The Australian War Memorial has been accused of trying to sneak through fundamental elements of its controversial $500 million redevelopment by labelling them as ‘early works’.
It has submitted a works application prepared by Knight Frank to the National Capital Authority (NCA) that includes the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall, the ripping up of the parade ground and the clearing of dozens of trees.
Heritage Guardians spokesperson Dr David Stephens said the process reeks of subterfuge and the War Memorial is encouraging the NCA to indulge in ‘salami slicing’, approving ‘early works’ of such importance that it will be impossible for the NCA not to approve the whole project when the time comes.
“If you can’t knock over Anzac Hall the whole project falls in a heap,” said Dr Stephens.
He said the NCA should consider all elements of the project together, not separately.
“It’s almost certain the project will be agreed to, but at least make a pretence of treating the project seriously and not trying to rush it through in this secretive way.”
Dr Stephens said the War Memorial had treated each stage of the approvals process as window dressing.
“There’s still an air of arrogance and inevitability coming from the Memorial,” he said.
“The Memorial has always relied on the Anzac cloak to shield it from the sort of accountability other public institutions are used to.”
Dr Stephens said public notice of proposals had been scant in detail, but people wanting to know more were then swamped with information.
“The Memorial is very good at every approval stage producing a mountain of documents inadequately indexed and hellishly difficult for the average person to find their way through,” he said.
The new works application – flagged previously to Heritage Guardians as just including hoardings, service relocations and excavation – details the removal of at least 65 trees, some mature eucalypts such as those framing the Memorial entrance; the demolition of Anzac Hall and the link to the main building; and the excavation of the Parade Ground to reconfigure the Southern Entrance, which will have street level entrances.
The stonework of the Main Entry stair and plinths, and the heritage retaining wall will be removed and stored for reinstatement.
There will also be a new roundabout to Poppy’s Cafe carpark, as well as works associated with the Bean Building extension.
Calling the tree removal wanton vandalism, Dr Stephens said there were also a number of trees assessed in 2019 and it is unclear how many of these might also be under threat.
He said the Southern Entrance excavation is massive and would fundamentally change the look of the Memorial, and could not possibly be considered an ‘early work’.
The Memorial argues the redesigned Southern Entrance will make the institution more accessible for the elderly and people with a disability.
The Parliamentary Works Committee and the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act process, have ticked off the redevelopment, which will expand the Memorial’s size and enable it to tell the stories of more contemporary military and peacekeeping missions.
The proposed new two-storey Anzac Hall and glazed link will also allow it to display more military hardware such as planes, helicopters and armoured vehicles.
But the project has spurred opposition from former Memorial directors and staff, the Australian Institute of Architects, and a broad range of prominent Australians concerned at the cost, the loss of Anzac Hall, and the Memorial’s direction.
Most of the submissions to the parliamentary inquiry were against the proposal.
Comment on this application can be made until 30 April.