Chapter 2 Problems with the Ordinance
Membership of the CNMC
Under the provisions of the Ordinance, the membership of the CNMC
n The Prime Minister
n The Minister (currently the Minister for Regional
Australia, Regional Development and Local Government)
n The Leader of the
Government in the Senate
n The Leader of the
Opposition in the Senate
n The Leader of the
Opposition in the House of Representatives
n The Secretary of the
Department (currently the Secretary of the Department of Regional Australia,
Regional Development and Local Government)
n An officer appointed
by the Minister (currently the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs;
previously the Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority)
n Two other members to
be appointed by the Governor-General from amongst persons who are residents of
the Australian Capital Territory (currently vacant, and probably never
Criticisms of current membership structure
There are two main criticisms of the CNMC in its current format.
Firstly, the reliance upon parliamentary members with high level
responsibilities has meant that much of the work of the Committee has been
delegated to officials. In conjunction with a lack of transparency and
accountability in the way the CNMC has conducted its business, this has led to
perceptions that the proceedings of the Committee have been dominated by
non-elected officials, particularly the NCA. On evidence presented to the
Committee, a number of recent decisions of the CNMC have been taken with a bare
quorum, in the absence of most of the parliamentary members, and with officials
forming the majority of those in attendance.
Secondly, despite almost universal agreement that ACT residents should
be represented on the CNMC, as per the Ordinance, it would appear that such
appointments have never been made, thus leaving ACT residents without an
effective voice on the CNMC.
Functions of the CNMC
The functions of the CNMC are broadly those of assessing and approving
proposals with regard to the nomenclature of divisions of the Territory, or the
location or character of national memorials. With the advent of self government
for the ACT in 1989, the nomenclature function is arguably moribund. Indeed,
the Department of Regional Australia has recommended that consideration be
given to whether the power to name public places and Territory divisions
With regard to CNMC functions, the Ordinance provides that the Minister
shall consider all matters referred to him by the Committee and shall furnish a
report to the CNMC on all matters referred to the Minister by the Committee. In
practical terms, this means that the Minister refers proposals for National
Memorials undertaken by proponents with the assistance of the National Capital
Authority, such referral carrying the implicit recommendation of support by the
The Committee may approve, reject or recommend alterations to any proposal
referred to it with regard to the nomenclature of divisions of the Territory,
or the location or character of national memorials. Only determinations with
regard to nomenclature are to be published and laid before Parliament, where
they are subject to disallowance.
The Ordinance states that the Prime Minister shall be chair of the
Committee; that meetings of the Committee shall be summoned by the Secretary of
the Department (currently Department of Regional Australia); that three members
shall form a quorum; and that the Governor-General shall appoint certain
members at the pleasure of the Governor-General and may appoint a person to a
Beyond that, the Ordinance is largely silent on how the CNMC shall
conduct itself. There is no formal decision-making process by which the CNMC is
bound; no requirement to publish any record of proceedings or decisions; no
requirement for public consultation; no formal criteria or guidelines by which
the CNMC is bound when assessing memorial proposals; no requirement to seek
independent expert advice; and no reference to heritage impacts or how these
should be assessed and addressed. There is also no formal mechanism for
effective parliamentary oversight of the approvals process.
The consequence of this, in the view of a number of submitters and
witnesses, is a substantial failing in the decision making process.
In its submission, the Canberra chapter of the Walter Burley Griffin
Society made a number of observations about the administration of the National
Memorials Ordinance and the performance of the CNMC:
Elementary principles and administrative law have been
ignored, more or less, in the processes and proceedings of the CNMC. Careful
study under FOI of documents released by the NCA and the Department of Regional
Australia, Regional Development and Local Government reveal the story.
Firstly, the CNMC would be convened routinely at short notice
and with little guarantee that members would be available to attend or have
time to examine agenda papers. Agendas would be indiscriminate and overloaded
yet the Chairs would transact business in very short time for substantive
discussion. Most regrettably, parliamentary representatives were rarely
present and outnumbered by bureaucrats, including at two meetings the Secretary
of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Secondly, at least in the case of the World Wars I and II
memorials (which were before the CNMC at five meetings), the agenda papers
contained descriptions but no substantive analysis, assessments, alternatives,
impact studies, policy guidelines or land use and design framework. In the
case of the War memorials, the NCA’s agenda paper and the subsequent minutes of
the relevant meetings contained just a one line, repetitive formulation: ‘The
proposals are consistent with the criteria contained within the Commemorative
The Society’s submission noted that this last assertion ‘was, at best,
misleading’. The JSCNCET observes that
the Guidelines provide that ‘a commemorative proposal must not duplicate
the themes or subject matter of an existing commemorative site’.
