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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial


CHAIR: Welcome. I would just use my privilege in the chair for one moment to place on record to the minister, Dr Nelson and your associates, as a proud Western Australian, the absolutely phenomenal centenary commemoration event in Albany from 31 October to 2 November. It commemorated the first fleet that left Albany at that time and joined up with the local fleet of Western Australians and South Australians, who joined them from Fremantle some days later. The commemoration was an absolute privilege. The whole weekend went so well. The National Anzac Centre, with which your organisation had so much association, is an absolute standout. It was recorded the other day that, since that weekend, some 30,000 people from around Australia have visited the National Anzac Centre. It certainly is going to be an iconic structure, along with the other activities that take place.

Senator Ronaldson: I will pass on that message to the DVA staff who have done a fantastic job in organising the weekend's activities.

CHAIR: I do have a question, of course. That is, the extent to which the Australian War Memorial is going to be able to continue to support the National Anzac Centre as it becomes what we hope will be a very, very important structure in Western Australia and in Albany in particular.

Dr Nelson : It was our privilege to be associated with it and we will continue to support it in the provision of historical and curatorial advice, as is required. Also, we will support it in the provision—on a loan basis, of course—of objects, relics and artefacts for exhibition in the centre. If there is any consideration to its expansion or change in the way in which it presents the story of Australia and our first Anzacs, then we would incorporate entirely with it.

Senator GALLACHER: We nearly got through the night without some politics, but it is not going to happen.

Senator Ronaldson: I am just reminding you that the thing you are complaining about was done under your government.

Senator GALLACHER: The next triennium for the travelling exhibition program was due to commence on 1 July this year. Can you confirm that an MOU exists between the Australian War Memorial and DVA regarding the future of travelling exhibition programs?

Dr Nelson : There is a memorandum of understanding currently in place, which expires on 30 June this year. Consistent with the provisions of that MOU, the Department of Veterans' Affairs found it necessary in August 2014 to advise us that, under the terms of the existing MOU, it found it necessary to terminate its continuing support for the travelling exhibitions, whilst making available to us the $156,000 for this financial year that we had expended to that point. We are not currently in the process of negotiating an MOU for the next triennium.

Senator GALLACHER: So there will not be an MOU to go from 1 July 2015 onwards?

Dr Nelson : In fact, I know some of my officers have commenced preliminary discussions with the relevant officers in the Department of Veterans' Affairs for an MOU to exist between us and the department for exhibitions in the future. Ms Bennie, the assistant director, may wish to elaborate on that.

Ms Benn ie : Further to what Dr Nelson was saying, since the cessation of the travelling exhibition funding, we are in negotiations with the department around some other commemorative programs that they do support at the memorial, namely the school wreath laying program, which they are supporting and they have committed to support—we just need to do that within the MOU—to the tune of $100,000 per year. Also, sitting within that, we understand that they have offered support and will continue to do so around military history conferences, as well as the memorial's important outreach program. That is a memorial in a box which goes to schools around Australia. That has been enhanced for the First World War with further First World War memorial boxes. They are the range of programs that will be sitting under the MOU.

Senator GALLACHER: But you have had no success in reinstating the full travelling exhibitions?

Ms Bennie : No. The department made that quite clear.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay. Dr Nelson, you mentioned $156,000. Did that actually cover all of your folding-up costs?

Dr Nelson : No, Senator, it did not. That was the money that we had expended at that point six weeks into this current financial year to run the travelling exhibitions as they were consistent with the MOU, and in good faith the minister and the department made that funding available to us. As I may have said at the previous estimates hearing, the complete wind-up costs, if you describe them in those terms, of the travelling exhibitions for us was in the order of $400,000. We have made that available through our temporary exhibitions budget, which is provided to us as a part of our annual appropriation. We have made adjustments to the temporary exhibitions that we conduct within the Australian War Memorial.

