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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1148


Senator LEWIS(6.10) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The tabling of this report once again raises the issue of the whole sorry saga of the interference of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) in the management of this important national institution, the Australian War Memorial. It seems clear to me that the annual report of the Australian War Memorial has been subject to a cut and paste job to exclude as far as possible any mention of Air Vice-Marshal James Flemming, who was the Director of the War Memorial-although he still rates a mention in the appendices. That is perhaps a measure of the Minister's pettiness and obvious antipathy towards Air Vice-Marshal Flemming. We have the sorry record of this Minister's actions towards a man with a distinguished war record and, indeed, a record of action as Director of the War Memorial-such as one would expect from a man of the character of Air Vice-Marshal Flemming. He did so very much for the War Memorial in the period he was there.

Apparently there was some form of personality clash with the Minister, and the result is that Air Vice-Marshal Flemming has been dismissed on what is, at most, a technical breach. Clearly, there has been no natural justice, in the ordinary sense, accorded to Air Vice-Marshal Flemming by this Minister and this Government. The Opposition has at all times called for a full, open and proper judicial inquiry into the allegations against Air Vice-Marshal Flemming, and continues to do so. In view of the Minister's actions, one can appreciate the embarrassment of the Council of the Australian War Memorial in having to prepare this report to the Minister, but that does not excuse the failure to give recognition to the former Director.

We have also expressed our concern about and our strong belief in the need for an independent and traditional role for the Australian War Memorial. There has been no independence here. The Minister has stood over the Council and heavied it into acting as he demanded. We all know that that is what the Australian Labor Party means by `independence'. It is simply a euphemism for `obedience'-`Do what we want you to do, or else'. It is hoped that the Council will stand up firmly in defence of the independence and traditional role of the War Memorial.

The statement on page 1 of the report, that the Memorial's role as a major museum should complement but not overshadow its purpose as a national memorial of Australians who have died, firstly, on or as a result of active service or, secondly, as a result of any war or warlike operations in which Australians have been on active service, has been put in, no doubt, as an attempt to allay the concerns of many war veterans and others about the rumours as to this Government's attitude towards the Australian War Memorial. There is grave concern that the primary role of the War Memorial may be changed. In particular, there is grave concern about some suggestions that it might be converted into some form of peace memorial, or that its surrounds might have some form of peace memorial park put in in order to attempt to change the original purpose for which the Australian War Memorial was built. I simply say to the Government that we on this side of the chamber hope that these rumours in fact have no foundation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.