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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
27/10/2021
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial

[19:48]

ACTING CHAIR: I welcome back the Hon. Senator Jonathon Duniam, representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I also welcome Mr Matt Anderson, director, and officers from the Australian War Memorial. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Duniam: No, thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Anderson, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Anderson : If I may.

ACTING CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Mr Jackson : Since our last appearance before this committee, the Australian War Memorial has received approval from the National Capital Authority to commence early works related to the memorial's development. These early works are now well underway and include the erection of hoardings across the memorial site, the relocation of services, the demolition of Anzac Hall, and excavations. In June we made a further submission to the National Capital Authority for an assessment of what we're calling the main works packages, which include the construction of a new Anzac Hall and glazed link, and the new southern entrance, and the expansion of the existing Bean building.

The NCA held public consultations on these major works packages in July and in August, and we're hopeful for a decision from the NCA this year. Following the NCA's public consultations, which were held in person at the National Library and streamed nationally, and involved both the architects and memorial staff, the NCA received 600 submissions regarding the development, and the majority of these were positive.

Of course, we were forced to close our doors to the public following the ACT government's declaration on 12 August. Sadly, this meant that we've been unable to commemorate a number of significant anniversaries, including the 50th anniversary of Operation Ivanhoe and the battle of Long Khanh, where we suffered the last of our combat losses in the Vietnam War, and the 70th anniversary of the battle of Maryang-san in Korea. We were also unable to host the National Servicemen's Association wreath laying or commemorate Malaya and Borneo veterans' day, but we did manage to host a small event for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

All this has meant that we've had to take our offering online, where we've endeavoured to help the community to gather in spirit when they're unable to gather in person. A highlight was the hosting of 40,000 New South Wales students, who attended a virtual excursion at the Australian War Memorial on 1 September. This was in response to the New South Wales schools' cancellation of grade 5 and grade 6 excursions. Staff from the memorial's education team shared stories that led school students on virtual gallery walkthroughs, and feedback was universally positive. As a consequence of that, and that super zoom session as it's been called, the memorial's education team is now going to deliver an online Remembrance Day ceremony and an event on 10 November. Currently we have 1,755 registrations, so it's very, very positive. We're also going to trial a virtual program in an aged-care home in Victoria at the end of the month to see how an online reminiscence therapy type session might work with our older members of the community, including some who are veterans. Again, when we can't gather in person we're going to help the nation to gather in spirit. We will also host Remembrance Day, which will be capped to 500 people under existing restrictions in the ACT, and the memorial will reopen its doors to the public on 17 November. That's my opening statement.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Anderson. I think that's a really good idea, particularly with the aged-care facilities. I think that's going to be most welcome. Potentially, in the future, things like Anzac Day ceremonies and other commemorations can be brought into aged care. I commend you on that. I think that's a very, very good idea. Senator Ayres.

Senator AYRES: I agree, Chair. Mr Anderson, you started to outline where the approval process was up to and the consultation process. Is it right that there's further community consultation on design to come? Is that right, or has the consultation process concluded now?

Mr Anderson : For this phase, for the major works package, the public consultation process as part of the NCA's consideration has concluded, and the board is considering its decision. Of course, we're engaged with the public every day in many ways. We've been engaged in gallery consultations; we also have advisory bodies who are drawn from the community across the country, who are advising us on content for the galleries in terms of inclusivity, in terms of veterans and in terms of Indigenous. That consultation goes on.

Senator AYRES: Yes. I think last time we spoke in estimates you carefully pointed out that there's a local dimension to the consultation, but there's a national dimension as well.

Mr Anderson : Correct.

Senator AYRES: The first early works phase approval has occurred. You're saying that the major works phase is still in train. Is there another phase after that?

Mr Anderson : There is, actually. I'll throw to Wayne, but the next phase for us that will, again, involve the NCA in public consultation will involve what we're calling the realm: What does the landscape look like? How does the whole thing come together?

Senator AYRES: Fit-out and landscaping and—

Mr Anderson : Yes. Wayne?

Mr Hitches : For gallery work there is another level of consultation, as the director has rightly said, that not only includes advisory committees but also goes out to the broader public. The next thing that goes through the NCA will be our public realm submission, and we're hoping to get that through the EPBC process and then through to the NCA next year. The public realm works won't start until 2023-24.