The Guidelines also provide that ‘sites adjacent to the Rond Terraces
serve as a transition from Anzac Parade and should be reserved for
commemoration of non-military sacrifice, service and achievement in Australia,
in times of peace’.
The Society’s submission was critical of the NCA:
The NCA has no in house heritage or historical expertise. In
the case of the World Wars I and II memorials they sought preliminary advice
from the Department of Environment, Water and Heritage, which was watered down
by advice from a private consultant and essentially omitted from the eventual
design competition documents.
Even more remarkably, the NCA seems to have no policies or
strategies regarding memorials, guidelines and land use planning for
memorials. They are ambivalent about their Guidelines for Commemorative
Works and they have adopted no strategy for monitoring and assessing the
prospective demands for memorials, the diminishing land bank for memorials and
the criteria for location and site selection of memorials and alternative forms
In his submission to the inquiry, prominent military historian Dr Peter
Stanley also raised questions about the role of the NCA, highlighting the
failures in process during the approval of the World War I and II Memorials
proposed for the Rond Terraces. He stated.
My comments on the administration by the National Capital
Authority (NCA) of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 arise from my dismay
at the way the ordinance has been used in the process of the NCA’s approval and
promotion of the proposed world wars memorials. I believe that the NCA’s
stewardship of the ordinance and its management of the Canberra National
Memorials Committee has been seriously flawed— indeed, represents a disgraceful
dereliction of its responsibilities.
In Dr Stanley’s view, the CNMC had failed in its responsibilities at a
range of levels and had become, in effect, an instrument of the NCA:
It is clear that the Canberra National Memorials Committee
has in the case of the world wars memorials failed to operate effectively. It
became evident, through documents obtained by the [Lake War Memorials] Forum
through Freedom of Information requests, that the Committee had not only not
included community representatives and had failed to consult as the ordinance
envisaged, but that its deliberations had mostly not even included the
political representation that it required in order to function properly. Rather
than scrutinise and decide on NCA proposals, it has become a rubber stamp for
the operation of the NCA’s view of what should or should not proceed. My first
recommendation therefore is that the present inquiry should ensure that the
Committee operates at least as the 1928 ordinance stipulated.
In its submission, the Management Committee of the Walter Burley Griffin
Society observed that the problems associated with the World War I and II
Memorials were not isolated to that proposal. Rather, this was one of a series
of concerns connected with the administration of the Ordinance by the CNMC and
NCA. The submission stated:
The CNMC has been managed, manipulated, and marginalised in
the process of initiating and procuring National Memorials driven by the
National Capital Authority.
The result has been a series of politically embarrassing,
time wasting and totally inappropriate decisions that have deflected attention
and scarce resources from the main task at hand: the planning, design and
management of the National Capital.
Three memorial ventures promoted by the NCA since 2001
demonstrate this failure of process: (1) the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage Memorial,
Federation Mall, 2002–2003 (‘The Fan’); the Immigration Bridge proposal, West
Basin, Lake Burley Griffin, 2002–2010; and the proposed World Wars I & II
Memorials, Rond Terraces, 2005 to date.
Giving evidence before the Committee, Professor James Weirick, President
of the Walter Burley Griffin Society, raised the further issue of memorials
being approved for construction regardless of the capacity of proponents to
fund them. He stated:
The committee [CNMC] may need independent expert advice on
the feasibility of a proponent’s budget and business plan, a consideration that
appears to have been ignored by the NCA in the support given to community
groups seeking to build a $30 million high—span bridge over Lake Burley Griffin
or twin war memorials on the Rond Terraces, estimated to cost $21 million,
given that community groups in the past have struggled to raise sums in the
order of $1 million to $2 million. Similarly, the committee may need
independent expert advice to verify the NCA’s estimates of associated
In its submission, the Lake War Memorials Forum also presented a list of
the perceived failings of the CNMC and the operation of the Ordinance:
n Proceedings of the
CNMC probably flouted the provisions of the Ordinance.
n Key decisions seem to
have been remade to remove defects.
n Key decisions were
made on the basis of inadequate consideration of evidence.
n One key decision
flouted the NCA’s own mandatory guidelines.
n Deciding the location
of the lakeside memorials separately from their “character” left key design
decisions to middle level officials in cooperation with the memorials’
n One participant in
key meetings had a conflict of interest.
n Public exposure of
the proposed lakeside memorials was almost non-existent until the launch of the
winning design in February 2009.
n Meetings were
perfunctory and hurried.
n NCA records relating
to key decisions cannot be found.
