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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9535

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:46): I rise to speak on the Australian War Memorial Amendment Bill 2014. The bill amends the Australian War Memorial Act to prohibit the levying of entry or parking fees at the Australian War Memorial premises in the Australian Capital Territory.

It is very reasonable that Australians should be able to visit the home of our country's commemoration, reflection and remembrance for free. The Australian War Memorial, located in Campbell, just over Lake Burley Griffin from parliament, is world class. It is a shrine, a very high-quality museum which has an extensive archive. Its purpose is to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war. In 1948, Charles Bean, Australia's official World War I historian, said of the War Memorial:

Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.

CEW Bean played an enormous role in the creation of the Australian War Memorial. He recognised the need for a place where Australians can reflect on, remember and, possibly most importantly, learn about the contribution Australia has made to military conflict throughout the world. The Australian War Memorial states that its mission is to assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society. It achieves this through three subprograms—the national collection, the public programs and the corporate services.

To aid this mission, the Australian War Memorial offers a number of services. These include venue hire and educational programs. The fees from these services contribute to the funding of the Australian War Memorial. This amendment does not affect those programs or the Australian memorial's ability to collect fees for services. Nor does this amendment affect the Australian War Memorial's ability to receive bequests or voluntary donations from members of the public.

The history of the Australian War Memorial, as explained by CEW Bean in his role as our World War I correspondent, saw an enormous amount of action on the Western Front. It was in this role, in the aftermath of the Battle of Pozieres in 1916, that he began to develop plans for a national museum, to commemorate the sacrifices made by his fellow Australians. As a first-hand witness to the horrors of war, he saw a need to preserve the legacy of what he saw and he had the foresight to include future events in his vision. He felt it was important for such a memorial to include an extensive military collection in order to help Australians at home understand that wartime experience. In his book The Spirit of Gallipoli he wrote:

It had always been in the mind of many Australians soldiers that records and relics of their fighting would be preserved in some institutions in Australia, and to several of us it had seemed that a museum housing these would form the most natural, interesting and inspiring memorial to those who fell.

It was in 1917, the year after Pozieres, that the Australian War Records Section was established under the command of Captain John Treloar, to manage the collection of documents and relics. Attached to this section were members of the Australian Salvage Corps, who collected from the battlefield salvage for scrap or to locate and repair as items of interest. Captain Treloar was appointed the first director of the Australian War Memorial in 1920. Today, the memorial stands in the Australian Capital Territory where it commemorates the sacrifices of Australians who have fallen in wars. The Australian War Memorial lists on its website Anzac Day and Remembrance Day as two of its most significant anniversaries and says:

Each year on Anzac Day (25 April) and Remembrance Day (11 November), the two major days of commemoration in Australia, the Memorial holds National Ceremonies on the Parade Ground. These are attended by thousands of official guests and visitors and are followed by the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.

I attended the dawn service on Anzac Day this year. I was there not in any official capacity; I was there to pay my respects to those Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice. I was moved not only by the service but by the sheer number of people from all backgrounds, young and old, who had come out on a cold Canberra morning to pay their respects.

But the Australian War Memorial is not just important on those major days of commemoration; it is important all year round. The Australian War Memorial's website highlights this role. Official visitors to the memorial usually pay tribute to Australia's war dead by laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier or the Inauguration Stone. School groups and veterans' groups also conduct commemorative wreath-laying ceremonies in these areas. The War Memorial is a place of quiet contemplation, including its commemorative courtyard and sculpture garden. In addition, the Australian War Memorial is also an educational and informative museum, featuring a well-resourced military collection. The website describes the aim of the museum as to provide direct evidence of the lives, actions and fates of the men and women who served and died for Australia in war and military operations. The loss of over 60,000 Australian lives in the First World War and 40,000 in the Second World War, and numerous deaths in other conflicts, might become little more than statistical information if not for the memorial's national collection which illustrates the effect of war on individuals, families and communities. Whenever I have visited the Australian War Memorial, I have been impressed by the grounds, the collections and the displays. I am lucky enough to be going there tonight for an RSL function. I will reacquaint myself with many of the exhibits and displays because they are truly a world-class testament to the staff and volunteers that care for them.

The Roll of Honour and the Commemorative Roll are stark reminders of the cost of war—a price that over 102,000 Australians have paid. Their names and their stories are written, kept and maintained at the Australian War Memorial through the dedicated and professional work of the historians that work and volunteer there. It is through their efforts that the memories of these men and women live on.

In addition to the data collections and displays we can see that, at Australian War Memorial, there is an enormous amount stored in archives. Some of this is accessible through the Treloar Technology Centre in Mitchell, but much of it is preserved in archives where researchers can access it for their investigations. The need to have this wealth of information accessible to researchers and the public ensures that we remember and learn from the lessons of history. The Australian War Memorial stands as a link to Australia's past—a link where we remember and respect the sacrifice of those who died during conflict. The scale of suffering during conflict is beyond comprehension. The Australian War Memorial is the official and public Australian recognition of that pain and the sacrifices made by their families.

Last year, prior to the 2013 election, Mr Tony Abbott said, 'The coalition will take the action necessary to preserve, protect and enhance the Australian War Memorial.' But earlier this year, in yet another broken promise, the Abbott government cut the Australian War Memorial's travelling exhibitions program. This heartless cut removes the possibility for hundreds of thousands of Australians to have access to important history about Australia's involvement in wars and the sacrifice of so many. The exhibitions program was funded by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and had been running continuously for 17 years as part of the memorial's National Collection Branch. In those 17 years it travelled to venues in every state and territory of Australia as well as to many international venues. To date, an audience of over 3.8 million visitors outside of Canberra viewed the travelling exhibitions. In the year of the Centenary of Anzac it is a disgrace that this government has cut the entire funding for this valuable program. This is wrong. These cuts must be reversed.

With the Anzac Centenary just a few months away it is more important than ever that every Australian has access to our wartime history. During the Anzac Centenary we will remember the Anzacs who served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. This started a few months ago with the commemoration of the Cooee and other recruitment marches and the Albany Convoy Commemorative Event to remember the voyage of our first Anzacs.

In concluding, the Australian War Memorial is a cultural institution dedicated to commemorating the service and sacrifice of Australian service men and women who have died in the wars and conflicts which Australia has participated. It is an institution of international standing and one of Australia's major tourism attractions. Right from CEW Bean's first vision, the memorial was imagined as a shrine and a museum that supports commemoration through understanding and an archive holding key war records. Throughout its evolution and development, we have remained true to this vision. For many Australians, it serves as a deeply emotional and personal link to loved ones. The exhibitions in the memorial galleries take advantage of the exceptional and diverse national collection to deliver interactive visitor experiences that are both engaging and educational. It is important that it remains free for visitors to visit our nation's home of commemoration, reflection and remembrance. Labor is fully supportive of this bill. I commend this bill to the Senate.