Chapter 1 National Memorials Ordinance 1928
On 17 August 2011, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional
Development and Local Government, the Hon Simon Crean MP, requested that the
Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
conduct an inquiry into the administration of the National Memorials
Ordinance 1928, which defines the membership and responsibilities of the
Canberra National Memorials Committee (CNMC).
The inquiry arose out of public concern about the processes underpinning
the work of the CNMC, expressed publicly and in direct correspondence with both
the Minister and the Committee.
The Committee was tasked with examining the membership of the CNMC, its
decision-making processes, its ability to seek independent expert advice,
transparency of administration, parliamentary oversight, public participation,
and, if changes to these were recommended, transition arrangements for current
The Committee has taken the following approach to its task:
n Chapter 2 identifies
problems with the Ordinance.
n Chapter 3 outlines
the reforms to the Ordinance, and the membership and functions of the Canberra
National Memorials Committee, that would be required if a minimalist approach
to reform were adopted.
n Chapter 4 proposes an
alternative model for the assessment of proposals for National Memorials, based
on the Washington model.
n Chapter 5 briefly
discusses transitional arrangements for current proposals.
Of the two models for reform examined in this report, the Committee is
strongly of the view that the repeal of the National Memorials Ordinance
1928, the disbanding of the Canberra National Memorials Committee, and the
substitution of a more modern and robust process for assessing National
Memorials is the preferred option. The Committee is strongly of the view that
the evidence placed before it reveals that the Ordinance is very much a
creature of its time, has long since become moribund, and that any attempt to
reform it will prove overly-complicated and unsatisfactory. The Ordinance and
the CNMC were designed to achieve particular outcomes at a particular time in
Canberra’s development. That time has passed, and new policies and processes
are required for the modern day.
||The JSCNCET recommends to the Minister for Regional
Australia, Regional Development and Local Government that, rather than
attempting to amend the National Memorials Ordinance 1928, the
Ordinance be repealed and replaced with a new Commemorative Works
Act, as proposed in Chapter 4 of this report.
A brief history of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928
The Canberra National Memorials Committee was created in 1927 in
response to a perceived need for high level parliamentary consideration of the
nomenclature of Canberra. The Committee’s role was extended to consideration of
memorials and formalised in the National Memorials Ordinance in 1928.
Speaking to the House of Representatives in December 1927, Prime Minister Bruce
In view of the historic interest attaching to the street
nomenclature of Canberra, it is proposed to issue an ordinance to govern the
matter and to set up a permanent body to review the proposals of the Federal
Capital Commission and determine all matters connected with national or
historic memorials, whether in the form of street names or monuments…
It is proposed that thereafter no modifications or additions
to the street nomenclature or historic memorials of the national capital shall
be made except on the recommendation of the Federal Capital Commission and with
the endorsement of the Canberra National Memorials Committee.
The original Ordinance provided for the establishment of the Canberra
National Memorials Committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Minister of
State for Home and Territories, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the
House of Representatives, the Chief Commissioner (of the Federal Capital
Commission), and ‘two members to be appointed by the Governor-General from
amongst persons who are recognized as authorities on Australian history’.
The CNMC was essentially an executive committee with bipartisan
representation. Its relationship was with the government rather than the
parliament, its deliberations and decisions a matter for the executive
government rather than the parliament or the people.
The Prime Minister was Chair of the Committee and meetings were to be
summoned by the Chief Commissioner. The quorum was three. The Commission was to
‘consider all matters referred to it by the Committee…with regard to the
nomenclature of divisions of, or of public places in, the City District, or the
location or character of national memorials in the City District’.
The Committee might ‘approve, without alterations, or subject to such
alterations as the Committee thinks fit, any proposal or recommendation made by
the Commission; or reject any such proposal or recommendation; or return the
proposal or recommendation to the Commission for further consideration…’.
Determinations of the Commission with regard to nomenclature were
disallowable instruments, but determinations with regard to memorials were not
subject to direct parliamentary scrutiny.
