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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
24/10/2018
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial

[20:31]

CHAIR: Welcome, Dr Nelson and officials of the Australian War Memorial. Do you have an opening statement, Director?

Dr Nelson : Last time I was here, I promoted the car poppy to promote the centenary of the Armistice, and on this occasion I'd like to promote an album which we have produced. It was released a week ago, and it has a stunning series of performances by a range of Australian artists, with all of the royalties going to the Australian War Memorial, specifically for our young veterans' programs.

CHAIR: Do you feature, Director? I understand you were good with a guitar!

Dr Nelson : I wrote the foreword, but Lee Kernaghan's Invictus anthem is on it and a magnificent duet by Wes Carr and Lance Corporal Elizabeth Smith called 'After the War'.

CHAIR: Let's be absolutely blatantly clear: what's the cost of this CD, and how can it be purchased—online, from the War Memorial?

Dr Nelson : It's available from iTunes. It's also $20 from the Australian War Memorial, and from JB Hi-Fi and Sanity it's about that price. On a serious note, all these artists—Lee Kernaghan, Wes Carr, Glenn Shorrock, Darren Percival, the three uniform Defence female singers and the Royal Australian Navy Band—donated their skill, and the production costs were met by a donor. Tomorrow, we'll release a very emotional video of a duet—'After the War Will You Still Know Who I Am?'

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that, Director. On behalf of everybody on the committee and the Australian people, can you please pass on our thanks to those wonderful civically minded individuals who were willing to donate their time and their talents to this worthy cause.

Dr Nelson : Thank you.

Senator MOORE: How did the poppy go? I'm wondering whether those promotional skills worked when you gave your—

Dr Nelson : The car poppies? I think our sales are in the order of 3,000 or thereabouts.

Senator MOORE: That sounds good.

Dr Nelson : The proceeds are going to Legacy.

Senator MOORE: I know it's a really busy time for the War Memorial, but can you give a brief rundown on the activities planned for the War Memorial around 11 November? This is big, and certainly you have put out information through emails and so on, but it would be useful for the committee to know what the priorities for you are around 11 November.

Dr Nelson : Thank you, Senator. No event so deeply divided, scarred and, ultimately, defined us as that of the First World War, hence the importance of it. As we speak, we have an exhibition we opened two weeks ago called After The War, and that will be open until October next year. That explores the personal, the human, the social outcomes and consequences of war from the First World War to today and everything in between. It's the most emotional exhibition that I've been associated with in my six years at the memorial.

We also have a very powerful photographic exhibition done by a Berlin photographer and author, Martin Bayer, and it is a very poignant exhibition of the photographs of German First World War memorials. It's extraordinarily important that we never forget that those two million German mothers and wives were no less disconsolate in their grief and bereavement than were ours.

We currently have 62,000 hand-woven knitted poppies on sticks with knitted green sleeves, magnificently designed in layout by Phillip Johnson. I pay particular credit to Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight, the two women who have led this magnificent national volunteer movement. We have a beautiful lightscape which is going over them at night and a magnificent soundscape produced by Christopher Latham which supports them. Those poppies are installed and will be on the grounds until 12 November, and then people are welcome to take them and make a donation to Legacy in doing so. We've already had 20,000 ordered online, with the proceeds entirely going to Legacy.

On the weekend of 10 and 11 November, we will be projecting images from the First World War onto the facade of the memorial and also on to the very large, beautiful tree on the western side of the memorial. On the evening of 10 November, a light beam will be projected from the parapet of the memorial to illuminate the parliament. It will go progressively from bright white through to a light shade of pink, to deep pink, to red, and to crimson, and then return to plain white and repeat the cycle. We tested this in late October last year to ensure that it would work. We have all the necessary approvals, of course. That is to emphasise to Australians that the political freedom that are exercised in this building are underwritten by the people who are recognised at the other end of Anzac Parade.

We also have a very powerful one-man play which is being provided across three days of the week—at weekends, mainly—with different times for the performance, called Epitaphs. This is a very powerful play which stimulates in people who see it the imaginative capacity to see the world through the eyes of a mother struggling to write an epitaph for a grave she would never see. It lasts about 16 minutes, and that's one of the other things that we're featuring.

