

Honest History and Heritage Guardians wrote to the Treasurer and Minister for Finance on 2 July. Here’s the key paragraph:

I urge you to:

  • cap expenditure on the War Memorial project – that is, to make no further capital injections to the Memorial nor any other subventions that might go towards the project;
  • closely investigate where savings might be made on the project, up to and including scrapping some or all proposed new construction;
  • require the Memorial to account, publicly and annually, separate from the Budget process, for how the amount of (now) $548 million is being spent.

An Australian sacred site: construction gets under way at the Memorial, October 2021 (supplied)

The Department of Finance replied on 8 July, referring to ‘the Audit of Wasteful Spending to identify opportunities to improve the quality of Commonwealth spending in the context of the 2022-23 October Budget. We will take the information you have provided into account as part of this Audit.’ That’s good but it remains to be seen how, if at all, the War Memorial project will be affected by the Audit.

Line-by-line budget exercises are, of course, standard after elections. Labor has been making noises since May and even earlier. The big difference between the Governor-General’s project and the one at the War Memorial is that the latter is already big holes in the ground, employing lots of people and equipment and protected by the ‘Anzac Cloak’ (‘Drape “Anzac” over an argument and, like a magic cloak, the argument is sacrosanct’). But even sacred holes can be stymied or slowed down.

More on this subject, including relevant remarks from Veterans’ Affairs Minister Keogh (‘Minister keeping close eye on revamp’) and Labor Whip, David Smith MP (no ‘blank cheque’). More to come from us in due course.

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

*’Boondoggle’: ‘an unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent project’ (Oxford Languages).

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