Title Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
23/10/2019
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Australian War Memorial
Database Estimates Committees
Date 23-10-2019
Committee Name Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Page 140
Questioner CHAIR
Ayres, Sen Timothy
Steele-John, Sen Jordon
Lambie, Sen Jacqui
Van, Sen David
Responder Dr Nelson
Ms Cosson
Reynolds, Sen Linda
System Id committees/estimate/53068544-efe7-4494-a0f2-2dbca4d2607b/0005


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee - 23/10/2019 - Estimates - DEFENCE PORTFOLIO - Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial

CHAIR: The committee will resume. I welcome Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds in her capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I also welcome, especially, if I might say, the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson and officers from the Australian War Memorial. I note, Dr Nelson, that this will be, I assume, your last appearance before Senate estimates, at least in this capacity, so I say thank you very much for your dedicated service and the wonderful work that you have done over the years. Now, it's over to you, Senator Ayres.

Senator AYRES: Dr Nelson, I echo Senator Abetz's comments. Congratulations on a very distinguished seven-year term. I took my family to the War Memorial on Sunday, and it reminded me of what a terrific facility it is and the changes that have happened over the course of the last decade or so. So, well done. I understand the government has announced a recruitment process to appoint a replacement director. Is there anything you can tell us about how that process is going, whether it's been advertised at this stage or what the recruitment process is going to look like?

Dr Nelson : Thank you very much, Senator Ayres, and also to the chair, Senator Abetz, for your generous and bipartisan-spirited remarks. It's been an honour to serve. In terms of my successor, that's entirely a matter for the Public Service Commissioner and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, so I'll invite the secretary to answer your question.

Ms Cosson : The position of the director was advertised a few weeks ago. We engaged Mr Ian Hansen to undertake that recruitment process and search. The Public Service Commissioner is the chair of the panel. I'm on the panel, as is the president of the national RSL, Major General Greg Melick, and Kathryn Campbell, Secretary of the Department of Social Services. At this stage we plan to have interviews next week, and hopefully by the end of the year we will be able to provide some advice to the Governor-General. As you would appreciate, the role of director is the Governor-General's appointment, so the panel will be putting forward some recommendations.

Senator AYRES: So, interviews next week and an appointment by the end of 2019?

Ms Cosson : That's correct, yes.

Senator AYRES: What's your departure date, Dr Nelson, if it's not impolite to ask?

Dr Nelson : My contract expires on New Year's Eve, so effectively I suppose it's Christmas Eve.

Senator AYRES: I couldn't help but notice that former Prime Minister Abbott has been appointed as a member of the council. He will bring a wealth of governance experience and a passion for military history. It's a critical time for the memorial with the expansion project rolling out. Can you tell us anything about the selection process used to appoint Mr Abbott? Is that a question for you, Dr Nelson, or for Ms Cosson?

Ms Cosson : That's a question for me, if that's all right?

Senator AYRES: That's perfectly fine.

Ms Cosson : In terms of the process for the selection of a member of the council, we normally get advice from the chair. In this case, we had advice from the chair that Les Carlyon had offered his resignation from the council. He resigned and then he passed away. Once again, it's an appointment from the Governor-General onto the council. We were invited to put forward some potential names for the council. That's then considered by government, and the Governor-General make the appointment.

Senator AYRES: And Mr Abbott was on the shortlist that you presented?

Ms Cosson : Mr Abbott was on the list, that's correct.

Senator AYRES: So the proposal for Mr Abbott came from the chair—that is where the shortlist originated from?

Ms Cosson : No. The chair advises us that there is a vacancy on the council, and we are invited to put some names forward. That's normally the process—

Senator AYRES: So the department developed the shortlist?

Ms Cosson : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: The decision to appoint Mr Abbott is a function of the minister—or is that a—

Ms Cosson : The Governor-General appoints—in accordance with the act.

Senator AYRES: The Governor-General is the sole decision-maker?

Ms Cosson : Sorry?

Senator AYRES: It's not a recommendation from government to the Governor-General?

CHAIR: He acts on advice, I would have thought.

Ms Cosson : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: Advice from whom?

CHAIR: The Executive Council.

Ms Cosson : We pull together a shortlist, a list of names that the minister can consider. The minister then puts them forward to advise the Governor-General.