In evidence before the Committee, Dr David Stephens, representing the
Lake War Memorials Forum, also highlighted the problem of funding, focussing on
the World War I and II Memorials:
If you look at the papers, the original estimate of costs was
$6 million. Now, according to the NCA, it could be as much as $25 million.
Obviously that blow‑out in cost is going to make it even harder to raise
the money than it would have been if it was $6 million. But the Canberra
National Memorials Committee in 2010, knowing that the Memorials Development
Committee were having trouble raising money, gave them three more years and said,
‘If that is not enough, we will give you more after that.’ That, to me, is a
ludicrous use of power.
Other problems raised in the evidence presented to the JSCNCET were:
n Lack of public
n Lack of expertise on
n The growing population
n Lack of an overall
In its submission, the Canberra & District Historical Society (CDHS)
noted the lack of strategic planning and the increasing ‘clutter’ of memorials.
The submission notes that ‘current decisions are ad hoc and without future
visions’. Nor, the Society notes, has there been any conversation with the
community about what should be commemorated and in what ways:
The current impression the CDHS has is that the CNMC is
reactive rather than proactive in taking up proposals for memorials in an ad
hoc basis rather than having an overall vision of what work has been done.
In her submission, Ms Juliet Ramsay, a member of the International
Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes, questioned the proliferation of
memorials in and around the Parliamentary Zone:
Central Canberra has rapidly become filled with memorials. It
is questionable that Canberra needed a memorial to the Magna Carta. It is
questionable that every Australian of the Year requires their own plinth memorial
with an image, marching along the lake edge, which will lead to an ongoing
accumulation of such memorials. The valuable landscape of the lake edge that is
supposed to be [the] setting for national buildings is beginning to resemble a
In its submission, the Australian Historical Association (AHA) expressed
concern about the process undertaken with regard to the approval of the World
War I and II Memorials:
The AHA has in recent times been particularly concerned about
the procedures governing the meetings and decision-making processes of the
CNMC, in particular with regard to the approval of a proposal from a private
company, calling itself the ‘Memorials Development Committee’, to build two
new, very imposing 20 metre high war memorials on designated ‘national land’ on
the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It would seem from the Minutes and records
of the National Capital Authority (NCA) and CNMC that although the ‘location’
of the proposed new war memorials was discussed and approved, as required of
the CNMC under the Ordinance, their precise ‘character’ and the issue of
duplication was not.
Whether the duplication involved in this proposal – the
Australian War Memorial was itself conceived by CEW Bean and explicitly
designed as a memorial to those who served in World Wars 1 and 2— was
known by the three members of the CNMC who decided the issue is not clear. The Guidelines
for Commemorative Works in the National Capital explicitly state that: ‘A
commemorative proposal must not duplicate the themes or subject matter of an
existing commemorative site’.
The AHA was also concerned with the role of the National Capital
Authority and the Department of Veterans Affairs in recent decisions, as well
as the lack of appropriate expertise on the CNMC.
The lack of transparency in decision making and lack of public
consultation in the approvals process was a matter of almost universal concern.
Even the National Capital Authority noted that ‘NCA advice on whether to
support a location and character and decisions of the CNMC about whether to
approve a location and character is currently prepared without any community
consultation or other public participation’.
The current operation of the Ordinance and the Canberra National
Memorials Committee is obviously the subject of considerable community
concern—much of it, it appears, well justified. The National Memorials
Ordinance is in much need of reform.
In particular, the JSCNCET believes that the membership of the CNMC must
be reviewed to make it more effective and more representative.
The CNMC’s decision-making process needs to be reformed and modernised.
There needs to be greater scope for public and expert input into its
deliberations. Its proceedings must be transparent and its decisions capable of
being justified against known criteria. In this regard, a reform of the
Guidelines for Commemorative Works in the National Capital is also
justified, as is the creation of a memorials strategy or master plan.
There is considerable scope for improving the level of public
participation in the memorials approval process—and in improving the level of
The resolution of these issues will be explored in the following
chapters. Chapter 3 will look at possible reform of the Ordinance and the CNMC.
Chapter 4 will examine a more thoroughgoing overhaul of the process for
approving National Memorials.