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Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works
Sir John Monash Centre, Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

AGIUS, Mr Joe, Director, Cox Architecture

APPLETON, Mr Chris, Director, Office of Australian War Graves, Department of Veterans' Affairs

CARE, Dr Robert, Principal, Engineering Consultant, Arup Pty Ltd

CHALMERS, Major General Dave, AO, CSC, First Assistant Secretary, Commemorations and War Graves, Department of Veterans' Affairs

CHAPPE de LEONVAL, Mr Mark Ashton, Director, Rider Levett Bucknall

FLETCHER, Mr Ian, Deputy Director, Overseas Projects, Office of Australian War Graves, Department of Veterans' Affairs

FREUDIGMANN, Mr David, Director, Global Project Solutions

MAGEE, Mr Russell, Director, Interpretive Design Consultant, Convergence Associates

PEDERSEN, Dr Peter, History Consultant

Committee met at 10:03

CHAIR ( Senator Smith ): I declare open this public hearing of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works into the Sir John Monash Centre at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux in France. I invite witnesses to add anything about the capacity in which they appear.

Mr Appleton : I am here in my capacity as the project's executive.

Mr Agius : I am here in my capacity as the project director for the Sir John Monash Centre.

Mr Fletcher : I am the project director.

Mr Freudigmann : Global Project solutions are the project managers for DVA for this project.

Dr Pedersen : I am the project's chief historian.

Mr Chappe de Leonval : Rider Levett Bucknall are quantity surveyors. We are the cost planners on the project.

CHAIR: Thank you. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament. Consequently, they warrant the same respect as proceedings of the parliament itself. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. Major General Chalmers, would you care to make some brief introductory remarks before we proceed to questions?

Major Gen. Chalmers : This submission seeks approval for the Department of Veterans' Affairs to construct the Sir John Monash Centre at the site of the Australian National Memorial near, Villers-Bretonneux, France, at a total out-turn cost of $93.2 million.

Between 1916 and 1918, 290,000 Australians served on the Western Front. Forty seven thousand of them died and another 130,000 were wounded. Despite the special place that Gallipoli holds in our nation's story, Australia's greatest achievements and greatest losses of the First World War were on the Western Front in France and Belgium. It is the Australian government's view that these remarkable and little-known achievements deserve to be better known and recognised both in Australia and internationally.

The project presented today is an initiative of the Australian government that will deliver on this objective by establishing an enduring legacy of the Anzac centenary. The new centre will fulfil this legacy by establishing a destination for Australian and international visitors to understand Australia's contribution on the Western Front during the First World War. The centre will be built adjacent to our National Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux in France. The memorial and adjacent military cemetery are places of significant military and cultural importance. Not only is it the site of a significant Australian victory but the memorial itself is a sacred place for the commemoration of Australian service and sacrifice, recording the names of more than 10,700 Australians who died in France and have no known grave. One hundred years after the First World War, the establishment of the centre provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recognise Australia's remarkable contribution on the Western Front.

The design of the centre presented in this submission envisages an international-standard interpretive centre, with a leading-edge integrated multimedia experience that will provide an evocative, emotional, informative and educational experience for visitors. The centre's design will, through the use of a range of interpretive multimedia technology, provide a compelling story of Australia's service and sacrifice on the Western Front. The form of the new building is semi-buried. The external treatment of the building's floating roof is conceived as a landscape, providing a design that remains respectful of the memorial and has a minimal impact on the views to the surrounding battlefields. The location of the centre, at the rear of the memorial, is also a key part of the visitor experience, providing a continuation of the existing processional experience through the site from the gatehouses, through the military cemetery and on to the memorial itself. The proposed interpretive design offers visitors an experience not found elsewhere on the Western Front and will be a compelling new and attractive destination. The interpretive design is to be targeted towards international visitors of all nationalities, including Australians, tourists of all ages and Australian, French, British and German school groups. To this end, the interpretive displays will accommodate those three languages.

To achieve a centre of great authority, the project has assembled a team of expert historians, each of whom is eminent in their chosen field, to develop the historical content further centre. The historians will work with DVA to address the key focus questions endorsed by government. The size, capacity and design layout of the centre are required to accommodate the forecast annual visitation outlined in our submission. The building provides for an environmentally sustainable design, incorporating modern building energy management controls, geothermal heat pumps and hydronic heating systems. The centre will conform to the provisions of both Australian and French building codes.

The centre, whilst primarily focused on remembrance, will also provide both short-term and ongoing benefits to the local communities in France through direct and indirect investment in construction and ongoing employment and increased tourism in the region. DVA has consulted with French national, regional and local authorities and all have expressed strong support for the project. DVA has also consulted with the Lutyens Trust, holder of the moral rights for the Lutyens work already at the site, and they have expressed their support for the project.

Stakeholders have particularly commented on the respectful nature in which the building has been placed within the memorial site. Subject to parliamentary approval, construction is scheduled to commence in early 2016 and to be completed by late 2017. Following installation and commissioning of the multimedia fit-out, the centre is planned to open in April 2018, the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux. DVA has engaged a strong team of historians, project managers, architectural, engineering, interpretive design, compliance and cost planning consultants that would deliver the project through to completion.

When complete in 2018, the centre will be a unique experience for visitors to the Somme battlefields that will stand out amongst other venues. It will be a worthy tribute to the extraordinary men and women who served Australia with such distinction and at such cost on the Western Front. That completes my opening statement and I am happy to answer questions.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Major General Chalmers. I have distributed to colleagues the opening statement. Mr Perrett, would you like to start questions?

Mr PERRETT: Would visitors pay to go to the museum?

Major Gen. Chalmers : No, they would not.

Mr PERRETT: That is not the case at any of the memorials? I spoke to the museum that you mentioned at Villers-Bretonneux. They charge 5 euros each.

Major Gen. Chalmers : That is correct.

Mr Appleton : When we say that other centres do not, we are referring to other national centres. There are, however, a range of private centres and museums. There is one in Albert, there is the Franco-Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux. They are self-funding, so they do charge.