Senator AYRES: Presumably, the minister has a recommendation—you wouldn't provide the whole shortlist.

CHAIR: One assumes it goes to cabinet, not to the Prime Minister.

Senator Reynolds: It is a standard process. The minister would make a recommendation to the Prime Minister to be discussed at cabinet and then put forward to the Governor-General for consideration.

Senator AYRES: So it's a cabinet decision to recommend that to the Governor-General?

Senator Reynolds: That's the standard process, yes.

Senator AYRES: Is there a set of selection criteria for council members?

Ms Cosson : We looked at the composition of the council, we looked at the skills that the members on the council had and we looked at potentially what gaps there may be on the council. And we did a scan of who may be available to get some balance as well. There is gender balance on the council. We looked at all those factors in pulling together a potential list for consideration.

Senator AYRES: Dr Nelson, now that funding has been agreed can you provide us with an update on the progress of the redevelopment?

Dr Nelson : Firstly, on behalf of the young veterans who will be the primary beneficiaries of this generational expansion in the gallery spaces of the War Memorial, I thank the government and acknowledge the support it has received from the opposition for this project. At this stage, the project is certainly on time and it is on budget. We completed the detailed business case; the government considered that in October last year. A formal announcement of the project was made by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in the Great Hall on 1 November and the opposition was represented by the then shadow minister for veterans' affairs, Amanda Rishworth.

We have since that time appointed a program director, Wayne Hitches, who is sitting here with me. We've built a team of close to 30 people—people who have expertise in project management and probity, an integration architect and an integration engineer. We have selected architects and designers. We have tendered and accepted four architectural packages and nine engineering packages. We have appointed the quantity surveyor.

We have appointed an external project manager to independently oversee the project for its duration. As at 30 September, we had issued $30 million in contracts and expenditures in support of the project. We are currently being considered by the National Capital Authority for the expansion of our underground car park for the so-called primary works and the contractor parking which will be on top of that extended underground car park.

We have a large, very attractive, transportable building, which is currently in front of Poppy's, our cafe-restaurant. It is currently being transferred into a project information gallery. We expect to open that during the third week of November. That will explain to visitors to the memorial the origins of the Australian War Memorial, its development progressively through generations and the various times in which our nation has invested in expanding the memorial. We'll have some very powerful oral histories from young service men and women and their families in it, and we will show on a very large screen, more than five metres wide and two metres high, fly-throughs of the architectural designs that are being proposed for the construction.

We've also commissioned a very large and detailed model of the Australian War Memorial. Next week we will submit our heritage impact assessment for consideration under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. We would expect that the final consideration of that will be completed around February next year. In the first quarter of next year we will submit it to the Public Works Committee for its consideration and then, immediately following that, to the National Capital Authority on the project itself. So, to reassure the Senate, it's on time and it's on budget. I must say that the team we have built to oversee this is absolutely outstanding.

I should also come back to your conversation with the secretary about the council. The finance, auditing and compliance sub-committee of the council, in a very forensic way, oversees the governance of our public management, our accounting, our auditing, our balance sheets and so on. Given the importance of this project, we've also established an independent committee of the sub-committee of the council to oversee the project itself. For probity reasons, of course, the same council members that serve on the FAC committee should not also serve on this sub-committee. We've brought in two independent experts, who have between then over 60 years of experience in major construction, development, architecture and engineering projects, to serve on that committee. Mr Hitches and some of our internal staff are also working on that committee. We've also appointed an independent auditor to serve on that committee.

I have suggested to the minister—as I'd suggest to the parliament—that, given the size of the project, it might be prudent to consider a modest increase in the size of the council itself in order to see, at least through this period of redevelopment, that there are enough council members to cover the various responsibilities the council actually has. But that's, of course, a matter for the government itself.

Senator AYRES: Thanks for that outline. The decade-long construction timetable really reflects the complexity of the project and the requirement for the minimum amount of disruption to people's capacity to experience the War Memorial. Is that the right way to put it? Is that the rationale?

Dr Nelson : It is indeed. We will continue to operate through the process of the redevelopment. In my first year of arriving, realising there were some properties at our Mitchell storage facility precinct the War Memorial did not own, we moved fairly aggressively to acquire those properties. Three years ago we made a decision to spend $16.2 million out of our own reserves to build a new storage facility at Mitchell of 5,200 square metres of exhibition space. This is required because we receive a lot of large things that are being deaccessioned from defence—that generational change—and because, if we were successful, as we were, in acquiring the funds to expand the War Memorial, we would need somewhere to store some of the things that would come off display.

