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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3018


Senator MacGIBBON —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Is it not true that, by revealing only part of the story in relation to the eastern staircase incident at the Australian War Memorial, the Minister misled both the Senate and the people of Australia by implying that $1m was wasted? Is it not true that the then Chairman of the Australian War Memorial Council wrote on two occasions in reply to Mr Powell of the National Capital Development Commission on this matter? In those letters, did the Chairman make it perfectly clear that the changes to the eastern stairway were at the direction of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, not of the Director? Did the Chairman say that the changes proposed to the NCDC were expected to lead to savings-not to an increase in costs-of $30,000? Will the Minister table the two letters from the Chairman of the Australian War Memorial in reply to Mr Powell of the NCDC?


Senator GIETZELT —I am not sure, of course, to which Chairman Senator MacGibbon is referring.


Senator MacGibbon —Sir Anthony Synnot.


Senator GIETZELT —The discussions I have had with the former Chairman, Admiral Synnot, make it clear to me-as do the discussions I have had with some of the leading persons associated with the National Capital Development Commission-that difficulties that developed in respect of the eastern staircase involved, as a result of certain decisions taken, a gross misuse of public funds. I am not aware of any of the correspondence that may have been made available from time to time by the current Chairman. To my recollection, I have had no correspondence from her on this matter. She has been Chairperson of the Australian War Memorial from about the middle part of last year. Until that time, of course, the Chairman was Admiral Synnot.

It is only in the last several weeks-perhaps no more than two months-that I have been given copies of the minutes, despite my repeated requests to the Director for regular information to be made available to me so that I am in a position to respond to any questions that may be asked of me by senators on all sides in respect of any matters regarding the administration of the Australian War Memorial. I am not aware of any differences that may be interpreted by Senator MacGibbon about the eastern staircase, except that that letter was made available to me and a great deal of criticism was conveyed to me by both the former Chairman and the NCDC in respect of the construction of the eastern staircase. As the letter which I tabled yesterday indicates, there was a complete breakdown in the relationship between the NCDC and the Director of the Australian War Memorial.


Senator MacGIBBON —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Since the Minister has admitted in his answer that he has seen only part of the file and, as a consequence, has damned a person, will he make available the two letters from Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot in reply to Mr Powell that I have asked to be tabled?


Senator GIETZELT —Obviously, Senator MacGibbon does not know the way in which the relationship between the Australian War Memorial Council and the Minister operates. I do not have access to the records of the Australian War Memorial. These matters came to light only as a result of the inquiry that was begun by Mr Greg O'Connor, an officer within the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and, subsequently, matters that were raised following the inquiry requested and agreed to by the Council of the Australian War Memorial. I do not have access to the files of the Australian War Memorial. Consequently, I am not able to respond to the request made by Senator MacGibbon.