Mr PERRETT: They are community museums really; they are not for-profit.

Mr Appleton : Our very clear intention here is not to charge entry fees.

Mr PERRETT: I would imagine if we have gone from 46 to 110 there would be more flow-on to this little village museum. That would be my thinking.

Mr Appleton : We have discussed this at length with the management of the Franco-Australian Museum and they are actually very receptive to this. I might mention that the Franco-Australian Museum is closed at the moment. There is a major refurbishment underway in which the Australian government is the major funder. We see these two sites as being complementary. We believe that the traditional visitors will continue to come, but we are going to attract a new audience to this centre. While they are there they will learn of the other Australian places of interest. We expect that there will be considerable spillover from our centre going down to visit the Franco-Australian Museum in the town as one of a range of Australian sites of interest close to the town.

Mr PERRETT: I think the death museum—the one in Kanchanaburi—had a similar increase in numbers. Is that right?

Mr Appleton : Yes, that is right.

Mr PERRETT: In terms of this location, I understand the historical perspectives of recognising Monash's contribution and all of that, but I was just wondering about the costs of some of the other locations that you could have gone to that would not involve building into a hill—I say that sitting in a building built in a hill, and I understand it works very well. I just wondered if you had considered being near the Canadians or the other memorials you mentioned that are more on the trail that you talked about.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Let me make a couple of comments and then perhaps Mr Appleton might add to my remarks. Firstly I would say that the interpretive centres that exist for national—

Mr PERRETT: The Canadians and the British would be the most obvious ones.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes. They are both at their national memorials. So putting our interpretive centre at our national memorial is in keeping with that practice. The design of the building could have been above ground, it could have been fully underground. The design selected is, as you see, semi-underground. That is principally in order to keep its sight lines out of the view of the memorial itself so that the Lutyens-designed memorial is not compromised by having another building sitting behind it.

Clearly there were other locations where Australians served with distinction on the Western Front—in Belgium and further north, principally Pozieres; perhaps Fromelles, Ypres. But at the end of the day the first AIF survivors themselves and government at the time chose Villers-Bretonneux as the place for our national memorial, where the 10,700 who have no known graves are commemorated. It is our national memorial.

Mr PERRETT: We are also commemorated on the Menin Gate—specifically Australian listed—

Major Gen. Chalmers : No, the names on the Menin Gate are those who were lost in the Flanders battlefields in Belgium, and the names on the national memorial are those lost in France who have no known grave.

CHAIR: I will go to Senator Gallacher, Mr Southcott and then Senator Canavan.

Senator GALLACHER: No amount of money or commemorative works can equal the sacrifice that was made. There is no suggestion in any of my questions that this is not a good proposal. But it does stand out that the Canadians are going to rebuild for about 10½ million Aussie dollars—their entire centre. And an earlier project was about 2.7 million euros. We are not even double that; we are a long way off that.

Major Gen. Chalmers : The earlier project you are referring to is—?

Senator GALLACHER: The Thiepval was completed in 2004 at 2.647 million euros.

Major Gen. Chalmers : I do not think that is correct. It was funded by both the British, by public subscription, and the French at a total cost—and that would be half the cost—of about six million euros. So your point is not affected.

Senator GALLACHER: I have roughly A$5 million. Vimy Ridge is much older; however, the Canadian government has just announced that it will be completely rebuilt for the 100th anniversary at a total cost of Can$10 million. I need to understand why our proposal is so much more expensive. If we have determined to build it into the memorial—and, because it is underground, that is a significant cost. Given that it rains every month in Villers-Bretonneux a minimum of 40ml up to about 70ml—basically it rains 10 days out of every month—is there a considerable cost of going underground? Secondly, are we at risk of further works in the future, given that it rains nearly every second day.

Major Gen. Chalmers : You have asked a number of questions there. Perhaps we can take them sequentially. The first question you are asking is around comparing this proposal with the proposals of other nations to build commemorative centres—and the quite marked cost difference. It is really an apples and oranges comparison. In this instance, you get what you pay for. If you are going to build an interpretive centre for an amount of $6 million or $10 million, then you do not get the size of interpretive space that is in this proposal, and you do not get the quality of multimedia interpretive product that we have. So the proposals that you are talking about are simpler and smaller designs. In terms of cost drivers—in the closed session we can go through costs in more detail—there is a cost associated of course with excavating, but it is not a significant cost. I will go to Mr Appleton to provide more perspective on that issue.

Mr Appleton : Thank you. The Canadian site at Vimy is a remarkable site. It draws, I understand, in the order of 700,000 visitors a year. It is far distant from the Australian area of operations. What makes that place so special—apart from it being probably the most poignant memorial on the Western Front—is the fact that the Canadian government was prescient in 1920 when it secured that site when it was still a battlefield. Nearly every other former battlefield in France—Pozieres is probably the best example—when you go there, there is no visible sign that that was once the epicentre of the Battle of the Somme. People visit Vimy to see the craters that are still there and the trenches that are still there. There is a very small, very dated visitors centre there. What Canada has as a significant draw to that site is a corps of guides; young Canadians, usually university students, who are bilingual, and who have participated in certain training which then allows them, under an arrangement with our equivalent organisation in Canada, to actually work on the site for three months of the year, to guide people around. That is one of the enormous attractions there. I am not privy to the detail; I am aware there is an intention to rebuild that centre. What they have there is small; it is dated; it is musty. But I would echo General Chalmers' comment that 'you get what you pay for'.

In relation to the site, you spoke about the issues around the drainage and cost. We have had a geotechnical survey done on the site. We think of the Somme as being low-lying; this site is on the top of the hill. There is an excellent rock base. There is some fracturing in this. We do not anticipate drainage problems, although drainage does get some special attention in the design. There is a cost element that comes with this. But one of the things which draw us to this site—beyond the original logic of our government's decision in the 1930s—is that we own this site effectively. We purchased it in the 1920s. Under treaty arrangements we returned it to the French state. They hold it in perpetuity, in trust, for Australia's use. By having this site on which we can work almost immediately, in terms of a project which is under a very tight schedule, we are able to excise ourselves away from complex negotiations around land acquisition on any other possible site.