We've also increased the responsibility and risk to the memorial itself—which is one of the reasons that I think a little more options for governance might assist—by basically overseeing six major elements of the project and essentially running them concurrently. That means less risk to the taxpayer—if we back-ended this project into a very large contract, the taxpayers would certainly, to use an expression, be done over—and that we have much more control. We'll get an integrated outcome with an overarching integrated architect and integration engineer. It also means that the public is disrupted for a lesser period of time.

If we are successful with the heritage impact assessment, PWC and NCA, the major works will begin in the last quarter of next year. All of that major construction will be completed in late 2026, the final gallery fit-outs completed in 2027 and political leadership cutting ribbons in 2028.

Senator AYRES: Is it fair to ask, Minister, whether the government's actively considering a proposal to make the board larger?

Senator Reynolds: I'm sorry, I was temporarily distracted. Could you please repeat the question?

Senator AYRES: Dr Nelson said that there was a desire on behalf of the board to make the board a bit larger in order to accommodate the governance requirements of the project. Is that a fair way to put it?

Senator Reynolds: My understanding is that there is no immediate plan to do so, but we'll take Dr Nelson's advice on board. But, at this stage, not.

Senator AYRES: It's a complicated project. Besides the storage facility, I assume a lot of thought has been put into ensuring that works won't be damaged by the move. Are there any other pieces that can't be moved completely?

Dr Nelson : All of the pieces can and will be moved. It is critically important that the Lancaster Bomber remain available and accessible to the public. It means so much to those men and their families of Bomber Command. That will go out into the new storage facility, where there is now already a Seahawk helicopter, a P-3 Orion, an F-111, a Caribou and CH-47 Chinook. That will be open and available to the public from October next year. So, during the period of the redevelopment, those aircraft and others will be available to the public to see, as they see them today. But the miniature submarine, the First World War aircraft, the 95 tank and the Mk IV tank—all of those things—can and will be removed.

I should also add that Aviation Hall, which includes the Fury, the Kittyhawk, the Zero, the Mustang and the Wirraway, and that display in the centre of Anzac Hall, we will remove in around March next year. The reason we are doing that is so that we can have not only an exhibition space but also a place where we can have dinners and functions through the process of the redevelopment which we'd normally have in Anzac Hall.

Senator AYRES: I assume there's been some concern from members of the public about the risks associated with moving some of the displays.

Dr Nelson : That particular concern has been very, very modest. Whatever confidence or otherwise people have in me, they have immense confidence in our professional staff. The men and women who work at the War Memorial regard those artefacts and relics as being even more precious than their own personal effects, and I have absolute confidence in them.

Senator AYRES: So there haven't been critics of the project?

Dr Nelson : There have been critics of the project and there are.

Senator AYRES: What is the basis of that? What do those criticisms look like?

Dr Nelson : It falls into a number of categories. Firstly, most of the criticism is concentrated in Canberra and to some extent in Melbourne and Sydney. In fact, an open letter was signed by 83 individuals who are, largely, intellectuals, academics and retired public servants. It was also signed by two former staff of the Australian War Memorial and some journalists. Their criticism is that the amount of money is far too excessive to spend on the Australian War Memorial. There's some implied criticism of me in this particular open letter and a legacy they think I have. There's a suggestion that, by having large spaces, which we are proposing, and proposing large objects, we are militarising our history and it is in some way a glorification of war.

There is another group of people who look at the sum of money and say, 'Well, that is a lot of money; we should spend it instead on veterans.' They're a smaller group, and they are generally reassured when I point out to them that not a cent of the money being spent on the memorial is at the expense of veterans and the Department of Veterans' Affairs budget or the Department of Defence budget. I remind them that, over the last 20 years, this country's created 100,000 veterans; we spent $22 billion deploying them to war, peace-keeping, humanitarian and disaster relief; we spent $400 billion equipping them; and now we are going to spend under $500 million over less than a decade creating the spaces to tell their stories and display the artefacts and relics that are so important to them and their families. Most people don't appreciate it, but our country, as you know—in this committee, in particular—spends over $60 million every day buying and maintaining equipment. Most of those people are reassured when it's put into that context.

Generally speaking, I am reasonably well known in public life. I travel extensively throughout the country. I speak to a lot of audiences. I have not had a single person stop me anywhere in Australia, including in Canberra, and express anything but support for what we are doing. I am not suggesting that doesn't mean there are not critics but, generally speaking, the people who are critical of the project are critical of the War Memorial itself. Of those 83 people who signed that open letter, there are only three in my seven years who I have actually seen at the War Memorial. One was Professor Gillian Triggs, who came to talk me about the politics of asylum seekers. One was Professor Peter Stanley, who is a former head of history at the Australian War Memorial and has a rather negative view of things, shall I say. The other is Professor Joan Beaumont, who is a wonderful woman, an academic at ANU who has written extensively on the First World War. But none of those, including Professor Beaumont, have done any work on any of these young men and women over the last 30 or 40 years for whom this is intended.

Senator AYRES: Maybe I should ask other heads of government departments as they come in what criticism there is and get them to outline it. That was a pretty good outline, I have to say, of the alternative arguments. There is a parcel of land behind Treloar Crescent. I understand there was going to be some negotiations with the ACT government. Has that process commenced? Are there any difficulties with that?

Dr Nelson : In the detailed business case, our proposal was to build contractor facilities and parking across the road from Treloar Crescent behind Anzac Hall using a parcel of land approximating that of the width of the current Anzac Hall and we would go back about 75 metres. In fact, the last time I appeared at Senate estimates, I said that was what our plan was, which it was. About a week later, I was then informed by our then project director that we had encountered a couple of problems. The ACT government was not one of them; the ACT government was and is very supportive of the project itself.

The first problem was that there are two residual trees there, which our European forebears manage not to chop down when they arrived, and, of course, they needed to be protected. The second was that the gas lines, the NBN, the telcos, water, sewerage and so on are about 20 metres back from the verge of the road, which meant we would need to go another 20 metres back. One of the first things I said to Mr Hitches when he started in early April this year was, 'We need to have another look at this and see if we can find somewhere.' The option we have now come up with is to extend our existing underground car park. That will give us 123 additional permanent parks, which will add to the 180 already underneath there. It will give us a 115-contractor parking facility on top of it through the period of the project. That will cost us $10.4 million instead of the $4.5 million that we had budgeted originally. So what we have made a decision to do is take $6 million out of our asset reserves as a better investment in long-term additional underground parking at the memorial, not in any way disturb the environmental or neighbourhood amenity to those living in Campbell as we go through the project. We will reinforce the infrastructure of that underground car park so if in 40 or 50 years from now they want to build a building on top of that, they could, for example. Importantly, the new southern entrance, underground entrance and exhibition hall at the front means now we will have 300 people who can park underground. Those in wheelchairs, with walking frames and those who are having difficulty will be able to walk all the way underground from the car park through the new underground entrance and exhibition hall. So even though it is more money, it is a much better solution. Mr Hitches got his gold star from me in his first week.

Senator AYRES: That's pretty good. As you said, one of the aims of the project is to reflect some of the more recent conflicts. Is there anything additional to what you've already said that you wanted to say?

Dr Nelson : There is. This is a point worth reinforcing. People and the critics to whom I referred earlier say: how do Nelson and Stokes convince the government and the opposition to give them all this money to expand the War Memorial? The reason we do has nothing to do with us; it is all about these young men and women. In my very first week, when I asked when would we have an exhibition on Afghanistan, I was told it would be at least 10 years, we had no money, and the culture was to wait till the war was over and everybody had come home. I said to the senior management at the time, 'We have got to do it now. We have 35,000 young Australians coming back to a country that has got no idea. They can't explain it to their families let alone to Australia. We have to do it. If we had told the story of the Vietnam War broadly, deeply and with a degree of pride sooner, some of those men might not have suffered quite as much as they have.'

I had a major battle with volunteers internally to clear a space. They wrote to the minister and to the papers complaining. One of them said, 'I have never had anybody ask about Afghanistan.' We opened eight months later. On the night of that opening, Mrs Pam Palmer, standing with me in front of the cowling from the Blackhawk in Kandahar that crashed, killing three of our commandos—that cowling had been used as a stretcher to bring out her dead son—buried her face in my shoulder, cried uncontrollably and said, 'Thank you for making my son's life mean something and his memory live.'