Since we last met I can advise you that the Tallis Foundation, to its immense credit, has provided funding that will enable us to take Ben Quilty after Afghanistan to both Darwin and Townsville. We are also looking at a third venue, possibly in regional Victoria, in consultation with the Tallis Foundation. I can also advise you that Wesfarmers informed me last week, through its CEO Richard Goyder, that its board had approved a $200,000 contribution to take The lost diggers of Vignacourt to the four venues in Western Australia that we had been planning.

We have also been working with smaller communities around the country to ensure that A camera on Gallipoli, the magnificent Ryan exhibition, the photographs that were taken by the soldier-surgeon at Gallipoli, are made available through using an electronic make-your-own exhibition, for want of a better expression. So that is going ahead as well. We have also had some communities that have been prepared to fully pay the costs of getting some of our smaller exhibitions to them.

Obviously in an ideal world, and at the moment we are living in an environment of understandably significant fiscal constraint, we would like to receive funding from any source, if we can, to grow our travelling exhibitions. At the moment we accept that basically, if we do not have the resources within our own budget, then we have to find them from the private sector. I think in the longer term too we should be thinking about, with some of these exhibitions, a small entrance fee to be paid perhaps by people who visit. I think there would be some willingness on the part of Australians, for some of these exhibitions, for that to occur.

Senator GALLACHER: Whatever the reasons are for the withdrawal of funding, it has put you in the position of now sourcing funding from corporate, and you are looking at anyway you can to recoup your costs. Is that a stop-gap measure in your view, or is that likely to sustain itself over time?

Dr Nelson : Well, it is a little bit of both. Obviously we had six exhibitions on the road travelling the country. For reasons that we respect, we do understand the department found it necessary to cease its funding for our program. We have been able to make some adjustments to keep some of those exhibitions travelling, as I just said. We have brought some of them back to the War Memorial and we will, in fact, exhibit them at the War Memorial. The Reality in flames exhibition, which comprises contemporary artworks of the Second World War era, will be exhibited at the War Memorial. In terms of our forward planning and our forward budgeting, we are not currently working on the assumption that the Department of Veterans' Affairs, in the short or medium term, is likely to reinstate its funding. So we obviously have to look at our own budget. We look at different technologies for the development, presentation and travelling of these exhibitions. We also look at the extent to which local communities themselves are prepared to make a contribution. We look at the private sector and at a number of corporations. In fact, we are negotiating with one at the moment that has a particular interest in getting exhibitions into regional Australia, particularly in mining communities. Also, realistically, whilst I do not think our political class, as far as they are concerned, or indeed the management of the War Memorial will ever countenance any sort of charge to come and see anything at the Australian War Memorial, including to park your car, with travelling exhibitions I think we need to be mature enough to accept that perhaps a very small entrance fee for some of these exhibitions might be acceptable if that means that they are actually going to get to communities they otherwise would not get to.

Senator GALLACHER: The $400,000 that you mentioned: did that impact on the War Memorial's ability to undertake budgeted activities, or were you able to move and shake with that? Did you really have to make cuts? Did you get rid of anybody?

Dr Nelson : That is a separate issue. The previous government implemented a 2.25 per cent efficiency dividend which is necessitating a reduction of our staffing by about six per cent, and so we are dealing with that; that is a separate matter. In terms of the travelling exhibitions, no, it does not have any impact on our staffing other than us having to reallocate within our staffing people who had been working on the travelling exhibitions. Whilst we absorb the cost of packing up the exhibitions and getting them back, the impact that it has is that, perhaps instead of having a temporary exhibition in our temporary exhibition space every six months, we have to run the exhibitions for 12 months. In the scheme of things, that is not a major imposition. It is something with which we can adequately deal. For example, we currently have Ben Quilty:After Afghanistan and Alex Seton: As of Today … —the 41 magnificently carved funeral shrouds—in our temporary exhibition space. If we were not able to get the Thales funding, we would have had those exhibitions in for 12 months; instead, we have them in for six months. So one of the positive multipliers of getting private sector support for our travelling exhibitions is that we can have more frequent temporary exhibitions within the memorial itself.