Senator GALLACHER: I understand completely. I think you have answered my question. The only question I think that may be in the mind of a person listening is: this appropriation is $93 million; is that coming out of the Veterans' Affairs budget or is that new money?

Major Gen. Chalmers : No, that money is offset by the Department of Defence so it is not coming out of Veterans' Affairs. It has no impact at all on Veterans' Affairs programs or on veterans.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Southcott?

Dr SOUTHCOTT: Thank you. I am glad you mentioned the young Canadians. Just near this site there is the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. When you look at the comments on Trip Advisor, they comment on that as one of the experiences that really stays with them. I know that, in some of the original discussion around the proposal for the Sir John Monash Centre, we were thinking of something similar—for young Australians to have a role at this centre. I am conscious we are looking at the public works side; but, in the concept design, is there the opportunity, and it is conceived, that you would have young Australians working as volunteers in a similar way to Canada at Vimy and at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial as well?

Major Gen. Chalmers : The difference really is that the Canadian site is a large battlefield space, and the Canadians—who of course have the advantage of being francophone and bilingual—guide people through the battlefield and do a battlefield tour. On our site, we have the military cemetery itself and the memorial. But we did not buy at the time a section of battlefield or preserve it. So, whilst it is not impossible that something like that could be done, it is not currently considered as part of the proposal.

Dr SOUTHCOTT: Okay, it is not.

Mr Appleton : You, like many other people, have probably visited the Australian War Memorial and seen the guides in action there. They are one of the things that make that memorial a particularly great memorial. When you have so many static things it can be a bit overwhelming if you are there on your own—where do you start and how do you begin to interpret it. That is why it is good to have someone standing there saying: 'This is Pompey Elliott's boot he was wearing on the day he landed at Gallipoli. You can see the bullet hole in it.'

The interpretive approach in this centre is designed to be self-guiding. We are going to ask people to make choices about what they want to hear, the thematic line they want to follow and what language they want to hear it in. The technology of this place will allow the visitor to be located in the centre and she will cue certain things to respond as she approaches, which are in accordance with the preferences that she has recorded for visiting. So the need for someone to escort you through this place will be much less. As Major General Chalmers said, unless someone had told you that people fought over this site in 1918, you would never know. It is a lovely French pastoral scene as far as you can see so the value that a guide might add would be rather less here than at Vimy.

Dr SOUTHCOTT: Many of us have seen the new World War I Gallery at the Australian War Memorial. I commend everyone who has been involved in that. It is a very impressive display. I am very conscious that we have school groups coming through and that children learn in all sorts of different ways. A multimedia experienced by itself can be quite overwhelming. A number of the museums I have visited overseas—the Smithsonian, for example—have people travelling around with trolleys filled with interesting objects, like gramophone records, that you can pick up and touch. They have someone taking you through that. While that is a little old school, it is not like looking at objects behind a glass case; you are feeling them and having someone take you through them. Somewhere here it mentions tactile stuff. I am wondering whether that is incorporated. If you think about school groups, some kids will get a lot out of it but other kids probably need to be led to water.

Mr Magee : The multimedia approach is driving the centre largely, but there are some selected iconic objects that will be built into the centre as well. The power of multimedia, particularly with emerging audiences, is that it gives us the capacity to structure an experience for school groups, so within the broader curriculum areas that are outlined within Europe and Australia we can tailor information to that particular school group and feed back information which they can take away and incorporate in projects back at school. This can take the form of some of the fantastic images from Hurley, for example, who was a war artist, and other Australian war artists, which brings that back into a first person interpretation. One of the key focuses of the centre and one of the unique approaches we are taking here is that we are not, with due reference to Peter, having text written by historians; all of the text will be first person sourced. They are the people who experienced it and they are the people who can best explain the impact of that terrible event to us. This is a really unique approach. That is one of the reasons the multimedia will become powerful. In a similar way that tactile objects have a role, we believe this first person interpretative approach will have a similar impact on visitors.

Mr Fletcher : And the centre has a multifunction room where we see groups of children going with their teacher and a guide and going through the story as well, so it is not just the interpretive space. The centre also has facilities for researchers to 'camp' and conduct research on site. So we are seeing other interactions with the centre as well as the interpretive galleries.

Senator CANAVAN: Earlier there were some questions about the car parking. I have never been there, so it is a bit hard for me. The car parks are numbered 7 and 8 on the map we have. How far is that to the interpretive centre—2 kilometres?

Mr Appleton : No—it is probably about 500 metres.

Senator CANAVAN: Is that the only car parking that is available?

Mr Appleton : Yes it is, which would lead to the question of what happens if you are in a wheelchair or you are infirm or if the weather is appalling.

Senator CANAVAN: Exactly.

Mr Appleton : There is a circuit road. Although our intention is that the majority of visitors will get the interpretive experience of the procession through the cemetery to the memorial and to the centre, and despite the fact that we will provide wheelchair access from the car park, we know that there will be those whose requirements that does not meet. By arrangement we will be able to bring them to the back of the centre and into the centre.

Senator CANAVAN: By bus or some kind of—

Mr Appleton : Up the lane in their car or bus to drop off and to return.

Senator CANAVAN: Tour groups and those things will have to use the same car parks though?

Mr Appleton : That is right.

Mr Fletcher : A lot of work is being done as we keep developing the design on compliance around things like disabled access. I will ask Joe to mention a couple of the things that we have addressed.

Mr Agius : A critical issue is the experience of the place. If the visitors were to go straight to the interpretive centre and not participate in the processional experience of walking through the military cemetery, experiencing the cross of sacrifice and the Australian national memorial itself, I think it would be a degraded and very unfortunate outcome, which is why we are orchestrating and building on the procession that is there. In terms of accessibility there are DDA issues and we have a specialist DDA consultant as part of the team. Given the nature of the place, being heritage and being existent, the advice from their point of view is that this experience is DDA compliant. The embankment and the slope up through the military cemetery are slightly greater than you would have on an accessible ramp, but you cannot change that. As Chris mentioned, there is an intent to have a buggy on the site that can transport elderly or infirm people from the car park directly up to a spot to the rear of the interpretive centre. There is also a lift—an external lift and an internal lift. It is not on the version that you are looking at but there is also an accessible ramp that sits adjacent to but outside the cemetery and links the car park back up to the memorial and the centre.

