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Australian War Memorial defends $500 million upgrades

The Australian War Memorial has defended its controversial $500 million expansion, following a parliamentary submission from former employees and stakeholders pushing back against the build.

Put to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works last week, the submission stated the expansion was unjustifiable, should not proceed and was signed by 82 individuals including two former directors of the popular national attraction.

However, an Australian War Memorial spokesperson said the $498.7 million project, to be developed over nine years, was overdue.

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“The project is a generational upgrade that will see the Memorial operate as a world-class cultural institution for the next 50–70 years,” they said.

“This Memorial Development Project is the most significant upgrade to the site since its opening in 1941.

“This substantial program of works is overdue: visitor numbers have increased to more than a million per year, and the use of ancillary spaces to display the stories of Australian servicemen and servicewomen within current buildings has been exhausted.”

The ACT Greens also called for the funds to be re-thought again on Wednesday morning (17 June), after opposing the plans back in March 2019.

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said funds would be better suited if targeted towards COVID-19 recovery.

“Our national institutions – our Museum, our Gallery, and our Library – have also all suffered enormously after months of COVID lockdown. Even before the pandemic hit, these institutions were losing staff and were being asked to cut services following decades of Federal Budget cuts,” he said.

“The Greens value the War Memorial as an important part of our national heritage and it should be properly resourced to commemorate Australia’s experiences of war. However, the proposed $500 million expansion is excessive and unnecessary, particularly at a time of post-COVID recovery.” 

The Federal Government has committed $498 million over 10 years to the expansion, which includes demolishing Anzac Hall, which was built in 2001, and building more gallery space.  

ACT Greens heritage spokesperson Rebecca Vassarotti said the expansion would impact the surrounding local environment and focus should look towards incorporating an Aboriginal history memorial.

“The Greens want all Australians to be able to learn more about the truth of our national story. Earlier this week, even the Prime Minister himself conceded that his understanding that slavery did not take place during colonisation was incorrect,” she said.

“It’s well past time we had a memorial to the Frontier Wars as part of the Memorial precinct. Building a memorial and recognising and funding the Tent Embassy are small but significant steps in working genuinely with Indigenous people, in full knowledge of our past, towards a future together.”

The Australian War Memorial spokesperson said the Frontier Wars would remain a focus in the future.

“The Australian War Memorial is a place for all Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defence of Country has become an increasingly important part of the Memorial’s storytelling,” they said.  

“The Memorial does not claim to tell this story in its entirety; no institution can claim to do that. While no final decisions have been made on the content in the Memorial’s upgraded galleries, the stories of the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be a focal point.”

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Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts