Stephens, David: The growing cost of the War Memorial’s vanity build: Part III: hot stuff, heavy hints, loose ends, and a bunch of dates

David Stephens*

‘The growing cost of the War Memorial’s vanity build: Part III: hot stuff, heavy hints, loose ends, and a bunch of dates’, Honest History, 4 October 2022 updated

Part I of this series looked at correspondence between Honest History/Heritage Guardians and the War Memorial on the cost of the Memorial extensions project. Part II was more of the same, but also drew out some lessons for the Albanese government. Part III below ranges widely. For the record and to mark the spot.

Later developments, as disclosed in October Budget.

Hot stuff

The Memorial is to be the site of a nation-leading project to heat and cool the place by drilling holes into the earth. Some of the technical aspects were covered in the press conference of 29 September and the Minister’s press release. It sounds, from our non-technical perspective, like a smart idea, so good on whoever thought of it. And the $10 million cost is to come out of the $548 million project budget, which is also good.

We haven’t seen figures, however, on the carbon cost of the overall big build versus the carbon savings of the geothermal project. Presumably, someone has done the numbers. You’d think.

Heavy hints

There were some remarks at the 29 September press conference – hardly an announcement as such – on how the Memorial intends to deal with the Frontier Wars in future. We’ll keep an eye on this – particularly given that the Memorial so far has referred just to ‘depiction and presentation’ and not commemoration. We are seeking a copy of the Council Minutes to check exactly what was decided (see below). As to overall costs, we pulled out these words from the press conference on the possibility of further increases. Short story: ‘There’s no current ask on government for additional funds’ (Minister’s words; our emphasis). Bets. Hedged.

Loose ends: FOIx4; PWC; ANAO

Freedom of Information requests of War Memorial and Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Honest History/Heritage Guardians has three FOI requests lodged with the War Memorial. They address: whether the Memorial lodged a revised Capital Management Plan (as required by Department of Finance rules) after it received its $50 million funding boost (Update 13 October 2022: this request knocked back but with interesting words); the paperwork relating to the reappointment of Tony Abbott to the Memorial Council; the Minutes of the War Memorial Council covering its decision on the future depiction and presentation of the Frontier Wars at the Memorial (Update 3 November 2022: outcome of the FOI request.) We also have a request in with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs regarding the Abbott reappointment. Responses expected during October and November.

Letter to Parliamentary Public Works Committee regarding increase in cost of War Memorial project

We wrote to the PWC in August asking whether it had received any notification from the War Memorial about changes to the extensions project. The PWC’s 2021 report on the project, para 2.267 included the standard words, ‘Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design’. The Committee considered our letter at its meeting on 25 August and it will provide a formal response in due course. More on the PWC report.

Australian National Audit Office potential audit on management of the War Memorial project

For the second year in a row, the Audit Office has on its work program, as a potential audit, the management of the War Memorial project. Whether the audit actually happens is up to the Audit Office and its judgements about priorities and resources.

A bunch of dates

The sub-heading here is deliberate. This is not a timeline. There is no implication that any of the events listed below are connected, that some caused others. We just thought it would be useful to set them down for ready reference by interested folks. We are happy to correct any errors (following receipt of appropriate evidence).

Date Event
June-July 2018 approx. War Memorial Council Chair Kerry Stokes gives his ‘personal guarantee’ to government that cost of Memorial project to government will not exceed $500m
1 November 2018 Prime Minister Morrison announces allocation of $498m to Memorial project
November 2020-July 2022 Regular reports of allegations against and defamation action brought by Ben Roberts-Smith VC, former employee of Stokes (who underwrote Roberts-Smith’s legal bills)
29 March 2022 Morrison government Budget includes $50m boost to Memorial project cost, taking it to $548m (exceeding amount of Stokes personal guarantee). Kept secret for more than three months.
31 March 2022 Brendan Nelson term on War Memorial Council commences, replacing Kerry Stokes
5 April 2022 Announcement of appointment of Nelson to Memorial Council and resignation of Stokes
6 April 2022 War Memorial Acting Director Dawson, appearing before Senate Estimates Committee, does not mention $50m boost
22 April 2022 Announcement that Nelson has been elected as Chair of Memorial Council
5 May 2022 Honest History post wonders whether equity injections announced in Budget for the Memorial mean that the cost of the project is blowing out
May 2022 approx. Blackfella Films (Rachel Perkins) provides copies of episodes 1 and 2 of The Australian Wars to people interviewed for those episodes
1 July 2022 Canberra Times story (with quotes from Memorial Director Anderson) reveals $50m boost for first time publicly
18 July 2022 approx. Blackfella Films (Rachel Perkins) provides copies of episode 3 of The Australian Wars to interviewees, including Director Anderson
July 2022 approx. War Memorial Council makes decision regarding ‘depiction and presentation’ of Frontier Wars at Memorial
September 2022 Nelson advises Boeing staff of his new job in London
16 September 2022 Announcement of reappointment of Tony Abbott to War Memorial Council
21 September 2022 The Australian Wars commences on SBS/NITV
27 September 2022 Nelson is to resign from War Memorial Council
29 September 2022 Nelson mentions Memorial Council decision regarding ‘depiction and presentation’ of Frontier Wars at the Memorial

*David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and has been convener of the Heritage Guardians group, opposed to the extensions at the War Memorial. He was co-editor with Alison Broinowski of The Honest History Book (2017).

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