Senator CANAVAN: There is quite a bit of farmland close to the interpretive centre. Did you look at purchasing some of that land to provide some disabled—

Major Gen. Chalmers : Part of the proposal is that we have in fact purchased the land.

Senator CANAVAN: I understand that. But my understanding from the briefing papers is that the land you have purchased is land adjacent to the cemetery. There is land that would be adjacent to the interpretive centre. Have you looked at purchasing that to provide at least some disabled access?

Mr Fletcher : We think we have catered for all of the disabled access requirements, and we are continuing to refine that. One of the restrictions on that site is that it is a battlefield. There are the battlefield lines of sight. The reason that the car park is down there is that it is shadowed within the slope of the hill so that it is not visible from the towns on either side or even from the memorial itself. So there is quite a restriction put on us by the local planning.

Senator CANAVAN: Just to be clear: did local planning guidelines prevent you from purchasing any of their farmland to the east, I presume—

Mr Fletcher : It does not prevent us from purchasing but prevents us from putting car parks up on top of the landscape, because they see that as taking away from the battlefield lines of sight. They are going through a major process right now of heritage listing and UNESCO listing—

Senator CANAVAN: I saw that.

Mr Fletcher : those battlefield lines of sight, and this is the compromise.

Major Gen. Chalmers : To answer your question, Senator, there is a road that goes up—

Senator CANAVAN: Yes, I saw that.

Major Gen. Chalmers : and that will provide disabled access to the site if it does not meet the needs—

Senator CANAVAN: Could people drop people off and then go back and park?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: I will move on to another topic: the multimedia experience. I do want to congratulate you on it; it is something very innovative and modern that you are proposing. However, I suppose I am a little bit concerned about that innovativeness as well, given we are managing it from Australia and it is over in France. Has this sort of interaction been used in other memorial facilities around the world or here in Australia?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes and no. Yes, there are interpretive centres on the Western Front at the moment that use a degree of multimedia capability. In Australia, the National Anzac Centre in Western Australia is a multimedia centre. It is not a relic based centre at all. But no in the sense that we do not intend to use technology of last year or the year before. We are aiming to use the very latest, future technology in developing the multimedia experience.

Senator CANAVAN: I see that as a little risky, though, given we are managing it from Australia and there is the potential for IT projects to have difficulties. I might be the youngest person in this room, but I do not understand all the technology as it exists right now.

Mr Appleton : I might ask Mr Fletcher, the project director, to talk about how we have approached the management of this from Australia. Once we have done that, I might ask Russell to speak. We have been down to Mona and looked at the technology that they are using there and how we can—

Senator CANAVAN: Mona?

Mr Appleton : Mona in Hobart. Can I ask Mr Fletcher to talk about how we have planned to manage this from Australia.

Mr Fletcher : We understand that we are moving to a state-of-the-art technology centre, and we have put a lot of effort into the planning around what that means and what that will mean in two years from now, because, as you know, technology moves on rather fast. There are a couple of elements to it. We are looking at the type of equipment and the robustness of the equipment that is used at the site. We are looking at stringent monitoring of all of the equipment at the site and how all the equipment interacts. We are also looking at remote monitoring from Australia of all the equipment, and that is successfully being done for the Bombing of Darwin interpretive centre in Darwin, obviously. Russell can talk to that now. And then we will have contractors in the region, out of Amiens, most likely, who will be able to go on site and fix any major issues. We are also looking at a lot of redundancy in terms of the equipment, and we have done a lot of planning around things like the control rooms and how they will be operated and be monitored. I will pass over to Russell.

Mr Magee : Just to pick up on the management of the system remotely: we have been involved in the design of a number of centres within Australia—the Perth Mint and the Bombing of Darwin experience up in Darwin at East Point. The Darwin centre is built in a cyclone zone; it is quite a robust building. We can monitor that from Australia. We know exactly what is happening with the projectors. We know which piece of equipment is operating—when it is up, when it is down. We know the lamplights within projectors. We know the lamplights of screens. We know all of that kind of stuff. So, in terms of setting up a maintenance program and a maintenance schedule, that can all be built in and factored in. Of course, you do need somebody to get up a ladder at some stage, and that will be managed with management people and maintenance people in France.

Senator CANAVAN: Well, you passed your first test; you have made the projector work today! That does not always happen in this place. I have more questions, but I will come back to them if there is time.

Mr GOODENOUGH: My question relates to the robustness of the tender process and the building contract to ensure that the project is delivered on budget and on time. For the record, could you please outline the proposed tender process and the form that the building contract will take?

Mr Fletcher : I will give a broad outline. We are following the Australian government's procurement rules in doing all of our procurement. For example, we have already engaged the interpretive designers, the architects and the cost planner. That was through an open two-stage tender process, with full probity review and so on. We do not see that we will do the rest of it much differently. We would like to go to an expression of interest for the head of works for this, advertised through AusTender. It will go through an evaluation process, and then we hope to go to a full tender in September for that. That head of works contractor will engage most of the subcontractors for the construction. There will be a couple of other contracts that we will want to enter into. As has been pointed out by the good senator, integration at this centre is a key driver of success, so we will be going out to tender to get an expert integrator. We will also be going out to establish a panel for multimedia production, again through an expression of interest, to establish the panel. So we are following full Australian government procurement rules and full independent probity over the whole process.

Mr GOODENOUGH: And international building contracts?

Mr Freudigmann : In regard to the building contracts, as Mr Fletcher mentioned, we will follow a two-stage process. Later this year, after selecting from a tender process a preferred contractor, we will then enter negotiations. We have an international form of contract that we will use, which has been reviewed by French lawyers so that it is suitable for the French construction market. So we will have a large-scale, reputable builder in France to build this centre for us.

