Abbott wrong fit for War Memorial Council, says campaigner opposing AWM expansion

David Stephens 7 August 2019 47
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being touted as a likely Australian War Memorial Council member. Photo: file

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being touted as a likely Australian War Memorial Council member. Photo: Official Facebook page of Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott is the wrong choice for the Council of the Australian War Memorial, but not just because his appointment would be “jobs for the boys.”

More important are the attitudes Abbott would bring to the Council. He is also a leading member of the Anzackery “club,” spruiking an overblown, sentimental version of the Anzac legend.

We need to do commemoration differently. Abbott would deliver more of the same sentiment that has characterised that place under the six-year stewardship of Director Brendan Nelson. Of course, war is important in Australian history, but that is not so much because of what Australians have done in war, but what war has done to Australia and Australians. The War Memorial is good on how well we fight but not on matters, like why we fought our wars and whether they were worth it.

The Memorial could also say more about the effects of wars on people who are not white Australians. That could include the Indigenous casualties of the Frontier Wars, plus the men, women and children bombed in German and Japanese cities in 1943-45, where civilian deaths far exceeded Australian service deaths in all our overseas wars.

Broadening the Memorial’s focus would be helped by fundamental changes to its Council. On the current Council there are eight current or former members of the Australian Defence Force, including the heads of the three services ex officio, a Major General in the Army Reserve who is also National President of the RSL, two retired colonels, a retired wing commander, and a retired corporal, who has a Victoria Cross.

There is also a business tycoon with a military history hobby (Chairman Kerry Stokes), two businesswomen, and a serviceman’s widow. As a military history buff, Abbott would fit in well.

Appointing Abbott would also follow an established pattern. One Council member was aide-de-camp to Director Nelson when he was Defence Minister, another is Chief Operating Officer of Stokes’ private company, another is married to a former Federal President of the Liberal Party.

A country whose forces in the major wars were representative of the whole nation has a very narrowly-based group running its premier commemorative institution. I have suggested elsewhere that the present Council looks like the governing body of an ex-service club and that future vacancies should be filled through public advertising to produce a different mix.

Abbott, if appointed to the Council, would be just one of 13 members. But Chairman Stokes’ term expires in August next year. Might we see Abbott take Stokes’ place?

Even before that, Nelson’s term as Director expires on 31 December this year. Might Abbott succeed him?

A board or council member becoming chief executive is not unprecedented: David Hill moved from chair of the ABC in 1987 to become managing director.

If Abbott were to join the Council or take Nelson’s job, the latter’s grandiose expansion plans (if they go ahead) could hardly be in better hands. The Memorial would look even more like the commemorative arm of an increasingly militarised state, its broad spaces filled with decommissioned military equipment, its visitors able to watch direct video feeds from the Defence Department, its ceremonial occasions marked by florid speeches, its excesses tolerated, even encouraged.

Nelson has paved the way for Abbott, another failed politician, to oversee an institution which has been able to largely ignore criticism. Abbott would love that.

David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website ( and coordinator of Heritage Guardians, a community campaign against the proposed $498m extensions to the Australian War Memorial.

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47 Responses to Abbott wrong fit for War Memorial Council, says campaigner opposing AWM expansion
Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:23 pm 08 Aug 19

“Self conscientious objector and National Service Act defaulter Vietnam War.”

That’s nothing to be proud of David. I was drafted for National Service in 1966 – that ruined my career and other things but I didn’t do a runner. I then lost a good friend in Vietnam. If he was alive to day we would both call you a squib.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:05 am 08 Aug 19
John Moulis John Moulis 9:19 am 08 Aug 19

Jobs for the boy.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:17 am 09 Aug 19

    He’s a very fit boy. That takes a lot of commitment and discipline as you would know.

Terry Cooper Terry Cooper 9:10 am 08 Aug 19

Just a bunch of Abbott haters. One thing Abbott has in common with Brendan Nelson, an absolute hatred of the 'miserable ghost'.

    John Taylor John Taylor 9:20 am 08 Aug 19

    Don’t hate him. I disapprove of him as I would disapprove of a self centred narcissistic child.

    Terry Cooper Terry Cooper 9:30 am 08 Aug 19

    Like Shorten? Gillard? Rudd? or just those right of centre?

    Tanya Louise Tanya Louise 2:38 pm 08 Aug 19

    Terry Cooper you have to admit he was (and still is) a polarising figure. He's very partisan and probably not the right choice. I can think of at least 5 that would make a better fit for the role on the 'right'

    Terry Cooper Terry Cooper 2:53 pm 08 Aug 19

    I think he is mainly polarising because he was so successful, winning from opposition in a landslide, almost did it to a first term Julia Gillard. He is atypical politician, in that he is a genuine contributor to his community as a surf life saver and firefighter. Something he's done for decades, not just for political purposes (like Shorten's pathetic attempt at morning jogs). I think you'd struggle to find a more selfless and public minded nominee. Perfect for the job.

Fred Pilcher Fred Pilcher 9:07 am 08 Aug 19

He's not fit to clean toilets.

Paul Burgess Paul Burgess 8:40 am 08 Aug 19

He's the wrong fit for human

TwainAndHume TwainAndHume 8:31 am 08 Aug 19

Abbott in such a public and often sensitive spot … don’t think so. I was hoping after the recent election (one of the high points of which was T.A.’s ejection from Parliament) that he would just fade away and not be in the public spotlight again. It was too much to hope for. It is to be expected that an LNP standard bearer (flagellant?) such as T.A. would not find his Parliamentary retirement salary sufficient. He is bound to pop up somewhere again, and in some damaging, public and well-paid “jobs for the LNP boys/girls” slot, if not the AWM, as some frontperson for some 19th century vision of “back-to-the-future” …

John Taylor John Taylor 8:15 am 08 Aug 19

He has never served. He doesn't understand the concept of service. For mine, he wouldn't last a week in basic training. No ticker and no concept of mateship.