Senator GALLACHER: Thanks.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Good evening, Dr Nelson. Thank you for the other week, for the opening ceremony. I recently took my children to the War Memorial, as I have done a couple of times since I have been in Canberra. It was great to see the Sandakan room, and they got to see a picture of their great-grandfather on the wall. It was a very moving experience for my family, so thank you for that. And I meant what I said the other day as well; I think you are doing a fantastic job.

But something has come to my attention that I find quite deeply disturbing, if it is true. It was raised with me at a recent meeting with a veteran at a veterans' association in Canberra that a weapons manufacturing company had launched their office or their opening in Australia at the War Memorial. Could you confirm if it is true that, on Tuesday, 2 December 2014, the then Minister for Defence, David Johnston, launched the Australian arm of Northrop Grumman at the Australian War Memorial?

Dr Nelson : Yes, that is true.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Who approved the use of the War Memorial to launch the commercial operation of a company that, I suppose, some people would call a weapons manufacturer but others might call an arms dealer?

Dr Nelson : Ultimately, I authorise it, and I am very pleased to do so. I respect the fact that you and others in our country may not agree with it. But Northrop Grumman is obviously a significant prime manufacturer of defence materiel. It also makes equipment which is used in the civilian space. It is already employing many Australians, and part of its ambition in establishing an office in Australia—by the way, I am not a spokesman for this or any other defence company—is to increase its profile, presence, footprint and employment in Australia, and that is entirely consistent with what a whole range of other companies, including those in the defence space, do. It is quite legitimately—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Dr Nelson, I do not have an issue with any of that, nor do I—

Senator Ronaldson: Are you saying that activity is illegal? Is that what you are saying?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Please, Senator, just hear me out. I do not have an issue with them being launched—

Senator Ronaldson: Are you alleging they are conducting illegal activities?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am raising an ethical issue.

Senator Ronaldson: Because I am just wondering where you are going with this. Are you saying they are running illegal activities? Is that what you are putting to the committee?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I never said they were running illegal activities.

Senator Ronaldson: All right. Okay.

CHAIR: Minister, let Senator Whish-Wilson ask his questions.

Senator Ronaldson: So what is the issue now?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like you to withdraw that, because that is not what I said.

Senator Ronaldson: I was asking you whether that was what you were insinuating.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: No, I said I am raising an ethical issue here that I would like to—

Senator Ronaldson: Okay. Well, I am just trying to work out what this is all about, then, if you were not making that allegation.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am certainly not making that allegation at all, and if you listen to what I said, Senator, you will see that I did not say anything like that. I am raising an ethical issue here. The Australian War Memorial is a very special place. It is to me. I have been there several times, and it was very moving and very emotional for us to see our family there. War is different things to different people. I think anyone who goes there and it is a shrine for them, they can think whatever they want. I have no problem with the government launching an arms manufacturer in Australia if that is what it chooses to do, but I am questioning whether it should have been at the Australian War Memorial. Given what it symbolises to the Australian public and given the conflict that we are involved in at the moment, do you think you could have picked a more sensitive place to launch a weapons manufacturing company in this country?

Dr Nelson : The decision to use the Australian War Memorial was made by Northrop Grumman. The memorial, as you know, is a unique institution. It is a shrine, a museum and an archive in one facility. The area that was used is Anzac Hall, which almost every night is used for functions by a whole variety of corporations, associations and individuals. I suspect that as we sit here this evening there is an event being held there. Frequently, they are events where people are coming together to celebrate a whole range of things and—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you think this company was celebrating anything at the War Memorial?

Dr Nelson : Again, I am not the spokesman or the representative for Northrop Grumman, but I was there on the evening to welcome them and indeed there must have been 250 people there—Defence chiefs, people in the civilian community who work in our intelligence, defence, manufacturing and other spaces and veterans' organisations. I add, in this context, that the Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, Rear Admiral Ken Doolan is himself the National President of the Returned & Services League. I have not ever heard any person express any criticism whatsoever of Northrop Grumman or any other organisation for holding an event such as this at the War Memorial. If it were to be held, by the way, anywhere near the commemorative area, I would be sharing your concern. In fact if—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Then it was not in the War Memorial technically, it was—?

