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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3125

Mr NEIL (St George) -I commend the Government for bringing forward the War Graves Bill and the Australian War Memorial Bill. I will deal firstly with the Australian War Memorial Bill as the Government's representative on the Board of Trustees. I congratulate the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) for the very close interest he has taken in the activities of the Memorial during his term of office. I also pay tribute to the Chairman of the Board, Sir Thomas Daly, a former Chief of the General Staff, who exhibits interest in the most detailed activities of the memorial as do all the trustees. The Director, Mr Flanagan, and his staff work with extreme dedication and provide, with limited resources, an extraordinarily worthwhile service to the Australian people and to our heritage.

The Memorial was the dream of the great Australian historian Dr C. E. W. Bean. Its primary function, as a memorial, will be retained under the Bill. There had been some suggestions that the name should be changed to the Australian War Memorial and Museum. I am pleased to say that the trustees took the view that the proper title should be the Australian War Memorial; the present title should be retained. I was pleased to be part of that decision. The memorial is unique; there is no other comparable institution in the world. It is, indeed, a source of admiration for visitors who come from many parts of the world. Almost every visiting head of state and almost every visitor of any distinction visits the Australian War Memorial, as do 750,000 other persons a year. The tributes that have been made to the Memorial from persons overseas are very high indeed. Its essential character will be retained under this Bill.

A council will be established to take over from the Board of Trustees. Except for those items deposited on conditions with the memorial, all deposited property will be vested in the Memorial council. Over the past few years the trustees have attempted to grapple with the financial difficulties that have been mentioned. I certainly agree that increased expenditure is warranted. I have had considerable discussions with the Minister and I hope he will be able to give favourable consideration, and approval, to additional funds being made available in this year's Budget. Prior to the making available of funds it is, of course, necessary that detailed proposals be presented. There have been increases in the level of staff for the Memorial in the past year. That, again, is a tribute to the Minister in the present stringent financial circumstances. There are more curators and persons skilled in fine arts that we would like to have made available and we hope funds will become available for those purposes.

In the last few years, in order to go to the Government to make out a case for more funds, it has been necessary for the Memorial to take steps to prepare feasibility studies on the types of new works required and to obtain the assistance of government departments and the National Capital Development Commission to prepare appropriate plans. As I have said, I am concerned that the Memorial should have updated facilities. It was erected in the depression years. Despite that, it has 750,000 visitors a year including 100,000 international visitors and 70,000 school children, exceeding the visits of any gallery or museum in Australia. It is the largest tourist attraction in the Australian Capital Territory. It also contains a very significant part of our national heritage and, for those persons who are not fully aware, as well as having the memorabilia of warfare it contains a very wide range of high quality paintings that are world renowned- a number of Dobells and paintings of other very well known painters.

The trustees wish to see a number of innovations. The estimated cost would be about $2m over three years. That is a significant sum but not a relatively large sum when we are considering the totality of a federal Budget involving more than $20 billion. We would like to see a theatrette and classrooms so that the 70,000 schoolchildren who visit the Memorial each year will be able to obtain a clear picture of the sacrifices by Australians, the devastation of war and the message of peace that must be the aim of all generations. The schoolchildren would be able to come into the Memorial and, at the outset, have a briefing in the theatrette and the classrooms. Of course, other members of the public would be able to join in. To enable this to be done, we would also need a new entrance foyer and a concourse which would include space for a sales area and, we hope, a creche and assembly areas for guided tours and amenities.

But I assure the House that we will not be changing the essential character of the building. It will look substantially the same. It will have the same atmosphere and the dedicated, even awesome, quality about it that it has already. I am sure that all who enter the main entrance of the Memorial and see the Pool of Remembrance and the hall at the end of it are extremely moved by the atmosphere. We will not be changing the basic feel, the basic atmosphere or the basic meaning of the building. The amendments to the building's structure will be done in such a way as not to be apparent to any great degree. But they will be very significant.

We need to have an introductory gallery because 70 per cent of the visitors are under the age of 40 years and they have had no personal experience of war, even on the home front. International visitors and the large number of Australians who have come to this country since the Second World War and who visit the Memorial do not have a detailed experience of Australia's efforts in the War. I appreciate, however, that many migrants have come to Australia often after having had very horrendous experiences in two world wars, particularly the Second World War. But it is essential that we have the opportunity to inform the public at large of the wars in which Australia has played a part and it is proposed that this be done in the introductory gallery.

There will also be a temporary exhibition gallery because the Memorial is not a mausoleum: It regularly mounts special displays. There were very successful displays recently. I remember particularly the favourable comment about the bamboo and barbed wire display which paid tribute to our prisoners of war. We have had other types of displays such as those for anniversaries of the opening of the Memorial. Unfortunately, there have been some criticisms of those displays because they have had to be mounted in relatively inadequate areas.