Mr Fletcher : Just to add to that, because I did skip over one thing: we are using quite a renowned construction law firm in France to review all our contracts and all our arrangements to make sure we are getting the best structure for those contracts as well.

Ms CLAYDON: I have a lot of questions, and I will try to narrow them down. One is regarding some of the design issues, so it might be the architect who wants to respond. I just want you to clarify the reasoning—and I think this goes to the permissions, from both the trust and maybe the French authorities—about the requirement to do a cut-in and why the build is partially underground. And I want to go back to some of the disability access questions, because this is a build of significant cost; we are not going to have much change from $100 million. The build must, in this day and age, be fully accessible. The video presentation showed considerable terraced stepping, so I am curious to know, given Mr Agius's discussion earlier about how getting the full experience is part of the attraction of this site and part of the expense of this site, are you confident that somebody with mobility issues, having got all the way to the site in the first place and somehow getting two kilometres across to the site in a car or whatever, will enjoy the full experience?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Let me firstly say that 12 months ago as a result of an accident I was, sadly, on what I think they call a knee scooter—a mobility aid—and I had to travel with the minister over to the site for various reasons, and the existing disabled access for the site is sufficient for you, as I discovered, to access the memorial, but it is a tough push up a grassy hill, and part of our design overcomes those problems by ensuring that there is a path that can be followed for someone in a wheelchair that does not force them to necessarily use the grass route, if that is—

Ms CLAYDON: You have a proposal for a path?

Major Gen. Chalmers : There is a path. So I think—and Mr Agius can comment further—we do consider and have considered the disabled access. Clearly there are legislative requirements—building code requirements from both France and Australia—to be met, and of course we will be fully compliant with those. But, more than that, the Department of Veterans' Affairs understands that our clients are often, unfortunately, disabled, and so the department is sympathetic to ensuring that access is available to all, not just to some. Will I ask Mr Agius to comment?

Ms CLAYDON: That is okay, unless you want to add something?

Mr Agius : Just to reinforce the point: the building is fully compliant, from an access point of view, with Australian code, the DDA and also French code. Just to be clear: the area that is not compliant—I will refer here to a drawing, just to explain it to you—is in coming up the middle of the cemetery; that is on a grassed embankment—

Ms CLAYDON: So where is the proposed path?

Mr Agius : The proposed path basically runs all the way through here. So it is outside of the—

Ms CLAYDON: Is it because of heritage considerations that you are not allowed to run any kind of path through that grassed area?

Mr Agius : Within the military cemetery? That is correct, yes. We would have to excavate a trench in the middle of the cemetery, which would not be really in keeping with the heritage aspects.

Ms CLAYDON: I just needed that clarified and to have on the record why you are not doing that. As to the permissions: is a considerable part of the expense of this project because you are having to cut in? If so, is it a requirement of permissions from the trust and/or French authorities that you build in this manner?

Mr Appleton : I might answer that. A variety of reasons have led us to the design that you have seen briefed. We ran what was essentially a competition which led to the selection of the Cox design. We spelt out in a functional design brief the Commonwealth's requirement for this centre. I do not have the exact language with me, but it spoke to the fact that we have an iconic memorial and whatever we would build on this site needed to complement it and be respectful of its solemn commemorative character. We are also very conscious that there are very strict French requirements for what you can build on a hill in the Somme. As Mr Fletcher spoke of earlier, they are proceeding towards the heritage listing not just of this site but of all of the battlefield lines of sight in the Somme as a precursor to a UNESCO heritage listing of the site. We have worked with the local French authorities; they go by the name of DREAL—that is the acronym. DREAL is the equivalent of an environmental planning organisation. We have spoken with them at every stage of the development of this and they are happy that what we are doing will satisfy their requirements.

So, why buried? It is a combination of two things. One is that we needed to have a centre which was entirely subordinate to this memorial; it could not detract from it in any way. The other is a very practical thing in relation to the line of sight of the centre from the surrounds. We have found that, as we have progressed this plan, our initial concept for the car park needed us to do some further excavation to meet these French requirements. So it is a combination of two factors. We are going into the ground because that is how we are being respectful to the site, but we are also doing so in order to meet some French regulatory requirements.

Major Gen. Chalmers : For the purposes of absolute clarity, we ran a competitive process to select the design. The functional requirement did not specify in any way that the building needed to be buried. In fact, some of the designs considered were above ground. The process, though, led on the range of considerations, as a normal tender process would, to the selection of a preferred tenderer and a preferred design. The Cox design was considered to be the superior design.

Ms CLAYDON: When did you run the competition?

Mr Freudigmann : In the latter half of 2014. We awarded contracts in November.

Ms CLAYDON: If you had for whatever reason selected an above-ground design, would you have been allowed to build it?

Mr Appleton : At least one of the designs that was tendered would have been quite spectacular in another location, but I am quite confident that the French would have declined—

Ms CLAYDON: That is my question. Would you be allowed to build on this site above ground, or would the French have said, 'Sorry—not happening'?

Major Gen. Chalmers : We are above ground to a certain extent, but the building had to meet a range of requirements which essentially went to unobtrusiveness—not detracting from the existing site.

Ms CLAYDON: Again, just to be very clear, you would not have been able to build the whole of the building above ground and remain at this site?

Mr Appleton : We did not see a design tendered which was above the ground which we believe would have met the requirements of the French regulation. We did not specify that the building needed to be buried in the ground. We had the option. For that reason, we saw a variety of solutions proposed. The solution by Cox is the one which best meets the variety of parameters that we set for this.

Ms CLAYDON: Finally, then, we have heard evidence about the significant cost differences between the Canadian build, the British build and the Australian build, which is significantly more expensive, and you have argued that they are very different kinds of proposals. I do congratulate you on the use of multimedia in particular in your proposal. Every contemporary museum and gallery is moving into this space, so I think you absolutely need to be there. But, for the record, what is it that sets your proposal apart from what the Canadian and British governments have been building?

