Veterans’ jobs are a part of the War Memorial project but need to be put in context

Nine newspapers health reporter Rachel Clun has a piece today about how the $498m War Memorial project allows for jobs for veterans. Companies hoping to win work on the project must hire veterans or their family members, Clun writes, or risk missing out on contracts.

Jobs for veterans is a worthy part of the project if it proceeds, though the number of jobs will be small. Of the 50 jobs on the recently completed carpark component, between three and five were filled by veterans.

There is no quota for veteran employment on the project, although the Memorial’s Final Preliminary Documentation, as prepared for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, mentions veterans’ employment (page 102):

The Memorial has established an active policy of engaging Defence veterans and their families to be involved in the Project through employment with the Memorial’s own team, the consultants and contractors. Each of the procurement processes will include the requirement for tenderers to nominate how many Defence veterans and family members they propose to employ for the contract. This is taken into consideration in the selection of the successful tenderers.

At the peak of construction, the contractor workforce will include approximately 350 personnel on site, that’s total, not veterans. Each of the consultants involved in the project will employ up to 15 people.

Secondly, jobs for veterans is not a unique War Memorial initiative. The Memorial’s own website, under the heading ‘Veterans Employment’, lists eight separate Commonwealth, State and Territory veterans’ employment initiatives. The Memorial is part of the Commonwealth scheme, which includes the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant, which has an Oath. There is an award for businesses that do veterans’ employment well.

Thirdly, the possible therapeutic benefit to veterans of working on such a project (mentioned in passing in Clun’s piece) lacks evidence, in the same way that there is a lack of evidence for the claim that veterans gain therapeutic benefit from seeing familiar bits of military kit on display in the Memorial when they visit. (See paragraphs 11-16 of the Heritage Guardians submission No. 40 to the current Public Works Committee inquiry into the project.)

Most importantly, though, veterans’ jobs is a diversion from the main issues that have been discussed at length by Heritage Guardians and other opponents of the project. This money (all $498m of it) would be better spent on direct benefits to veterans and their families – lots more veterans than can work on a building project – and it is misdirected towards a grandiose legacy project that risks damaging the iconic War Memorial for future generations.

David Stephens

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

26 October 2020

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