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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
26/02/2014
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial

[22:32]

CHAIR: I welcome Dr Nelson and the Australian War Memorial team. Dr Nelson, would you like to make some opening comments?

Dr Nelson : I thank you, Chair, but I do not think it is necessary.

CHAIR: What innovations you have introduced at the War Memorial, in particular at the five o'clock last post ceremony?

Dr Nelson : We have a very significant program of enhancements to things that have already been conducted at the memorial over a number of years, but the one in particular that you draw attention to is that every evening now, officially beginning from 17 April last year, we conduct a last post ceremony. It includes: reminding the audience present of the vision of Charles Bean, the memorial's founder; a lectern and an Australia flag on the level below the entry into the Hall of Memory; and a uniformed serving member of the Defence Force being there every evening. We commence by singing the national anthem. Following that, a bugler and a piper emerge from the Hall of Memory at which point members of the public, and often schoolchildren by the way, lay wreaths and floral tributes whilst the lament is played by a piper. All of the cards on those wreaths are archived permanently.

The uniformed serving member, who is present, will then read the story from one of the 102,700 names on the Roll of Honour focusing on where that person was born, where they lived and grew up, what they did, their key family relationships and then, of course, how they joined the Australian Defence Force and gave their lives for our nation. The ode is then recited, the Last Post is played and all of it is broadcast live via webcam onto our website. It has proved to be particularly popular—if that is the appropriate word to use in this context—and in many cases it is very moving. There are many other things that we are doing, but that is the one in particular that you refer to.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator FARRELL: On that topic, I think it was very well received. The comments from opposition members of parliament who attended that service were very positive, and I think they are looking forward to it being a regular feature of the parliamentary calendar. So, congratulations to yourself and to your team on that. Thank you for coming along, and we wanted to make sure your visit was not in vain tonight and to make sure that you got a few questions. I would like to start with reference to the importance of the First World War galleries at the War Memorial and whether you would outline that?

Dr Nelson : Thank you, Senator. In relation to your comments about the Last Post ceremony, it enjoyed very much the support of the Prime Minister and the opposition leader and the Greens and Independent members and senators. We certainly would like to see it as an annual event when parliament resumes. It is certainly something that the public respects and supports.

The origins of the Australian War Memorial are, of course, in the First World War from the vision and determination of Charles Bean, the official First World War historian. The First World War galleries are now well advanced in redevelopment. The Australian government has provided $28.7 million for that. We have $3.82 million from our own reserves that we are investing in it, and BHP Billiton has come on board with $1 million commitment, which will enable us to go from outstanding to stunning in terms of what we present.

The primary works were completed by Built two weeks ahead of schedule and handed over to us just before Christmas. We contracted Built also for secondary works, which is the cabinet-making and things into which the exhibitions will go. The schedule on that is quite tight although we remain reasonably confident that we will have the galleries opened before the end of the year, and we are hoping toward the end of November. The tertiary works, which are essentially all of the items that will go into the galleries, are almost completely resolved.

The galleries will introduce new technologies, but it will be light touch. I have said to our staff that we will put an internal positioning system in with digital touch-screen labelling to change font and language and so on. We will put a visitor electronic board, if you like, before people enter the galleries for use with their own tablets, which will give people the opportunity to get more information about what is contained within it before they go into the galleries. Visitors will get some understanding of why the war occurred, why Australia was part of it, who we were in 1914 and then a sense of how the nation changed domestically throughout the course of the war and how we saw ourselves emerging from it. That, of course, is just a very small part of it. Necessarily the Australian War Memorial will focus almost entirely on the key events, the declaration of the war, enlistment, Rabaul, the stories in particular of the AE1. Then also on embarkation, which you discussed earlier, and Egypt, Gallipoli, France, Belgium, Palestine, and then of course the Hindenburg Line. People emerging from it will certainly have a deep sense of pride. It will be not some shallow jingoistic sort of pride; it will be a deep pride that will be informed by a sober understanding of the cost of the war so I am very confident that Australians will be very proud of what is going to be presented. We have 13 dioramas and 10 will be presented in chronological order. They have all been fully and completely restored and a soft modern lighting technology will be applied to them to bring them to life. That is where we are at.