Changes to the Ordinance
The Ordinance was first amended in 1931 to reflect the abolition of the
Federal Capital Commission in 1930. The Minister and his department rather than
the Commissioner became responsible for the operation of the Ordinance, with
the CNMC operating in conjunction with the Minister (as is the case today). The
Secretary of the Department was appointed to the CNMC in place of the Chief
Commissioner; and the Civic Administrator, a position created under the Advisory
Council Ordinance 1930–1931, was also appointed to the CNMC. With the
abolition of the post of Civic Administrator (1932), the additional place on
the CNMC was designated to ‘an officer appointed by the Minister’ (1933).
In 1937, the Ordinance was amended to allow the Minister to make
contracts for the design and execution of national memorials.
In 1952, the Ordinance was amended to allow the Minister to determine
the nomenclature of ‘public places’, having regard to certain names, without
reference to the CNMC.
In 1953, the Ordinance was changed to allow two ‘residents of the
Australian Capital Territory’ to be appointed to the CNMC instead of two
persons ‘recognized as authorities on Australian history’.
In 1959, the term ‘City District’ was updated in line with changes to
the Districts Ordinance.
In 1972, the term ‘Canberra City District’ was omitted and ‘the
In 1989, with the commencement of self government in the Australian
Capital Territory, the Ordinance was amended to apply ‘only in relation to
Career of the Committee
The first report of the Canberra National Memorials Committee, tabled in
March 1928, developed principles, established by the Federal Capital Advisory
Committee in 1926 and largely still in operation today (but perhaps with some
variation in interpretation), by which the nomenclature of Canberra has been
determined. This initial report did not deal with the issue of memorials,
although these were always intended to be part of the Ordinance.
After its initial period of activity, the CNMC appears to have endured
long periods of total inactivity. The CNMC was designed to work in close
cooperation with the Federal Capital Commission, and the early work of the
Committee reflects a joint political and planning concern with resolving the
potentially thorny issue of public nomenclature. The abolition of the
Commission, and the transfer of its role to the Minister and his Department,
changed the dynamic under which the Committee operated. It is not clear what
role, if any, the Committee played in the process of approving the handful of
memorials extant by 1955. In its report, the Select Committee on the
Development of Canberra (1955) noted:
There is a lack of monumental structures of a memorial
nature. The fine Australian-American Memorial near Mt Pleasant has given a very
necessary emphasis, with its high column, to the vista along King’s-avenue from
Capital Hill. The only other memorials are the King George V statue in front of
Parliament House and the Robert Burns statue near Hotel Wellington. On Capital Hill
is the uncompleted Commencement Column, which denotes the commencement of the
city on the departmental plan and not the Griffin plan.
The CNMC does not appear to have met at any time during the period of
the Menzies Government and its successors, although it became active again
under the Whitlam Government before once again lapsing into obscurity.
Renewed interest in the functions of the Canberra National Memorials
Committee came from the renewed emphasis on the original intentions of the
Griffin Plan. The Griffin Plan had an integral focus on ‘deliberate and
purposeful engagement with the potential meaning and symbolism of Australia’s
National Capital’. In 2002, the National
Capital Authority issued its Guidelines
for Commemorative Works in the National Capital. These
Guidelines provide a framework for positively addressing one of the central
roles of the National Capital as ‘a symbol of Australian national life and a
location for memorials and national events’.
The existence of the National Memorials Ordinance makes the
Canberra National Memorials Committee central to any agenda focussed on
Canberra as a location for national memorials. Indeed, because of the
Ordinance, the involvement of the Committee is a legal prerequisite.
This is the heart of the controversy over the way the Canberra National
Memorials Committee has conducted its business. The Committee relies on the
active involvement of its parliamentary members. In the absence of their active
involvement, the decision-making process becomes dominated by bureaucrats,
particularly those with a direct stake in the promotion of the proposals being
put to the Committee. The result is that the Committee can be seen as a rubber
stamp for the (legitimate) activities of the National Capital Authority in
pursuit of its statutory responsibilities.