8 June 2021

NCA blasted for approving War Memorial works

| Ian Bushnell
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AWM Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial. The NCA has approved early works, including the demolition of Anzac Hall. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The National Capital Authority has approved early works to support the $500 million expansion of the Australian War Memorial, despite only three of the 601 submissions supporting the project.

The decision was met with a barrage of criticism from opponents who questioned whether the NCA was capable of doing its job properly.

But the Memorial said it was a welcome milestone and it looked forward to further community consultation through the NCA process for the Major Works designs to be released in the coming months.

The approved early works package was anticipated to commence by the end of this month, at the latest, it said.

In the end, the NCA’s only concern rested on the number of trees to be removed, and will require that the Memorial plant a minimum of 250 native trees as a condition of approval.

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According to a landscape plan requested by the NCA, of the 595 existing trees within the AWM Precinct, 455 trees are to be retained, while 140 trees are to be removed as part of the project.

The full landscape plan describing the species and location will form part of the Public Realm works application submitted to the NCA in 2022.

“The NCA is satisfied this process will ensure the landscape qualities of the AWM site and the broader landscape setting of the national capital will be maintained and enhanced,” it said.

But it dismissed other concerns such as the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall, the impacts on heritage values, the need for the expansion, the early works being treated separately from the main works, the cost and a lack of proper consultation.

Heritage Guardians convenor David Stephens said the NCA had failed to meet its obligations to protect the national capital.

“The NCA, by waving this application through, has missed an opportunity to do something significant to protect the status of Canberra as the national capital,” he said.

“That is what its legislation says it is required to do. This project has always been grandiose, unnecessary and un-Australian. It is a monument to the desire of rich and powerful individuals to leave a legacy.”

The National Trust ACT said it was extremely disappointed at the decision, saying it came in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

President Gary Kent said the demolition of Anzac Hall only 20 years since its opening was a waste of public money and a significant loss to Canberra’s heritage.

“There are many other problems with the approval, including the removal of many mature trees which contribute to the quality of the Memorial’s setting and the impact on the premier axis of Canberra,” he said.

“The National Trust believes that national capital planning processes no longer protect the environmental and heritage values of Canberra.”

AWM artist's impression

An artist’s impression of how the redeveloped War Memorial will look. Image: AWM

Mr Kent said the Commonwealth EPBC Act assessment and the NCA approvals were now often little more than rubber stamps, and the community had lost confidence in its ability to assess developments of this nature objectively.

“The Trust will be discussing a response with other with other stakeholders,” he said.

#HandsOffAnzacHall spokesperson and former National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, Clare Cousins, said the decision was a precedent that endangered every other piece of public architecture in the country.

“Australia’s regulatory framework has failed Australians at every step of this abomination of an ‘assessment’ process,” she said.

“Supposedly ‘independent’ decisionmakers have been shown to be nothing more than toothless tigers dancing to the tune of their political masters.

“Expert advice on the significant negative heritage impacts to the AWM from demolishing Anzac Hall, as well as widespread community opposition, have been equally ignored.

“The Environment Minister, the Parliamentary Public Works Committee and now the NCA have together created an abysmal precedent.”

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President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) Dr Sue Wareham said the consultation process had been a sham from start to finish.

“With the ‘early works’ approved and the AWM reduced to a building site, the next step will be for the NCA to decide whether rebuilding should occur. One could not imagine a more ludicrous situation,” she said.

Dr Wareham attacked the speed at which the 601 submissions were assessed and a decision made.

“From our communication with the NCA, we understand that the Authority was struggling to properly handle such a large number of submissions, but within a very short space of time, a decision has been made,” she said.

“This is a very sad day for Australia. This decision must be reversed, and the NCA reformed so that it reflects the views of the Australian people whom it is meant to represent.”

The ACT Greens called the decision outrageous and anti-democratic, and the consultation process a farce.

The NCA said it was not its place to decide many of the concerns raised, such as the need for or the cost of the redevelopment and deferred to the earlier EPBC approvals.

