NCA blasted for approving War Memorial works

Ian Bushnell 8 June 2021 34
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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34 Responses to NCA blasted for approving War Memorial works
Tjilpi1 Tjilpi1 7:30 am 10 Jun 21

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?

gilford12 gilford12 10:28 pm 08 Jun 21

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!!

Kim Kim 7:37 pm 08 Jun 21

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.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:59 pm 08 Jun 21

    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.

    Kim Kim 11:07 pm 08 Jun 21

    “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.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:34 am 09 Jun 21

    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?

Diana Napier Diana Napier 7:03 pm 08 Jun 21

Ask Tom Hollo, the ACT greens, for protest action.

You could do rubbings of the trees with paper and charcoal in a large group. See the pattern of 80 year old trees Or draw them. Or draw the building before the bulldoze bulldoze. They are said to alreay be there. How the men with the chainsaws must hate themselves.

Anne Lafferty Anne Lafferty 4:16 pm 08 Jun 21

Against the wishes of the experts and many many members of the public, crazy waste of public money, we can all imagine a much better use for that amount of money than bulldozing a 20 year old, perfectly good, fit for purpose building, and landscape.

protea protea 3:56 pm 08 Jun 21

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

Heavs Heavs 2:49 pm 08 Jun 21

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.

Andrew Trousdell Andrew Trousdell 1:46 pm 08 Jun 21

while all the other national institutions falling in to disrepair and barely functioning after successive rounds of funding cuts we have a lazy half a billion to fix something thats not broken'? The national archives are begging for money to digitise much of our nations history that is on the verge of decay, how is bulldozing the hall of remembrance even a consideration, let alone a priority use of taxpayers money? If they care so much about veterans give the money to the DVA and let them do something directly for them.

Peter Nagel Peter Nagel 1:07 pm 08 Jun 21

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.

Ol L Ol L 11:23 am 08 Jun 21

It’s turning into a Defence theme park

nobody nobody 10:19 am 08 Jun 21

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.

    JS9 JS9 10:51 am 08 Jun 21

    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).

    TwainAndHume TwainAndHume 4:01 pm 08 Jun 21

    Exactly JS9 …

michael quirk michael quirk 9:04 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

Virginia Dodson Virginia Dodson 11:19 pm 07 Jun 21

Rather than dismantling the architectural gem that is Anzac Hall, maybe the completely useless NCA should be demolished. As usual in Canberra, the taxpayers are ignored. The facility at Mitchell could be put to much better use. The typically sneaky way that the ‘early works’ were started, ironically just before Anzac Day and during ACT Heritage month was nothing short of disgraceful and arrogant. Where are the Greens when perfectly healthy mature trees are being felled? Heritage means nothing in this city 😢😡

Teresa Layton Teresa Layton 8:52 pm 07 Jun 21

Disgraceful waste of money turning this wonderful place into a Disneyland of war. I am sure the very people this wonderful building was designed to honour are turning in their graves.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 8:09 pm 07 Jun 21

NCA = Naturally Coalition Appeasement.

    chewy14 chewy14 11:12 am 08 Jun 21

    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.

Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 7:44 pm 07 Jun 21

so basically the government's saying if you join the Defence Force then don't get permanently injured, because we'd rather waste money than assist you financially... and those of you already injured, refer to our earlier lack of care

Joanne Jeanes Joanne Jeanes 7:09 pm 07 Jun 21

Doesn’t seem to matter what taxpayers want or don’t want.

Ian Wing Ian Wing 6:05 pm 07 Jun 21

This is a predictable outcome. Such architectural vandalism reflects the contempt of the management of the AWM for democracy. It shows disrespect for the widespread opposition from the veteran community and the wider general public. We will end up with a national war memorial that will operate as a theme park instead of place of remembrance.

    Jon Billows Jon Billows 6:53 pm 07 Jun 21

    Ian Wing the vocal minority doesn't dictate policy. if you are against the memorial being a museum then you are for the destruction of Anzac hall anyway.

    Ian Wing Ian Wing 6:56 pm 07 Jun 21

    Jon Billows The majority of responses was against the demolition but the management have pushed it forward anyway. Your second sentence doesn't make any sense. What are you trying to say?

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 7:01 pm 07 Jun 21

    It is actually a majority that don’t want the memorial turned into a museum. The response by the NCA failed to discuss the cost - how many vets could 500 million help?

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 8:02 pm 07 Jun 21

    Margaret Freemantle this is a fallacy in its argument, it isnt a choice of one or the other, funding comes from different portfolios at a federal level, nca has no authority over federal spending. It's like saying a train line in Western Australia could be better spent on social needs. It might be correct but they are different pots at the highest level and not competing ideas.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 8:08 pm 07 Jun 21

    Steve Smith wasn’t really thinking clearly about the source of the funding. Many moons ago, when I worked for the NCDC, we did actually care about what Canberrans wanted. The NCA surely could choose to not approve the spending?

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 8:15 pm 07 Jun 21

    Margaret Freemantle I am actually not sure, they might be able to decline the change but that 500m would not always be redirected to where the people who are against the project would want. I know we have a small memorial compared to many others globally and most of our stories are locked away in storage. If this gets them to see the light of day then it is a win in my views.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 8:27 pm 07 Jun 21

    Steve Smith could they be rotated? It is a wonderful memorial, regarded as World class. Quality over quantity.

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 8:33 pm 07 Jun 21

    Margaret Freemantle that likely is where they have said no as changing the rotation ruins the look of Anzac parade which is pretty key to Canberra's look. I just wanted to flag things others including the media seem to ignore, that if this didn't go ahead the funds won't always go to where people want or even be spent in Canberra which costs jobs in skilled areas. If I can't have the middle ground then I would rather the spend then not.

    Teresa Layton Teresa Layton 8:50 pm 07 Jun 21

    Margaret Freemantle if we need a war museum then do a purpose built building somewhere else and leave the memorial to do what it was planned to do.

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