Mr Appleton : We would start by saying the most visited battlefield sites include the Tyne Cot cemetery near Zonnebeke in Belgium. It is the largest Commonwealth war graves cemetery anywhere in the world. Interestingly, it is actually on a site which Australians fought over in 1917. There is a very modest visitors centre there, but it attracts huge visitation, essentially because it is at the centre of the Flanders battlefields.

The next most visited is the Canadian memorial at Vimy, which we spoke of earlier, which is on a former battlefield which you can still recognise as a battlefield. It is the most spectacular, original and poignant monument on the Western Front.

By comparison, our site is well distant from those very, very well visited sites. You would not go to one of those and say, 'I'll just duck down to the Australian centre for a while.' In the functional design brief which the Commonwealth devised, we spelt out that this building and its contents needed to be sufficiently compelling in character that they would change patterns of visitation to the battlefield, and there is a cost premium in that. The concept for interpretation you have heard outlined is without peer. That also comes at a significant cost but it is our belief that that very significant point of distinction is going to draw a new audience to this very important site.

Ms CLAYDON: Thank you. My understanding, to wrap that, is that because this particular site has been chosen there are some significant costs in having to do a cut-in in order to comply with the French and trust requirements and there are additional significant costs because you do not currently at that site have the visitation rates that you would be wanting and in order to compete with other sites along the trail and other parts you need a monumental building of great significance. Is that a fair summary?

Mr Appleton : I would not say this is a monumental building.

Ms CLAYDON: I would.

Mr Appleton : We specifically did not seek a monumental building.

Ms CLAYDON: I do not mean that in a derogatory way. I think it is terribly monumental. It is very 'Canberra-esque' actually.

Major Gen. Chalmers : The two points you made in summary there are correct but to me they are not really the most compelling reasons for developing a building and an interpretive fit-out which is at world standard and at least as good as, if not better than, any other on the Western Front because the Australian story of service and sacrifice on the Western Front deserves to be told and to be told in a way that reflects the story.

Ms CLAYDON: Absolutely. Do not think there is any dispute at all from anyone on that front, but it is understanding the costs. It is fairly clear to me now that there are significant costs because of the chosen site, more than any of the other sites, and that is what we need to understand.

Major Gen. Chalmers : I think we can unpick in more detail the cost drivers in the in-camera session.

Ms CLAYDON: Thank you.

Mr PERRETT: I am wondering about catering for people who do not have iPhones, who arrive at the site, in terms of the experience. If you are accessing the bluetooth and wi-fi, you would not have to have—excuse my technical ignorance—international roaming on, if you are an Australian school kid, for example. Can you explain that to me?

Mr Appleton : Question I asked during the tender process was: if my dad came here, how could you make sense of this? We anticipate that the iPhone or its equivalent will be ubiquitous by 2018. We are almost at saturation point now that there are still a very—

Mr PERRETT: Yes, among those listening—

Mr Appleton : There is an audience for whom—I will ask Russell to tell you the answer he gave me when I asked him this very question.

Mr Magee : Yes, iPhones and Android devices are, in a sense, coming together. So the capacity to deliver information through them is great. Technology wise, we are using two different systems. There is a wi-fi mesh across the entire cemetery site and across the whole of the site, in fact. So the wi-fi will be driven in that area to an application and on the application on your phone you can find out information about the cross or hear a story about a digger buried in a particular grave and that is delivered onto the earphones.

Mr PERRETT: So you would turn up with your own earphones?

Mr Magee : Yes. We are proposing to have the earphones available on site for a modest purchase price.

Mr PERRETT: You could walk around like this?

Mr Magee : We are not encouraging that because of the audio vibrations. We are encouraging people to use their phones. We are also putting in recharge areas and all those kinds of things so that people can charge their phones.

Mr PERRETT: You can go over the 110,000—

Mr Magee : Yes, that is right.

Mr PERRETT: if you have a recharge thing to fall back on.

Mr Magee : I know. Down at the car park site, for those without a phone who arrive at the site, we have an explanation of the site, of the Lutyens design and of the key points. It is a screen based design and you will be able to interrogate that and get some answers from that. Of course, other people will have their phone with them on that first visit up through the site. Once visitors arrive in the building, the proposal is that there will be a small number of devices that the visitor services officers will be able to offer to visitors.

Mr PERRETT: Like at the War Memorial?

Mr Magee : Like at the War Memorial, similar to that—and they would perform the same function in delivering and streaming the audio to visitors directly. Within the entire centre, we have ambient audio, through speakers around the centre, and we are proposing that that be run in the language of the day. If, for example, we know that there is a German school group coming, the visitor services officer will select German as the language of the day, and that will give the top level of audio to that particular school group, given that they may not have phones. But, largely speaking, they will have; in fact, they could be issued with them as part of their tour. The advantage of having the phone is you can receive and send information. So, if you wanted to get photographs of Pozieres and you are going to Pozieres later in the day, we can say: 'If you stand at this point, this is what it looked like after the battle. This is what the town looked like.' Those kinds of things will be available to visitors.

Mr PERRETT: Okay. I look forward to the letters coming through to the minister when the Australian visitor hears the explanation in German!

Major Gen. Chalmers : I was thinking the same thing myself!

Senator CANAVAN: I have one more question, again on the multimedia aspect. It does sound very exciting. But someone brought up Vimy before, and you are right about the battlefield still being there. The only thing I know about Vimy—I have not been there—is those haunting statues, those works of art, that reflect sacrifice, the crucifixion, the Virgin Mary and all those things. I am just wondering if we are not getting too excited about bright, shiny things here. They are fantastic for us now, but this has to be something that lasts 50, 100, 200 years. Vimy will still be there in 200 years; people will still see those haunting images. With the budget you have, what have we done to look at that kind of evocative artwork which would last?

Major Gen. Chalmers : There is the Lutyens designed Australian national memorial already on the site.

Senator CANAVAN: Sure, yes.