For the Remembrance Day ceremony itself, we will have a breakfast in Anzac Hall, to which all members of the public are welcome to purchase a ticket and attend. The Prime Minister will deliver the commemorative address at the national service. Lee Kernaghan and John Schumann will perform one of the songs which is on the album, a very slow refrain of 'Waltzing Matilda' in 'Tom Traubert's Blues'. Lee Kernaghan will complete the commemorative service with 'Spirit of the Anzacs', with very emotional film footage on screens. We will play a 7½-minute video montage of First World War film footage of Australians as a part of the ceremony, and we will also have the reading of eight epitaphs reflecting and representing the eight jurisdictions of the country. The Last Post Ceremony that night will, of course, read the eulogy to the unknown Australian soldier, arguably the greatest speech given by an Australian Prime Minister. We will also have the Canberra bagpipes performing part of an international thing for the Last Post Ceremony. They will be performing a song about the aftermath of war. Our projections of the names on to the memorial from dusk to dawn will be continuing over the weekend of the centenary of the Armistice. So they are essentially the things—

Senator MOORE: Just a few highlights.

Dr Nelson : There is more.

Senator GALLACHER: We were going to ask you to table your notes, but then we realised you don't have any—

Senator MOORE: I have a few questions about the War Memorial business case. We talked about that a little bit at the last estimates. We were going to get an update. Can you update us on any of the progress which has been made in relation to the funding of the business case for the expansion of the War Memorial? Have any funding commitments been made by the government? Will the AWM be bidding for the funding in this next budget?

Dr Nelson : To remind senators, 3½ years ago we proposed that we needed more space. The Middle East area of operations is currently only two per cent of our entire exhibition space. We've used corridors, staff access areas and everything to tell a story as best we can. Initially in last year's budget the government provided us with $5 million for an initial business case, 11.4 in two tranches in MYEFO last year and we are now extremely well advanced in that detailed business case, which has included me chairing an interdepartmental committee of the relevant agencies. It's included a national consultation, both physical consultation and online consultation with the public. We appointed, a year ago, a project director who came originally from the Department of Finance and then 20 years through the private sector. The consultancy firm GHD was then contracted to do a lot of the engineering survey work and the architectural work. We've also simultaneously been working on a precinct masterplan and the initial scoping for a gallery masterplan, so those two are, obviously, important as a part of it.

As I said, we are extremely well advanced. We provided at the end of the first week of September to the government a detailed update on where we were with the proposals. We went through the process—18 different possible models for what an expansion might look like. We then distilled it down to four and the council of the Australian War Memorial has approved a preferred model, which has gone forward to government, in terms of what the expansion would look like. As I said, we provided detailed modelling and costings to government in early September and where that currently sits is, obviously, a matter for government. I'm not in a position to comment on that.

Senator MOORE: How much have you got so far, Director? You got the initial five and then there were—

Dr Nelson : In total we have received $16.4 million. The project director—

Senator MOORE: To bring it to this stage?

Dr Nelson : That's right. The project director we appointed has been extremely impressive, a man called Tim Wise. In fact, I have learnt a lot seeing him at work. Through the process of negotiating with these various contractors we have managed to deliver this for around $10 million. The Minister for Finance has agreed that we would be able to keep that residual money, which is already budgeted to the memorial to continue the developmental work, particularly around environmental impact statements and other necessary forms of work that are required.

Senator MOORE: Is the report that you produced to government under a confidential basis?

Dr Nelson : Yes, it is.

Senator MOORE: Can you give us any indication as what the amount you will be needing is?

Dr Nelson : I think that's a matter for government—

Senator MOORE: Okay. I just wanted to check.

Dr Nelson : I will repeat what I've said at estimates before, about a year ago—I don't know whether it was helpfully or unhelpfully—that there was a story in the media that suggested that over a decade the project was in the order of $500 million. That certainly didn't come from us. I understand that the source of that figure was someone in this building, but I'm not able to confirm whether that is accurate or not.

Senator MOORE: That's gone to government now. Were you hoping to have that as part of the bid for the next budget, is that your preferred outcome?

Dr Nelson : We are very hopeful. I must say that the opposition, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for veterans have been extremely supportive. With our chairman, Mr Stokes, we gave the opposition leader a detailed brief on this in mid-August.

Senator MOORE: Mr Stokes, how long has he been in his job?

Dr Nelson : He has been the chairman of the council for two years.

Senator MOORE: So through most of this planning process?

Dr Nelson : And he has been on the council for well over a decade.

Senator MOORE: Yes, long before that, so there is a continuity of people who have been involved?

Dr Nelson : Most certainly. And the council has, in recent years, had relatively low turnover.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the proposal that you've put forward, does it cover all the costs, to the best of your knowledge, and with Mr Wise's support?