Then 18 months later, we used an access corridor, so the rest of the Afghanistan exhibition is actually in an access corridor. As I said to the Prime Minister, Sapper Darren Smith and his explosive detection dog, Herbie, and Sapper Jacob Moerland are sitting there behind the wire having a cigarette, relaxing just before they went back out. A short time later, all three were dead. And Jacob Moerland's mine detector in that image is right opposite the door to the parenting toilet. As young veterans signed the Afghanistan wall in that corridor only five weeks ago, our staff were walking past them, in and out, trying to get to the back of the building. There was a young man maybe in his mid-20s on one knee, his head bowed, crying, with his hand resting on one of the signatures that is on that wall. I waited until he finished and got up and I went and spoke to him. He was in his mid-20s from 6RAR Townsville, touching the name of a mate who had signed that wall and who is now dead—suicide. We had 43 car funeral shrouds on a shelf in an extra corridor on the way to the shop.

In the peacekeeping story of this country, we have had 40,000 Australian contribute to peacekeeping over 64 missions. The floor space dedicated to that is about half the size of the Prime Minister's office, less than a standard 7-Eleven. What those young Australians endured in Rwanda and Somalia was worse than most of the wars to which we have sent these young people. So there will be a major expansion of the peacekeeping story. For the very first time an exhibition like the one we opened last week, the temporary one—courage for peace—will actually tell the story of what Australia does to stop war in the first place, to then create and maintain peace. Then there is the diplomatic story—those key moments of political leadership and diplomatic leadership in Afghanistan, Iraq, northern Iraq, Syria, East Timor, Solomon Islands.

We are also building a national archive of every cenotaph and memorial in the country. We now have over 7,000 places of pride. It will be projected on a huge screen in the new underground exhibition hall. It will scroll across. People will be able to put their own community, their own suburb, in and see their cenotaph or memorial come up.

For the very first time, there will be a space for quiet reflection. We have immense emotional breakdown at the memorial. I am patron of Lifeline, amongst nine charities, and within two months of being at the memorial, I realised what was going on. I put all the staff through the accidental counselling program. It is a two-day course that is like a first aid certificate for people having mental breakdown. As I speak to you, there is not a single room in the entire War Memorial you can take somebody to who is feeling extremely physically emotional. As a result of what we are about to do, there will be. Sorry to speak so long.

Senator AYRES: I really appreciate that outline. I find a lot of the exhibitions there quite moving but that photo of those sappers with their dog is one of the most extraordinary things I've seen, really, quite affecting. Thank you, Dr Nelson, for the last seven years of passion and commitment to the War Memorial. We look forward to hearing more reports about the progress of the project.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Thank you very much for your contribution, Dr Nelson. I have met so many people who have a personal connection to the War Memorial. My great-uncle Gordon flew Wellington bombers in the Second World War, was declared missing in action in June of '44 alongside a Captain Minogue, whose name is written on the War Memorial wall. One of my earliest interactions with Australia was a visit to the War Memorial as a child. It has always been a bit of a personal place for me as it is for so many other people. I must confess a certain amount of ignorance to the funding arrangements around the War Memorial prior to taking on the role of peace and disarmament spokesperson for the Greens. It came as a great surprise to me to find out that the memorial does in fact take donations from corporate weapons manufacturers. In the seven years of your tenure, what is the precise amount of donations that have been taken from people like BAE, Thales, for instance, in donations to the memorial?

Dr Nelson : It varies from between $300,000 to $500,000 a year. The specific total sum, I would have to take on notice. I can tell you certainly that since I first arrived, Boeing has contributed a million dollars in total, Lockheed Martin has contributed $1 million. My primary concern is for those who are not supporting us. When I first asked in my first week of 17 December 2012 the three then assistant directors and managers of the memorial: when will we have in Afghanistan exhibition? After a long pause, I was told there was no space, it would be a least a decade, there is no money and we have to wait till the war is over and everyone has come home. The only reason we had an Afghanistan exhibition open on 13 August 2013 was because Boeing gave us $500,000. That was the only way it happened. On the night of the opening, the then chief of defence, now our Governor-General, General Hurley, spoke very proudly then Prime Minister Rudd, opposition leader Abbott, I spoke and I asked the Boeing representatives to speak. I didn't have a single person criticising the fact that they were supporting it—in fact quite the opposite.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I noted in your 2018-19 annual report breakdown of donations received from individuals and corporations made to the memorial, the breakdown tells you who donated to the memorial but it doesn't give the exact breakdown of how much. Why was this step taken in the records?