On the demolition of Anzac Hall, it noted that the AWM had discharged its legal obligations and that the replacement building proposed had been designed by a highly regarded Australian architectural practice with a reputation for design excellence in public buildings.

It relied on the EPBC finding that demolition was not considered to have an unacceptable impact on the heritage values of the AWM.

The War Memorial has argued that it needs to expand so it can adequately tell the stories of contemporary conflicts and missions.

But opponents have baulked at the cost and what they see as a distortion of the Memorial’s original mission.

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We need to stop getting involved in overseas wars, so that we don’t need further expansion of the military theme park that the AWM is to become. The money should have been spent on care for veterans. And isn’t it time we found a space to commemorate the frontier wars?

I am a proud veteran who is strongly opposed to this complete waste of money. Imagine how much could be done for our struggling vets, our aged care, our pensioners, our migrants, and our hospitals with this money. Shame on Scomo for allowing this to happen!!

What an absolute farce and supported by the NCA! This is total vandalism turning the AWM into a theme park. We have to get rid of this conservative government glorifying war and the minority minions supporting them. There were 601 submissions during the NCA’s consultation process and only three supported it.

Its a bit meaningless to talk about the submissions when it was clear the vast majority of them were part of an organised campaign to oppose the proposal. Many of them had almost identical language in them that had been written and provided by others. Whether there is wide spread oppostion to the proposal is debatable but those submissions sure weren’t proof of much.

“Whether there is wide spread opposition to the proposal is debatable”. What utter rot. A parliamentary inquiry into the expansion heard from 82 historians, diplomats, public servants, academics, journalist and curators who were all against the proposal. There have been letters in every leading paper over the last couple of years against any expansion to the memorial claiming that it is excessive, indulgent and unwarranted. $500M to create a theme park!!! Go and inform yourself chewy14.

We’re you trying to prove my point?

82 historians now equal the entire population?

A tiny number of letters to the editor now equal the entire population?

There is clearly a number of activists and groups who don’t like what’s being done but that doesn’t equal wide scale opposition.

Perhaps you should inform yourself of the difference?

Disgusting waste of money – and I have an uncle commemorated there who is buried at Gallipoli.

I mean, it seems to me that the original building is the Australian War Memorial. A place of reflection. If they want to spend lots of munny to build a war museum to house all the murder toys then that is another building.

Seems like a major opportunity lost to bring jobs, infrastructure and tourism to the regions. This sort of spending would really boost a Wagga or Toowoomba or wherever.

The NCA is an administrative department that is tasked to enforce the National Capital Plan. The people that work there didn’t write the plan.
Time we stop bashing them for doing their job and turn the criticism to those that control and author the plan.

It’s turning into a Defence theme park

It’s been approved, and approved and approved. The expansion is opposed by a noisey minority, and welcomed by the silent majority. The current memorial has sufficient space for the stories and equipment from WWI and WWII, and just enough space for the Cold War, but nowhere near enough space for everything since. This includes UN peacekeeping, Gulf War, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq, Islamic State, and space is needed for current and future ADF activities. The AWM has always been a museum memorial, showing equipment and telling stories, and this expansion enables this for everything after the Cold War.

If its a ‘silent majority’, how do you know a) its a majority and b) it welcomes this development.

I’d suggest its probably more likely the majority are entirely indifferent, rather than necessarily in support.

And to be fair, it was called a war Memorial for a reason. No issue with them having a museum – but that could easily be achieved at another location (arguably at far lower cost too I’d expect).

TwainAndHume4:01 pm 08 Jun 21

Exactly JS9 …

michael quirk9:04 am 08 Jun 21

The AWM risks becoming a museum rather than a memorial. What next a roller coaster? The NCA is not going to risk its future by opposing the redevelopment. It is an organisation with limited political punch. Much of the equipment could be displayed at Mitchell. . Spend the money on veterans services and other institutions including the Achives

Stephen Saunders8:09 pm 07 Jun 21

NCA = Naturally Coalition Appeasement.

Why exactly do you think the NCA should reject a compliant development proposal that fits in to their overall planning mandate?

Seems the only one who wants the NCA to act politically is you.

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