Dr Nelson : Yes.

Senator MOORE: The proposal you've put forward covers everything. It's not just buildings; it's all the other work that goes into the process?

Dr Nelson : If someone had asked me this five years ago, I wouldn't have known the answer, but I do now. The nature of this is that you have to develop the proposal—and this is the detailed business case—for what precisely you intend to do in terms of buildings and expansion.

Senator MOORE: And you've narrowed that down from the large number.

Dr Nelson : Once you've got a detailed design, once you've settled on the design of the building, and, if the government approves what we have provided to it, then we will have a very detailed design for the building itself and the development of the existing buildings. Having done that, we will then be in a position to know what our long-term operating costs will be. Obviously, if we increase our exhibition space, which clearly is the intention, we will require more staff in order to do that.

Senator MOORE: I've got detailed questions about that. I'm sure you'll be able to say if you can't answer those, but you can put on record—

Dr Nelson : Yes. In a subsequent submission to the government of the day, once that's fully developed, then the memorial, through its minister, would come to government and say, 'In order to sustain these new expanded galleries and exhibitions, it will require an increase to the appropriation of—' whatever.

Senator MOORE: So, within this business plan, is there a proposal for the expected increase in business that the War Memorial will have with extra visitors and all those things? Is that part of what you put forward at this stage, or is that going to be a supplementary process?

Dr Nelson : It is part of what we have put forward at the moment. But there would also be a subsequent submission made to government, probably two budgets from now, to look at the requirements of the appropriation to support the staffing necessary to sustain the increased gallery space.

Senator MOORE: Director, I expect you won't be able to give me definite answers to any of these, but you can see where we're coming from with these questions. It is to understand whether the kinds of questions we're asking are part of this process—and you can't give us detail because it's government in confidence at this stage. That was about the proposed business plan that would be linked to the changes that are made with the extra visitors, and that would be part of it. There's been some media and some questions about the impact that any change will have on the current buildings, and in terms of the impact on the site that the extensions will have. I'm just going to run through some questions and see whether they've already been considered in the plan.

What work is expected to take place as part of the business case for expanded buildings? Can the current buildings withstand the kinds of expansions that are necessary to be made? People have a love for the War Memorial, which is across the whole country—in fact, internationally. They know that building. They know its limitations, as you've pointed out, but they are concerned about what the impact will be of any changes. So is the possible construction impact on those buildings part of the plan that's been considered?

Dr Nelson : It most certainly is. I mentioned that I'd been chairing the interdepartmental committee with Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury, Finance, the NCA, Veterans' Affairs, Defence and so on. Clearly a part of this process has been precisely to do that. It's important to emphasise that the architectural integrity of the building from Parliament House will look exactly the same at its conclusion, and also we have experience—

Senator MOORE: I was going to make a very bad comment about changes to this building, but I'll withdraw that, Chair. The vista aspect is going to be maintained?

Dr Nelson : Absolutely. The other thing I have learned through this is the National Capital Authority in particular was also concerned about what the War Memorial would look like from Mt Ainslie. In other words, what will it look like from above as much as from the front?

Senator MOORE: Which is all part of the original design.

Dr Nelson : All of those things have been considered and we have experience with the original building, of course, but thanks to then Prime Minister Gillard, we were able to redevelop the First World War galleries, and that was highwire stuff. So, we have experience in it. And that has been assessed as a part of this process.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the construction in that location, there are concerns about the possible impact on current buildings and the geology in the area from the digging you'd need in reconstruction. Has that been considered?

Dr Nelson : Yes, it certainly has.

Senator MOORE: And what about demolition of any parts of the current memorial in order to complete the work?

Dr Nelson : Certainly, there is no circumstance under which we would demolish any part of the Australian War Memorial as designed and then built by Sodersten and Crust. It's sacrosanct.

Senator MOORE: Sure. Some of the outer buildings aren't part of the original design. The memorial has expanded over the years, with supplementary buildings put on for a whole range of purposes. At this stage, is there any possibility of any demolition or changes in that extended structure?

Dr Nelson : Well, certainly one of the things that we are looking at is expanding Anzac Hall, which was built in 2000. But I'm not able to say anything further in relation to that.

Senator MOORE: This is well down the track, but there would be plans for parts of the memorial that have to be closed while work is going on in terms of any construction process. So is that built into the future plans as well?

Dr Nelson : It most certainly is—and to reassure the public that we would continue to operate and be functional through the period of any construction, which we hope does occur, obviously.