Dr Nelson : There are two reasons. The first is that some individuals and corporations specifically don't want people to know how much they've given.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I bet they don't.

Dr Nelson : Before you climb into me, we have recently had a family donate $600,000 to the memorial for a particular program of education. This particular family is very keen that they not be named. There are individuals who are of high wealth—none of us here amongst them, I might add—who do not want to be named. Because they are generous, they don't want other people and organisations coming at them. For others, I actually encourage every organisation and individual that does donated to the War Memorial to allow us to name them and how much they give because I want to encourage other people to do the same.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: So it doesn't concern you that the Australian public are currently unable to tell exactly how much corporate weapons manufacturers are contributing to the maintenance of our national War Memorial?

Dr Nelson : Firstly, when it comes to defence contractors, I'm not aware of any defence contractors who specifically do not want the amount of money they donate to the War Memorial nor the purpose to which it is being put published. I stand to be corrected. My assistant director tells me I'm right, which I have asked them to always do. But when it comes to non-defence companies and individuals and philanthropists, it is variable.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: To be clear, Dr Nelson, as I said, I have a personal connection to the War Memorial, as do so many. I personally find the involvement of weapons manufacturers in the memorial—and indeed their contribution to the memorial—to be morally repugnant and a stain upon the institution of the most profound nature. So I would very much appreciate if you could get that information to me on notice and if you could further provide me with the exact period of time under which these donations have been able to be made to the memorial—that is, has this always been the practice or was there a point at which we started allowing manufacturers to make these types of contributions?

Senator LAMBIE: Seriously! I find it really disrespectful. I'm really sorry, but—

Senator VAN: I'm with you, Jacqui.

Senator LAMBIE: I just find it really disrespectful.

Senator VAN: How can you celebrate the memorial—

CHAIR: I think everybody here disagrees with the honourable senator, but he is entitled—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: It is a totally legitimate view to state that—

Senator VAN: Your views are repugnant.

Senator LAMBIE: They ought to look at their own donations.

Senator VAN: Your views are repugnant.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: those who manufacture arms should not be donating to the space in which we commemorate the dead.

Senator VAN: Rubbish!

Senator STEELE-JOHN: That is not a radical nor a repugnant position to take.

Senator VAN: It is absolutely repugnant.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I must say, as a member of this committee, it is not the role of fellow senators to cross-examine a senator as they ask a series of questions, as you should all well know.

CHAIR: Ask your question, Senator. I gave you the protection that you're entitled to.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Now please ask your question.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I want to take you to the question of—you can really feel that you step on the third rail when you question the—

CHAIR: Just ask your question.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: orthodoxy in these spaces.

CHAIR: We'll wind up at quarter past eight.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Mr Stokes has given the Prime Minister, according to a letter sourced through FOI processes, a personal guarantee to the PM in relation to the $500 million amount that the memorial is meant to cost. Can we take it from this that, should the project overrun, Mr Stokes intends to cover the overrun cost? What is the nature of this highly unusual personal guarantee to the PM?

Dr Nelson : I'd firstly say, Senator, that I've met a lot of people in my life—I've dealt with a lot of people, as you have—and I regard Kerry Stokes as one of the greatest Australians. I've seen extraordinary acts of philanthropy by this man that no-one will ever know. When he said what he said to—in fact, to correct you—the Treasurer, what he was putting behind that commitment was over 40 years of development, major building and construction in both the public and private sectors. He's overseen major projects not only at the Australian War Memorial but at the National Gallery of Australia and other places, and what he was saying was, 'In all of my experience and all of my expertise and my commercial acumen, I can guarantee you this is not going to cost more than $50 million.' He was also expressing his confidence in the quantity surveyors and those who'd done all the costings around the project itself. He wasn't in any way suggesting there was something questionable about the basis of the costings, nor indeed was he suggesting that he would personally underwrite anything that went over the projected budget for the project.