Major Gen. Chalmers : And the Lutyens designed Canadian memorial is what you are referring to. We already have that monumental piece of art. The Sir John Monash Centre is designed not to compete in that way but to complement it by providing the interpretive and educative experience that needs to go with it. Now, there is a budget for art and there will be works of art in the centre; but, primarily speaking, it is not a relic based interpretive centre. We do not intend to have a lot of objects—as opposed to being able to tell a story in a vibrant, flexible way through the—

Senator CANAVAN: What will you have that reflects John Monash, given this is the Sir John Monash Centre? Is there any art that you are looking at to particularly dedicate to or that is specific to his legacy?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I will ask Chris to answer.

Mr Appleton : We have not identified a piece specifically, although we are in contact with a number of organisations that exist to honour Sir John Monash. Now, whether that is a piece of art or a bust—because he is one of the great characters of this film, it could be any or all of those. There is a level of interpretive definition that we are still working our way through, and we are yet to engage with the War Memorial on the detail of the emblematic artefacts which might come across. General Monash will stand out in here, but I would like to make it clear for the record that, while this is the story of Monash, Monash was one of more than 290,000 Australians. He was a great Australian; but, as I spelt out earlier, in the great Australian tradition the central character of the Australian story of war is the ordinary man and woman who we throw into extraordinary circumstances. You spoke about what might live forever or live still in 100 years time: their words will live forever.

John Barlow died at Fromelles on 20 June 1916. He was his mother's only son. She raised him on her own. He was recorded as missing. If you read his file, there is this plaintive sequence of missives from Mrs Barlow to the various authorities, saying: 'Can you tell me something about my son.' She took her own life on the anniversary of his death in 1921 having written a letter which today is generally acknowledged as 'the grieving mother's letter'. Those words were written more than 90 years ago, but I would challenge any person here not to weep on hearing those words. Vimy is a great sculpture, and it will stand there in 100 years time. In 100 years time, people will still listen to Mrs Barlow's words, and they will weep.

CHAIR: Thank you Mr Appleton. Mr Fletcher, do you want to add something?

Mr Fletcher : Part of the brief was to be flexible with the building, but we wanted a legacy building and an exhibition that may change over time. A lot of the design work has gone into making basically the legacy building and artworks that will be incorporated into the fabric of the building compared to the interpretation that is currently being put in place. If you look at the design, a lot of it is just a big cabin that, in 15 years, if we decide we are going to change the interpretation, comes out. But the fabric of the building remains. We have thought about this as a legacy building with an interpretation that will last 15 to 20 years.

Senator GALLACHER: After that contribution I do not want to finish on a crass note. This is a commemorative project of great significance to both Australia and France. Is there any scope in these types of projects for the VAT to be waived? Is there any request in respect of that?

Major Gen. Chalmers : There is a 20 per cent VAT for construction in France. I am not certain that we would be able to get it waived.

Senator GALLACHER: Did we ask?

Mr Fletcher : There is a process that is happening now where we have permission to move ahead with the building. We are doing full consultation. There are a range of different taxes, and the VAT is one of those. We believe that we may be able to get a waiver. What we need to do, as you would in Australia, is go to the tax authorities to get a ruling. That will take us a bit of time to get through. We have put the VAT in there because we did not have an answer at the time. But it may be, down the track, that some or all of that will be removed.

Senator GALLACHER: Fair enough.

CHAIR: I have a number of questions before we conclude. Major General, you mentioned that the cost of the said Sir John Monash Centre would be met through the Department of Defence. What about the future operational and maintenance expenses?

Major Gen. Chalmers : I probably should clarify that the capital cost is being offset by the Department of Defence element. There is a provision for operating costs each year. That provision has been offset through the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Mr PERRETT: I think in estimates you talked about $2 million to $3 million per year in the forward estimates. That is a lot. We might unpack that after.

Mr Appleton : The first stage of the submission of the project sought $6.9 million to progress the project to the second stage. That was funded from internal savings within the department. We gained, at the time, the agreement of the Department of Finance that the continuing saving would be set aside to fund this project over its life period. There was a saving in the first instance, but there are no other savings which need to be identified to be able to fund this over its life cycle.

CHAIR: In your opening comment, Major General, you mentioned that the Lutyens Trust had been consulted. Were there any hesitations identified by the trust?

Major Gen. Chalmers : Lutyens Trust is quite careful and jealous in guarding the legacy of Lutyens designs. We have had quite a number of consultations with them. Mr Appleton has led those consultations, so I will ask him to address that.

Mr Appleton : We began this process of negotiations with the Lutyens Trust by letter shortly after the Prime Minister made his announcement in October 2013. We have met with them several times, most recently just following Anzac Day when we met the chair of the trust and two architectural members at the Australian High Commission.

The Lutyens Trust has opposed every single development by any country in any proximity to a Lutyens' memorial. That is an article of faith for them. However, it did not dissuade the French and the British from building a visitor centre next to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing or the South Africans building a visitor centre nearby. We did give them an indication early of what we were considering. We asked them to provide their views on the things that might shape the project. We have negotiated with them twice.

The outcome of our last meeting in London in the first week of May was actually extremely positive. They made generous acknowledgement that we had respected the work of Lutyens. They were particularly taken by the way that Cox had designed a building that was complimentary to the original geometry of the site and in fact became a logical extension thereof. They were particularly impressed by the fact that the building was sunken and had the roof surface that we have discussed today. They are very pleased that a couple of elements of the Lutyens' design that fell out of the project as a result of cost savings in 1937 and 1938 are going back in. They were very pleased with the unbuilt paths that we speak of.

They did make a couple of observations about the fact that we are going to expose the two little towers at the wings of the centre to a level of visitation and through traffic that had not been envisaged before. They were concerned with what that might mean to the patterning inside those. We agreed that our architect would work with an architect nominated by the trust on how they might manage that. They spoke about the proximity of the centre to the memorial. They understand the various factors that have led us to place that building there within, at its closest point, four metres of the centre. The last thing they asked was: will there be somewhere in the centre that will tell a little story of the memorial and of Lutyens? Of course we were delighted to answer in the positive.

CHAIR: I did have a question about the terraces that will be completed. They were part of the original design but not completed by the opening. They were not completed for what reason?

Mr Appleton : They ran out of money.

CHAIR: It is a sacred site so how confident are we that through the excavation and construction phase we will not come across articles of sacredness?

Major Gen. Chalmers : With any construction on the Western Front that can be an issue. French construction companies are well versed. There are two potential problems: one is unrecovered remains may be uncovered and the second is that unexploded ordnance might be disturbed with catastrophic effect. There are regulations for dealing with both of those things and French construction companies are versed in them. There has been recent construction at the site—the work that we commissioned to redirect the road at the front and to build a car parking space, principally for safety concerns but also to create an area of parking. In that work there were no remains uncovered and there was I think one piece of ordnance that was uncovered and disposed of. The French also put in a very large gas line, which entailed digging a very deep trench across the farmland between Hill 104, where our National Memorial is, and the township of Villers-Brettoneux. Again, that work proceeded without issue.

Mr Fletcher : I would just add to that that this has been a previous construction site, when the memorial was built. The area, if you see the original photos, was extensively excavated and covered. Also, the soil there only goes down about 600 millimetres before you hit rock, so it is unlikely there will be too much buried below that level.

CHAIR: In the submission, you talk about—and this was raised in the evidence as well—both the French government's improvements to some of its national heritage laws and, more significantly, the proposed UNESCO listing. If we project ourselves 20 or 25 years ahead, even 100 years ahead, should Australians want to further develop the site, how does that UNESCO heritage listing restrict that and is this something that we need to be alert to?

Mr Appleton : The proposal for heritage listing results from a combined French and Belgian effort to provide something which is a lasting legacy of the Anzac centenary. This has been a matter of consideration for nearly two years now, and it is unclear as to whether this UNESCO listing will be eventually successful, because there are a range of complex matters to take into account. Our interest in this is very closely followed by the Australian government. Our agent in this consideration is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who actually care for this site on a day-to-day basis. I would not predict with any confidence the date at which this might come to a conclusion. The design that we have made for this site is such—and we have had this advice from the French DREAL authorities—that we have anticipated in what we are doing almost every requirement of French heritage listing, which would be consistent with UNESCO heritage listing. While it is convenient for us to have been in before this listing is in, if you are to build something of sufficient sympathy and character, as we have, and if we needed to do something in the future, I do not know that there is anything in the proposed listing which would inhibit that. But, because the limitations of heritage listing still remain to be comprehensively defined, that is one of the things which is actually holding back whether this will eventually progress or not.

CHAIR: But isn't it Australian territory, by agreement with the French government?

Mr Appleton : No, it is not.

Mr Fletcher : It is French territory held in perpetuity for Australian use.

Mr Appleton : We acquired it after the war, and then we relinquished it back to the French under treaty arrangements, and they hold it in trust in perpetuity for Australia, on the same basis as the Vimy site is held for the Canadians.

CHAIR: My final point is this: I am surprised that, during the evidence, we have not heard anything about the National Anzac Centre. The National Anzac Centre was built well ahead of schedule, on budget. Visitor numbers have surpassed expectations. It has been very, very well received by not just the Albany community but indeed Australians who travelled to Albany as part of the commemorative events. I would have thought that was a very powerful way of demonstrating, to people who might have some initial hesitations, that in recent experience visitation numbers are exceeded. You mentioned the point about Hellfire Pass and concerns around construction time. The National Anzac Centre had a very compressed schedule in terms of being ready for operation in time for the commemorative event. How closely have you looked at the National Anzac Centre in coming to an understanding of this project, particularly around the multimedia aspects?

Major Gen. Chalmers : In some ways it is a different scale to the interpretive centre. It is essentially a $10 million development as opposed to a $100 million development.

CHAIR: Yes, but it is $10 million over 100 square metres as opposed to $100 million over 1,000 square metres.

Major Gen. Chalmers : Yes. As you know, it had a troubled history.

CHAIR: Early.

Major Gen. Chalmers : It came together. There was a cost overrun. We had to put another $1½ million in to complete the interpretive element of it. But having said that, as you have pointed out, by any measure it has been a very successful development. Particularly instructive for us is the multimedia element to it and the approach to identifying—I think 30, but I could be wrong—individuals whose personas visitors can take on, travelling through the interpretive centre and learning about that individual. So it brings a much more personal understanding of the experience. DVA worked very closely with the Western Australian government and the Albany City Council in the whole of the development of both the National Anzac Centre and the weekend in November last year, so we had very good insight into the project, how it developed and the lessons that can be taken away from it. As you say, that is a centre which charges admission.

CHAIR: It does.

Major Gen. Chalmers : That has not proved to be an obstacle to people. I think it is $26.

CHAIR: $24.

Major Gen. Chalmers : That has not stopped visitation at all.

CHAIR: Exactly.

Major Gen. Chalmers : So there is clearly a thirst for people to experience and be educated in this area.

CHAIR: Thank you, General. Are there any other questions?

Ms CLAYDON: I am just going to ask a question on notice. I have been looking at the fabulous trail, which looks extraordinary—exploration of sites and memorials on the Western Front. I am happy for this to be on notice: could you just give us the visitation numbers to each of the sites along the trail as they are now. There may be a spike, as you say, in terms of current figures.

Mr Appleton : We will take that on notice. It is not possible to provide authoritative information for all of those, because some of those sites are untended.

Ms CLAYDON: Yes, they do not all have attendants.

Mr Appleton : But, for those that are visitor centres where there is an entry and an admission, we will be able to collate some information and get it to you.

Ms CLAYDON: Thank you. I would appreciate that.

CHAIR: Do the witnesses have anything further to add?

Mr Appleton : Can I record a correction, please. I spoke a few minutes ago about John Barlow and the letter that his mother had written. There is a very sad story about John Barlow, but actually I was referring to John Goulding, and his mother was Mrs Julia Goulding from Brisbane.

CHAIR: Thanks for that, Mr Appleton.

Resolved that these proceedings be published.

Proceedings suspended from 11:23 to 11:57

Committee adjourned at 11:57