We want to ensure that some of the significant dioramas can be more adequately displayed for these puposes and for general purposes. The dioramas are world famous; they are extraordinary. In particular, some of the scenes of the First

World War are so lifelike that one imagines at first sight that they are wide angle colour photographs and that one is looking at them through some third dimensional process. Fewer than 10 per cent of these are on display at present. It is hoped that we will be able to have further public amenities because the private facilities as such are not what would ordinarily be required by municipal codes. It is hoped that there will be upgraded displays. For example, the Memorial has more Victoria Crosses- it has 23- than any other institution in the world, but the display at present is unsatisfactory. It does not compare, for example, with the Air Force museum display at Hendon which gives prominence to various persons who won the Victoria Cross.

We need, in particular, further facilities for scholars. There are 2,000 serious research workers who require access to primary historical documentation. It is amazing the number of people who, in the course of research for books, articles or historical matter, come to the Australian War Memorial because it covers a wide spectrum of our activities. Recently, for example, we authorised the publication of a book on the role of the churches in the First World War, a subject which covers a much wider field than one normally imagines. But the conscription debates and the like were very important issues at the time. I know, of course, that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would have a particular interest in the role of the churches.

We need to increase the eating facilities at the Memorial. I am reminded that on occasions we have been criticised apparently for not have private enterprise conduct some of the catering facilities. Well, private enterprise has conducted various catering facilities but we need to upgrade the areas and the provisions there to give private enterprise a better opportunity to provide more facilities.

Staff accommodation is another necessity. Additional professional appointments have recently been made and we want to make more, but accommodation for curators and the like is unsatisfactory. I make the point that in other institutions such as the Australian National Gallery such provisions have been made. It is my information that the Department of Finance is of the view that it is not satisfied that all accommodation at the Memorial is being fully utilised. If it does have that view I think it is quite in error. I am sure the Minister will approach his colleague the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) to ensure that if there is such a view it is changed immediately. Indeed, one hopes that the officers of the Department of Finance will take themselves over to the Memorial as soon as possible.

We have an outstation building at Mitchell but that is for specific purposes. It was opened recently. It is a good outstation for its own purposes but we need to ensure that the Memorial, as constituted, carries out its proper functions. The trustees, the National Capital Development Commission, the Department of Housing and Construction, the Returned Services League and two international consultants have all agreed that extensions are urgently required. I again support strongly the need for further extensions and the finance for those extensions.

There is one other matter I wish to raise with regard to the Memorial and that concerns the position of persons who were not members of actual Australian forces. The Memorial provides plaques with the names of every Australian serviceman known to have served and died in war or warlike operations between the Sudan operation and the Vietnam war. There are 102,000 names on the plaques. It is indeed a moving experience to walk around and to see those names and, in my own case, to see the names of friends with whom I served in Vietnam. However, there are a number of persons who died in warlike circumstances whose names are not commemorated because they were not members of the actual Services. These include persons in the Merchant Marine.

I am pleased to say that the trustees have recently taken the view that a general plaque should be erected to the memory of the Merchant Marine and that the trustees should embark on a public program of obtaining the names of as many members as possible of the Merchant Marine who are known to have died in warlike operations. At the end of an appropriate period of inquiry consideration will be given to setting up plaques carrying the names. In the meantime a memorial book will be made available which will have names in loose-leaf form so that relatives and friends can come and observe the book and turn the pages to look up the names of departed relatives and friends. We hope to mount similar exercises with regard to Australians who served in Commonwealth forces. Exercises will also be mounted with regard to photographers, war correspondents and members of philanthropic organisations who lost their lives in war or warlike operations. The actual details of those projects are being worked out. I commend that proposal most warmly to the House and assure the Minister of my support in attempting to obtain Cabinet approval for the necessary finance.

I believe that the House is indebted to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Mr Adermann) for bringing forward the important War Graves Bill 1980, which should not be the subject of political party attack. Therefore, I make no comment on the unfortunate statements of a political nature that have been uttered in this chamber tonight on the Bill or the proposed position of Director of War Graves. I am certain that whoever is appointed will discharge his duties in an exemplary and proper fashion. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which was created by royal charter in 1917, has for many years fulfilled an extraordinarily valuable function. The Minister was good enough some time ago to make arrangements for me to visit the graves of Australian war dead in the Ypres area. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission tends those graves. It is an extraordinarily moving experience to see the ground upon which so many Australians gave their lives for a cause in which they believed. Some of the graves are tended in a very neat manner, but an area is set aside where the ground has not been changed since the battles of World War I. Portions of the original trenches are preserved, as are portions of craters which resulted from shell fire or mines. Thus one gets an understanding of the horror of that particular campaign, with the mud, cold and shocking conditions of new weaponry, including gas, that our Australian soldiers had to endure.

Of course other graves also, in Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Norfolk Island and Ambon, will be the responsibility of the Director of War Graves. It is also of interest to note that the Japanese war cemetery at Cowra in New South Wales is maintained by the Office of Australian War Graves by arrangement with the Government of Japan. That is testimony to the fact that we pay tribute to all who have died in the terrible circumstances of wars that have beset Australia and its people since this country was discovered.

The Government's policy is that all exservicemen and servicewomen who died as a result of their service for Australia shall equally be remembered. Where it has not been possible to provide particular graves, gardens of remembrance, with suitably inscribed plaques bearing details of the deceased, have been provided. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member's timehas expired.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bryant) adjourned.

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