If I could come back to your earlier comment, about defence contractors, you would be absolutely right and I would agree with you entirely: it would be repugnant to have defence companies or anybody else associated with or named in the commemorative area, the Roll of Honour or areas like the Sandakan Death March at the Australian War Memorial. But, as you and I both know, the Australian War Memorial is three things: it is a shrine, it is a museum and it is an archive, and what these companies and individual philanthropists do is support us in the museum and our education programs.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: That distinction is a false one, Sir. That is not something which is supported by—

CHAIR: Wait a minute. That's a debating point. Ask your question, Senator.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: many I have spoken with, but I've concluded my questions, Chair, so I'll leave it there.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. In that case, I again thank you, Dr Nelson, for the wonderful job you've done. You've combined 100 per cent passion with 100 per cent professionalism to make the War Memorial really stand out in the psyche of the Australian nation. Again, thank you. And now, to top it all off, the Minister.

Senator Reynolds: Thank you, Chair. Chair, on behalf of myself, all the ministers in the Defence portfolio—current, and those you've served with—and also the Prime Minister and the government, I'd just like to say thank you to Dr Nelson. Thank you is so inadequate in terms of Dr Nelson's contribution. His passion for telling the stories of each and every one of our veterans from over a hundred years of our nation's history is something that I know Charles Bean would have been enormously proud of. He would have been proud of your efforts and the enormous difference you have made to the lives of so many veterans, their families and Australians. Many times, I've heard Dr Nelson taking visitors through, including heads of state, defence ministers and others. I've heard the stories that you tell and I've heard you explain to those who visit that to understand the soul and the psyche of Australians is to come to the War Memorial to really understand who we are, because the history of our Federation is one of conflict and war and the impact on our men and women in uniform. One of the legacies is the enormous support that Dr Nelson and the War Memorial gave to the Centenary of Anzac and to the large range of exhibitions, memorials and documentaries that have been produced, but another is taking the War Memorial out to all Australians and around the country.

One of the most significant and poignant contributions Dr Nelson has made is his commitment to the last post ceremony. As they do in Ypres, every night at last post, there is the telling of the story of one of our men or women who sacrificed their lives, allowing their families and all visitors to the memorial, including visiting heads of state, to come. That is an extraordinary thing you've done for our nation. As Dr Nelson has so eloquently said tonight, the expansion of the War Memorial, which is supported on a bipartisan basis, will tell the stories of our contemporary veterans. As he said, it's somewhere they themselves can go to reflect on their own service, their own sacrifice and their own loss, as can all of the families of contemporary veterans. It will give them a home and I've got to say, Dr Nelson, it will be a lasting legacy to you. Very few people in our nation will have made such a significant contribution to ourselves as Australians and to who we are as a nation. As inadequate as it is, on behalf of us all, Dr Nelson, to you and your team, but particularly to you, I thank you very much. On behalf of everybody to whom the War Memorial means so much, thank you.

CHAIR: Because 'thank you' is inadequate, can I suggest we put our hands together. If the Hansard could record applause, that would be great. Thank you.

Senator AYRES: I should say, Dr Nelson, on behalf of the Labor Party and the leader of the Labor Party in the Senate—who has been here all day and will be here shortly but couldn't be here now—that we very much echo the minister's comments. Your service to the War Memorial and your other post-parliamentary service has been exemplary, and we would echo everything that Minister Reynolds has said. Thank you.

Dr Nelson : Thank you very much, Senator Ayres. If I could also say, you know my background, but I have worked very hard to ensure that at no moment has there been any sense of party politics at the memorial, certainly no race or religion, to treat everybody equally. I have enjoyed magnificent support from Prime Ministers Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison; the Veterans Affairs ministers and the shadow ministers have been magnificent; Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, my first chair, the finest and most ethical man of integrity I've ever worked with; Mr Stokes, I've spoken about in passing; the staff who've worked so damned hard to make me look better than I deserve to be, particularly the three assistant directors; and the secretaries, Ian Campbell, Simon and now Liz, with whom I've worked with great support. In the end, it's the veterans and their families. Everything we do, as you do—and Senator Lambie, I know—is for them. It's all for them.

CHAIR: Thank you. That concludes the committee's examination of the Australian War Memorial, and I officially thank the officers from the memorial for their attendance.