Senator FARRELL: When are we looking at the completion?

Dr Nelson : Having had some experience with projects over a number of years, we would expect to finish and have it up opened by the end of November, but please do not put us in front of the firing squad if it is not until the second week of December. But we most certainly will have it opened by the time we get to Christmas. We will have an official opening, a very large opening we are expecting in mid to late February next year but that will be a matter to be negotiated with the minister, the government and the appropriate stakeholders.

Senator FARRELL: You mentioned $28 million of government contribution?

Dr Nelson : It was $28.7 million. There was $1.7 million in seed funding that was provided to us and then subsequently another $27 million.

Senator FARRELL: You have managed to get some corporate donations as well?

Dr Nelson : Yes, but on that one I was determined that we would only have one principal partner. For obvious reasons, we are not going to embrace our First World War galleries with a multitude of partners. We will recognise BHP Billiton discreetly but appropriately.

Senator FARRELL: Is that combination of the government contribution and corporate contribution sufficient funds for the completion of the project?

Dr Nelson : Yes it is. We were looking at completing it and completing it certainly to the standards that Australians would expect and deserve. The additional $1 million that BHP Billiton is giving us is enabling us to do a little bit more with technology. One of the other things for example that we are going to do is before you go into the gallery we will have a large electronic screen and will present the newspaper of the day. So if you attend the War Memorial on any day over the four years of the centenary, you will be able to see what Australians were reading 100 years ago on that day.

Senator FARRELL: Which newspaper?

Dr Nelson : Well that is yet to be decided. One option is to look at one newspaper, the Melbourne Age or the Sydney Morning Herald, and have that every day for four years

Senator FARRELL: You could pick the Adelaide News for instance.

Dr Nelson : The other option is to take a different newspaper each day from the multitude of newspapers across the country at the time. We have not yet resolved that.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us how many people visit the War Memorial now and what your expectations would be with the new refurbishment when it is completed?

Dr Nelson : At the moment we have 900,000 visitors a year. We have 140,000 school students. Even though the First World War gallery has been closed since June last year, our visitor numbers were up six per cent. If you include our travelling exhibitions it was 11 per cent. We found before the First World War galleries closed, I think, 85 per cent of visitors went to the First World War Gallery. Is that right?

Ms Ferguson : It was about 95 per cent.

Dr Nelson : We would expect that over a 10-year period we will have at least eight million or probably nine million people go through those First World War galleries. That would be a conservative estimate.

Senator FARRELL: Given you have got 900,000 going through now, what would be your expectations say in 12 months' time after the refurbishment has been completed? Do you have a prediction on that?

Dr Nelson : I would think it would be at least what we had before it closed and I would be very surprised if it was not at least 20 per cent or 25 per cent more than that. Whatever it is, the numbers are going to have increased.

Senator FARRELL: Regarding the refurbishment, does that require additional staffing?

Dr Nelson : Obviously the project itself, the redevelopment itself, has a whole range of staff and contracted companies—

Senator FARRELL: I am talking about once it is finished.

Dr Nelson : Once it is finished, no, I do not think so.

Senator FARRELL: I now turn to another issue that relates to the commemorations and projects being organised by the memorial around the centenary of Anzac and World War I. Can you tell us what your budget for that is?

Dr Nelson : We did have an increase in our budget recommended by Finance in 2010-11 of $8.3 million a year which included a proportion of funds for a centenary fund which would recognise increased staffing demands upon us of a generic nature associated with the centenary—phone inquiries, people donating things to be assessed, and a range of things. That is $1.85 million. The additional things that we are doing for the centenary are funded. For example, we have started work on the travelling exhibition, which was referred to earlier—that is a separate funding pool—and the staffing internally for that are in the process of being recruited. Major General Brian Dawson was the first of those. We have other projects that we are doing which we are funding from our own capital reserves—redirection of operational budgets internally, partnerships or sponsorships, and in some cases we are in the process of seeking sponsorship for them.

Senator FARRELL: On the topic of the travelling exhibition, can you give us a little bit more detail on what the expectation is and how it is going to proceed?

Dr Nelson : We are certainly moving ahead with it and, pursuant to the earlier discussion, it will depend entirely on the success of Mr Fox in his considerable fundraising activities and the generosity of corporate and philanthropic Australia.

Senator FARRELL: Do you have an amount that you want to spend that you want to take out of that fund, or will it—

Dr Nelson : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us what that is?

Dr Nelson : At this stage what is being proposed and what we are developing, which will be the most significant touring exhibition the country has ever seen, is in the order of $60 million to $70 million.

Senator FARRELL: That is a fair slice of the $85 million that has been collected.

Dr Nelson : It is. The original proposal was to tour two very large 12-metre-long electronic walls. We have moved from that. A $10 million sum of money was transferred to us, committed by the previous government and supported by this one, to commence the work. We have signed a contract with Imagination to work with us on the creative development of the tour. What we are proposing to travel is a travelling exhibition which will be in a modern tent structure—I will not be any more specific than that at this stage—that will give visitors an understanding of the origins of the war, the progress of the war and the series of military events that occurred. There will be an experience for people who visit it. There will be use of multimedia.

We will travel about 100 to 120 items from our collection, which obviously come from the First World War. We are also proposing to travel our Mark IV tank and the A7V Mephisto from Queensland—the only German tank of its nature that exists. We are also looking at travelling our 9.2 Howitzer, and, if we are able to successfully negotiate, perhaps an 18-pounder. We will also give the communities that the touring exhibition goes to an opportunity to display their own items—in particular, we want to work with local RSLs—and we will invite members of the public to bring their First World War memorabilia and artefacts in as an antique roadshow. There will also be projections of images from our archives associated with the exhibition which will cover not only the First World War but the century of service, which is an important part of all of this. That is where we are at.

Senator FARRELL: Do you know which towns you intend to take the project to?

Dr Nelson : We do not at this stage. Obviously, there is a sequential process we go through. At the moment, within the $10 million—

Senator FARRELL: Do you have a provisional plan for the cities and towns you might go to?

Dr Nelson : No, other than to say in a general sense that at this stage it is not intended that it will visit capital cities. It will concentrate predominantly on regional and non-metropolitan Australia. In some parts of the country, Western Australia for example, the concentration of the population is such that there would be an argument for it going to Perth—as well as Darwin and Hobart—but, generally speaking, the intention is for it to not go to capital cities. We need to give people who are not readily able to get to the institutions like the Australian War Memorial or the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne an opportunity to see something and experience this and be educated about it. That, however, I emphasise again is not yet decided. We have not yet got to that part of the process.

Senator FARRELL: When do you think the exhibition would start travelling?

Dr Nelson : If the funding is available—and we will need to know that by about September this year—and we are able to proceed then to the construction of the exhibition itself and then the plans for the two, we would envisage that it will be ready to hit the road, so to speak, toward the end of 2015, certainly the fourth quarter of 2015. It would be envisaged to travel for three years. I will not specifically nominate the sites. The original intention was 130 sites over 3½ years; for a variety of reasons, I do not think it will be anywhere near that. It is more likely to stay in certain places for longer periods and enable people an opportunity to travel to it.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you.

Senator GALLACHER: Dr Nelson, it is probably all that well known, but I think we had a previous discussion in another committee that the existence of the good work of the War Memorial is an important economic benefit to the tourist industry, particularly of Canberra, given your 900,000 visitors and 140,000 student visitors. Are there any actual numbers on that?

Dr Nelson : On the economic benefit to it? I am sure there are, but I do not know what they are.

Senator GALLACHER: But if you bring one million visitors a year to Canberra—

Dr Nelson : It is significant. I think the ACT economy would suffer if the memorial were not there. It is quite significant. In fact, today I had Tourism Australia through the memorial and they are particularly interested in getting more tourists to come to it.

CHAIR: That concludes the examination of the Defence portfolio. I thank the minister and officers for their attendance, and Hansard, broadcasting and the secretarial staff, and Dr Nelson and his staff for having the pleasure of being the last witnesses. We do apologise to keeping you up this late, but that is the way estimates goes. Thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 22:54