Stephens, David: War Memorial stirrings: Works Approval application for a car park; an Annual Report that giveth and taketh away; an exhibition about peace-keeping

David Stephens*

‘War Memorial stirrings: Works Approval application for a car park; an Annual Report that giveth and taketh away; an exhibition about peace-keeping’, Honest History, 18 October 2019 updated

This week has seen a number of developments at the Australian War Memorial. First, the Memorial has lodged with the National Capital Authority a Works Approval application for car parking associated with the Memorial’s proposed $498m extension. Observers (and, it is to be hoped, the Authority) will question the sense in approving an application for ‘early works’ when various other approvals for the project or parts of it are still to be dealt with by the Department of the Environment and Energy (regarding Heritage), the Authority again, and the Parliamentary Public Works Committee. Canberra Times story.

Interested parties will be lodging submissions with the Authority regarding the Works Application. Meanwhile, does not this Works Application look like a transparent attempt to make the whole Memorial project appear a fait accompli? (‘You’ve given us the car park, how can you turn down the rest of the project?’) That should not be so. The $498m is in the Budget and the Forward Estimates but, as a Department of Finance officer memorably said once to the author, ‘Anything that’s in the Estimates can be removed from the Estimates’.

Secondly, the Memorial’s Annual Report was tabled in the Parliament. In line with new Department of Finance requirements on such documents, the report targets accountability measures (and eschews the pictures and puffery of previous years, which is good) but lacks detail about corporate donors to the Memorial. This information has caused the Memorial some embarrassment in recent years, especially regarding arms company donors, and it must be breathing a sigh of relief at being able to leave that stuff out. (Annual Reports and Corporate Plans of departments and agencies are now collected in the Transparency Portal, here.)

There is in the Memorial’s Annual Report (p. 15) also the information that Memorial Director Brendan Nelson receives an annual salary of $375 000 and annual bonuses of $60 000. For what are those bonuses paid, we wonder, but the Annual Report does not say. (Earlier reports mention ‘Performance bonuses’ of $53 000 in each of 2015-16 and 2014-15 and $52 000 in 2013-14 but do not say to whom they are paid.)

There are so far only a few other annual reports on the Transparency Portal to allow comparisons, but we can see that the Director-General of the National Library of Australia receives an annual salary of $224 597 and bonuses of $30 264, while the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs gets $690 326 annually but no bonuses. (The current Secretary, Elizabeth Cosson, is a retired Major General, which may affect the quantum there.)

Finally, the Memorial has opened its much-anticipated exhibition The Courage for Peace. The exhibition tells the story of Australian peacekeeping efforts around the world across the decades, from Rwanda to Cambodia, East Timor to the Solomon Islands. We hope to do a review shortly. Now done. Promotion from the Memorial.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and a member of the Heritage Guardians group.

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