Senator MOORE: And, at this stage, do you have any idea of a calendar of plan, of the time that would be involved?

Dr Nelson : Yes.

Senator MOORE: What is the hope at this stage—I know it's subject to all kinds of things—to have this project completed?

Dr Nelson : Our ambition is to get it completed as quickly as we can. And we have presented a proposal to government which has a number of activities occurring simultaneously, which obviously reduces cost, because you reduce your escalation costs, but also reduces inconvenience to the public.

Senator MOORE: Has more happening over a shorter period of time?

Dr Nelson : Precisely. And it certainly is a period less than a decade—in fact, concentrated into six or seven years.

Senator MOORE: You would have to arrange storage for objects that are there, but you already have extensive storage provisions, don't you? Some small percentage of current possession is currently on display, isn't it?

Dr Nelson : We only currently display about four per cent of what we have.

Senator MOORE: I knew it was something remarkably small. So you have lots of stuff in storage?

Dr Nelson : We do, and—

CHAIR: On site?

Dr Nelson : No, we have a small amount on site. But, at Mitchell, an outer suburb of Canberra, when I arrived, it seemed to me that we needed to acquire the properties in the precinct that we didn't currently own, and we progressively, with the support of the government, acquired all of the properties in the precinct where our storage facility is. We now own them all. And then we made the decision two years ago, with the agreement of the minister, to essentially empty our capital fund—which we had been building up largely from our private, non-government money—to spend $16 million building a new storage facility out at Mitchell, and that will be completed early next year.

Senator MOORE: In good time for—

Dr Nelson : Exactly. That is a part of our plan to decant objects from the memorial proper out there. Further to that, we're also acquiring a lot of very large objects from Defence that are being decommissioned at the moment, from C-130 Hercules to CH-47s and so on. So we have been thinking ahead for a number of years on this.

Senator MOORE: There's a particular question which I will read out so I don't get it wrong. Are there any current exhibit items which are unable to be moved or would be damaged by moving, and, if so, what are the mitigation plans to ensure that items aren't damaged as part of the works? I know that will be in the plan, but are there things that just cannot be moved?

Dr Nelson : Well, the Shellal mosaic—we're definitely not touching that area. But, no, everything can be moved—could be moved.

Senator MOORE: And with all the appropriate support?

Dr Nelson : Believe me: I've got the most passionate, committed, highly skilled and trained people at the memorial who treat these objects and relics with greater respect and love than their personal possessions. I cannot envisage a circumstance where anything that is moved would be damaged.

Senator MOORE: Okay. And, of course, that's all extra cost because of the very specialised—

Dr Nelson : Of course.

Senator MOORE: And that's all in the plan?

Dr Nelson : All of that is costed—everything.

Senator MOORE: There were some questions about staffing implications and so on, but you've already mentioned that. That's in the plan and at this stage none of that is public.

Dr Nelson : Yes.

Senator MOORE: But it's all in there—security, extra staffing as required?

Dr Nelson : The additional staffing will be a product of the final design of the expansion. And, of course, that is an argument we've put to government. Until we've finally completed the design and we have a final design, then it's difficult to know with certainty precisely what your staffing will be. But, for those who are concerned about employment, it will be more staff, not less.

Senator MOORE: Okay. Thank you. I know Senator Gallacher has some further questions.

Senator GALLACHER: Once the decision of government is made and funds are allocated, it would then go through the Public Works procedures?

Dr Nelson : Yes. We will have the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Public Works Committee, National Capital Authority, Energy, Environment—multiple, multiple layers—

Senator GALLACHER: For those interested in supporting or not supporting the project, there will be multiple areas of expressing that—public submissions, hearing public views, evidence tested to and fro?

Dr Nelson : Most certainly—the full joys and pleasures of our democracy will be on display.

Senator GALLACHER: The only other question I had is a bit facetious, really, but in your current role has anybody ever said no to you?

Dr Nelson : My wife—

Senator GALLACHER: We will leave it at that, I think.

CHAIR: So we are finished?

Senator MOORE: Yes. I will have a quick look and then you'll get it back.

Dr Nelson : My gift to this committee.

CHAIR: Thank you very much to representatives of the Australian War Memorial. You do a fantastic job. As somebody that likes to meet with school groups, can I tell you I think that their visit to the War Memorial is always a lot more exciting than their visit to Parliament House. Well done for the job you do. Thank you very much.

Dr Nelson : Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: We will suspend for the evening break and will resume with the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Pr oceedings suspended from 20:57 to 21:12