Mr Tony Zappia MP and Mr David Smith MP, Australian Labor Party
Australian Labor Party Members’ Position
The Australian War Memorial (AWM) is one of Australia’s pre-eminent cultural institutions and a place of deep importance for all Australians. It was founded as, and remains, a place of remembrance as a memorial and shrine to all Australians who have served in conflict, but in addition it serves as both a museum and research centre.
The AWM’s mission is to assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society. By deepening our understanding of the experiences and sacrifices of Australia’s veterans and their loved ones, we ensure we not only remember and reflect on their service but strengthen our resolve to support current and ex-service men and women now and into the future.
The AWM has stated that the redevelopment project is necessary to expand its display capacity so it can stage more exhibitions of its collection of artefacts from modern conflicts, and also relieve circulation pressures caused by high visitor numbers. Labor members have provided broad bipartisan support for the intent behind the AWM expansion. This will help to more fully recognise and honour the service and contribution of veterans of recent conflicts and peacekeeping operations, as well as female and Indigenous service personnel.
However, the Labor members of the Committee have sought to hold the Government and the AWM to account over the proposal to ensure it is delivered on time and on budget. We also seek to ensure that effective community and stakeholder consultation is undertaken on the proposal, and that the heritage and integrity of the building – as a solemn place of commemoration – is preserved.
It is appropriate that this proposal is subjected to a number of approval processes in addition to this inquiry, examining various aspects of the project. We expect that these processes will also consider issues and concerns raised by stakeholders. In this regard, the Labor members welcome the heritage approval received pursuant to the referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act) on 10 December 2020.
Labor members expect the AWM to tell the full story of Australia’s wartime history, and believe the refurbished galleries should include recognition of the physical and mental suffering of returned service people, and the impact of service on families and loved ones. In addition, Labor members want to see tangible support and recognition for veterans, and welcome the fact that funding for the AWM expansion will not come at the expense of veteran mental health and other services.
Labor members also welcome the AWM’s assurance that it will ensure future construction work tenders for this project will include criteria for employment and other opportunities for veterans and defence family members and businesses.
Labor members support in principle the intent behind the AWM development project.
We note the AWM’s view that the current Anzac Hall is not able to be extended and is no longer fit for purpose to meet the AWM’s need to tell the stories of recent conflicts. Notwithstanding the EPBC Act approval noted above, Labor members acknowledge that some stakeholders have raised concerns about the demolition of Anzac Hall as part of this project.
These stakeholders noted Anzac Hall’s acknowledged contribution to the heritage value of the site, and the professional opinion that it can be adaptively reused.
Labor members believe that the Government should consult further on this issue and consider alternative approaches that do not involve the complete demolition of the existing Anzac Hall.
The cost of this project is estimated at $498.7 million over nine years, which equates to approximately $55 million per year. This compares to approximately $11 billion per year in total government spending on veterans, most of which goes towards payments to veterans and support services, and not commemoration, including around $230 million allocated to veteran mental health annually.
The Labor members note advice from the AWM that to meet the project objectives approved by the Government through the AWM’s ‘Two Stage Capital Works Approval Process’, the current budget is required and any reduction would result in an equal reduction in visitor experience, relevance and project deliverables.
However, Labor further notes a 2019 paper by a former Memorial official, supported by a former director of the AWM in evidence to this inquiry, which stated the AWM could meet all of its current and future needs at the Mitchell precinct Treloar Resource Centre site at a cost of around $100 million, or around 20 per cent of the cost of the redevelopment project at the Campbell site, consistent with its own submissions to the Committee in 2017.
Labor members believe that the Government should consider a range of lower cost options that would still meet the stated purpose of the proposed works, while achieving better cost-effectiveness and value for money for the taxpayer.
Mr Tony Zappia MPMr David Smith MP