    Doug Wyllie Doug Wyllie 11:00 pm 08 Aug 19

    John Taylor mmm except you're wrong. on almost every count. he served continuously in the RFS and as a politician. no, it isn't war time. yes the comparisons can be made in terms of selflessness, rank structure and commitment. to say he wouldn't make it through basic training with his level of fitness just exposes your unwarranted bias.

    John Taylor John Taylor 7:42 am 09 Aug 19

    He’s a self servative. Politicians serve themselves and their party and allies.

    His lack of mental fitness and inability to work as a team member and narcissism would not get him through recruit course. He’d melt. Probably be totally jack.

    My bias? Get your own house in order, champ.

    Steve Hyde Steve Hyde 3:15 am 10 Aug 19

    John Taylor But he replaced and was replaced by the bloke that replaced the bloke that runs the War Memorial. How much more qualification does he need?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:14 am 08 Aug 19

“Abbott was not born 8n Australia nor served in any of The Services.”

Neither was another former Australian PM namely Julia Gillard born in Australia nor did she serve in the Military but this hasn’t stopped her earning millions on the global lefty talk circuit so, what is your point?:

    JS9 JS9 9:32 am 08 Aug 19

    Hardly the same Capital Retro and you know it.

    That article you links to says Gillard’s focus in her post politics (primarily speaking based) career is on: education, women’s leadership and mental health. Quite clearly qualified to talk about the first 2 from her time in politics. And mental health was central to her agenda when Prime Minister as well.

    The talk about Abbott is for a specified role within a governing body, for which beyond a general catch all of “I was PM’ he has limited relevant experience or skills to bring to the table. Unless they need someone to dispose of some onions or go swimming in Lake Burley Griffin.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:13 pm 08 Aug 19

    Hard to say Gillard is “qualified to talk about education and women’s leadership” when she was only prime minister for a very short time.

    In contrast, Abbott was a Rhodes scholar so I think he knows a bit more about education. Being PM in a governing body is a “specified role” too.

    Comments about onions and swimming belong on a different forum I think.

Jean Wilson Jean Wilson 11:02 pm 07 Aug 19

No, entirely wrong person!

Ray Wines Ray Wines 8:31 pm 07 Aug 19

and took on womens’ and aboriginal portfolios too - complete misfit

Helen Kvalheim Stephenson Helen Kvalheim Stephenson 7:21 pm 07 Aug 19

Has he been to war! Does he have any idea of being in the armed services really means? I think not!

    Simon Argall Simon Argall 9:20 pm 07 Aug 19

    Helen Stephenson who are you talking about?

Chris Ellis Chris Ellis 7:06 pm 07 Aug 19

Oh please no.

Mia Cliff Mia Cliff 6:42 pm 07 Aug 19

Abbott was not born 8n Australia nor served in any of The Services.

Julie Coker-Godson Julie Coker-Godson 6:30 pm 07 Aug 19

Sounds like someone dislikes Mr Abbott.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:18 pm 07 Aug 19

    Not many, if any, reasons to like him

    Simon Argall Simon Argall 9:25 pm 07 Aug 19

    Julie Coker-Godson that's ok Julie so long as people are reasonably adult about it, trying not to anger you :)

Keran Niquet Keran Niquet 6:03 pm 07 Aug 19

What are the authors qualifications to be making such assertions?

    David Stephens David Stephens 8:42 am 08 Aug 19

    Six years running the Honest History website. Two uncles, two great-uncles killed in war. Father and aunt PTSD. Self conscientious objector and National Service Act defaulter Vietnam War.

    Terry Cooper Terry Cooper 9:13 am 08 Aug 19

    Well there you have it, slam dunk.

    David Stephens David Stephens 10:52 am 08 Aug 19

    Need more than that, Terry.

Jim Culbertson Jim Culbertson 3:30 pm 07 Aug 19

Appoint a respected armed forces veteran.

    Harvey Marchant Harvey Marchant 3:36 pm 07 Aug 19

    Jim Culbertson I second that. Ideally board members should have had relevant experience and not be partisan.

    David Stephens David Stephens 3:42 pm 07 Aug 19

    See what the article says about current membership from current or retired ADF. Surely enough already?

    Harvey Marchant Harvey Marchant 4:33 pm 07 Aug 19

    David Stephens yes, but what would TA bring to the table?

    David Stephens David Stephens 4:38 pm 07 Aug 19

    More of what Nelson has been serving up

Simon Argall Simon Argall 2:55 pm 07 Aug 19

I don't love the argument put forth but over it has good sentiment in my opinion. No Tony Abbott please.

54-11 54-11 1:31 pm 07 Aug 19

Is this a joke? if so, it’s pretty bloody sick. Abbott is one of the most destructive and divisive people in the country. And some clown wants to put him in charge of one of our nation’s premier institutions?

Mr Abbott who said ”statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks”? Further, he did tell the ABC voters should not believe every pledge he makes ”unless it is written down as the gospel truth”.

‘Climate change is absolute crap’

‘Gillard won’t lie down and die’

‘What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year…’

‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons’

‘Bad bosses, like bad fathers and husbands, should be tolerated because they do more good than harm’

‘Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.’

This is the bloke who said “no sniping” and then set about destroying his successor.

No thanks, we don’t want Abbott back in Canberra.

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