Senator AYRES: How are early works going? I walked around the thing the other day on my way into parliament and there are hoardings up and all sorts of things going on. Can you tell me how it's really proceeding?

Mr Hitches : The hoarding works are about 90 per cent up. Some changes will happen with those hoardings over the next three years. The service relocation work, which is a large body of work that's happening all around the site, is well underway. That will be completed in the first two months of next year. The demolition works for the old Anzac Hall have nearly completed. They complete in the next week. Then we have the excavation works, which are commencing now, and they run in three separate areas around the memorial and will be completed by July next year.

Senator AYRES: I think the Auditor-General has proposed to review the redevelopment project. Can you tell me the status of the proposed audit? Is it underway?

Mr Anderson : No, not yet. It was a list of potential audits. We run that. But we've had no communication.

Senator AYRES: There is no communication with you about whether they're going to proceed?

Mr Anderson : Not that I'm aware of. No, nothing yet.

Senator AYRES: One of the main objectives of the expansion is to allow the memorial to commemorate more recent conflicts. At the end of our 20-year mission in Afghanistan—the fall of Kabul only recently, which does underscore how important it is to veterans, the veteran community, but more broadly. I think there's been some discussion about the importance of truth telling and bringing different perspectives in to the history of Australian armed engagement overseas. The War Memorial plays a really important role in that. What are the plans to reflect the experience of Afghanistan veterans?

Mr Anderson : The memorial act that governs us says that we need to do three things. We need to speak to the causes, the conduct and the consequences or the aftermath of all of the campaigns that we have been involved with. Right now our gallery development team are in the process of wanting to speak to those who were involved in the evacuation of locally engaged staff and others just as recently as last August, because there's every expectation that that's an important part of the story and that story will be told. We want to make it as expansive and as inclusive as we possibly can, so that it represents the breadth and the depth of the Australian service men and women's experience in Afghanistan and that includes up to and including the evacuation in August.

Senator AYRES: There are elements of the current displays that look at the experience of others who are engaged in the Australian effort overseas. There are sections that deal with the Australian forces engagement in the local communities that conflicts are in or peace keeping missions are in. The effort, particularly in the two world wars, of women on the home front working in industry, all that, there's a very—the memorial has taken a pretty diverse and broad approach to those issues. What about Afghan interpreters, security guards—local staff that worked with Australian forces in Afghanistan. Is there going to be some effort to incorporate that story into the memorial as well? Has that been considered at this stage?

Mr Anderson : I think it's being considered. We're not into that level of detail yet. Having had the honour of spending some time in Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016, I don't think you can tell that story without the support that was provided. A large part of the story, for example, is train, advise and assist. What we were doing since 2015 in Afghanistan was training, advising, assisting the Afghan national defence and security forces. The work that we were doing mentoring liaison in the provinces involves Afghans. So you can't tell the story of Afghanistan without speaking to the way in which we conducted it, who we conducted it with, the impact of our service on them and the way in which they've supported and facilitated us. It's an important part of the story. It's not the whole story. We're the Australian war memorial, but it is important to tell that story where it's relevant to what we did on the ground.

Senator AYRES: I think there was a question on notice that Senator Kitching asked the memorial around engagement with veterans and the defence community. There's an interesting section there that talks about specifically targeting construction as an area that's particularly well suited to opportunities for veterans and defence family members engaging with work. There was going to be some effort to engage with contractors and veterans in the various phases of the project. Is there anything you can tell us about how that's proceeding?

Mr Anderson : We can. I'd just note that, as to the process that we go through to identify contractors for elements of work, an important part of it is—it's weighted, as part of the determination process—their veterans engagement strategy. It's an important part of the consideration. We're determined to try and get as many veterans as we can working on the site. It is their War Memorial. The figures that I had were that, so far, across these three areas that we're doing at the moment—project management, exhibition and architecture and engineering—there are currently 24 that we have engaged at the memorial—

Senator AYRES: The more the better, and the more broadly that story is told, encouraging other government instrumentalities and the private sector to think through those issues, the better. It's a very welcome development. Thank you, Mr Anderson, and your colleagues. I don't have any further questions.

ACTING CHAIR: That concludes the committee's examination of the Australian War Memorial. I thank the officers from the memorial for their attendance.