Dr Nelson : Anzac Hall, where the Lancaster, the miniature submarine, the First World War aircraft and the Sydney-Emden displays are, is the area that we use for events. It could be the glass manufacturers association's annual Christmas dinner, it could be the Northrop Grumman launch of its increased presence in Australia, it could be the Bomber Command annual dinner—it could be a whole range of things. That is the area that we use for these sorts of events.

Going back to Senator Gallacher's questions about funding for things like travelling exhibitions, the revenue that we are able to derive from our commercial activities, which include allowing Anzac Hall to be used for these sorts of events, enables us to provide the kinds of offerings which mean so much to our Australian visitors and to our international visitors. It is a very important thing. For a number of those events that are held in Anzac Hall, we considerably discount the fees that we charge where it is a veterans' group. We will have a dinner there later this year for the families of the fallen from Afghanistan. Of course there will be no charge to them whatsoever. But when we have corporations come in, whether they are in defence or any other part of the corporate sector, it is not only an appropriate use for that area of the memorial but it is also an important part of our revenue raising.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask about how many other defence companies have used that particular area for functions?

Dr Nelson : I would have to take that on notice. I have been at the memorial for two years and two months, and I certainly know that Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, as you quite rightly point out, have had functions there—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Three of the biggest weapons manufacturers in the world have used the War Memorial.

Senator Ronaldson: I take it from this that you are suggesting that the Australia Defence Force should not be using this area either.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I beg your pardon.

Senator Ronaldson: I assume you are saying that the Australia Defence Force should be banned from using this area as well, because they indeed carry and use weapons. So the logical extension is that the Australian Defence Force should be banned from using this space as well. Is that what you are saying?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I think there is a very important distinction here, Senator Ronaldson, and I am trying to be very sensitive about it. The difference is that these companies profit from selling weapons. The difference is that Australian defence personnel do not. That is a very simple distinction. This is a very important issue to a lot of Australians. You can shake your head, Senator Ronaldson. The War Memorial is important to a lot of Australians. I think a lot of them would be very surprised and upset to know that some of the biggest weapons companies in the world were using our Australian War Memorial, our shrine, to promote their businesses. I am just suggesting that, for sensitivity's sake, perhaps you do it somewhere else. That is what I am getting on the record here tonight.

Dr Nelson : I might also point out that we have an Afghanistan exhibition we opened on 6 August which is extraordinarily powerful. There is immense emotion revealed in that exhibition. It would not be there if it were not for the Boeing Corporation. It simply would not have happened. We could not have afforded it. We got $1 million in support from Boeing. Half a million we put into that exhibition. We got $500,000 from Lockheed Martin, which is enabling us to run a whole lot of educational programs. I do respect your view, but I disagree with it. It is an appropriate form of partnership for us to have and, indeed, a necessary one. What government provides us with allows us to do something which is excellent. The difference between that and the support we get from our philanthropists, the corporate sector and others means we can do things that are stunning.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I will respectfully disagree with that, but thank you.

CHAIR: Before we conclude, I want to go back to the National Anzac Centre for one moment. Dr Nelson, you could describe far better than I the pool of reflection, which is effectively a horizontal water filled table. Within the water you watch the names of some 41,000 service men and women who left Albany or other ports, as I understand it. It moves very slowly. It moves towards a huge window overlooking King George Sound where the fleet assembled, and each name then falls symbolically into the water. I understand it takes about nine hours for that particular group of names to go through. It might be longer. I think it is one of the most incredible symbols I have seen. The only other point I would make is that I was so delighted on the day that I could not work the audio equipment. It gave me some degree of comfort, Dr Nelson, that neither could you!

That concludes the examination of the Defence portfolio. I thank you, Minister, and officers for your attendance and I thank the Hansard, Broadcasting and secretariat staff. I remind senators that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by close of business on Friday 6 March.

Committee adjourned at 22:58