The National Capital Authority’s refusal to permit a peace group to hold a silent vigil during the centenary Remembrance Day commemoration has incensed supporters and raised doubts about the national event’s inclusiveness.
The Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) had applied to the NCA to hold a Gathering for Peace on Anzac Parade at the 11th hour on 11 November but were told in a one-line response that “unfortunately the National Capital Authority is unable to approve your booking as Anzac Parade and Rond Terrace (including Memorials) is reserved exclusively for the 2018 Remembrance Day Commemorations”.
The group is perplexed and angered by the NCA’s decision which had also drawn the fire of former Catholic Bishop Pat Power, and noted war historian Professor Peter Stanley, who called the decision ‘stupid’ and ‘utterly incomprehensible’.
MAPW President Dr Sue Wareham said the group’s intention was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War and Australia’s 60,000 dead but also send a message of peace.
The group intended to carry a single sign saying “Honour Them – Promote Peace”.
It’s a message that Dr Wareham believes has been glossed over during the World War 1 centenary activities of the past five years, and one which the group believes should be a prominent part of the Remembrance Day commemoration.
“We don’t have a lot of faith that what the Australian War Memorial is planning for Remembrance Day is truly going to be in the spirit of the ‘war to end all wars’ and what we should be learning from that,” Dr Wareham said.
“We wonder also what the Diggers would have thought at the notion that a bunch of officials can tell a citizens group that they can’t display a peace message in a prominent place on Armistice Day. We can’t imagine they would have been very impressed by that,” she said.
She said that if the authorities could be embarrassed by a peace message on Remembrance Day then Australia had got big problems about how it commemorated World War 1.
The group was also concerned at arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin sponsoring the AWM and events such this.
“When you’ve got the world’s biggest arms maker whose profits rely on countries going to war or threats of war, it doesn’t give one much hope that there’s going to be a peace message there,” Dr Wareham said.
If the NCA was concerned about the commemoration being disrupted, it should have consulted the Australian Federal Police with whom MAPW had had many dealings to confirm its commitment to peaceful activity, she said.
Dr Wareham said the people involved were not opposed to having armed forces for defence but with Australia at war since 2001, “clearly we are not keeping our country at peace, and war is increasingly becoming the norm for us”.
“We need to rethink notions of security and how best to achieve our security. Military protection of Australia is legitimate and important but our policies at the moment go way beyond that. We are going to war in distant parts of the world that are nothing to do with our security,” she said.
In a short reply to Dr Wareham today AWM Director Brendan Nelson said she and her colleagues “are welcome to join the thousands of Australians here at the Australian War Memorial on Remembrance Day remembering our dead and maimed in support of a peaceful world”.
The AWM did not respond to questions but issued a statement similar to that sent to Dr Wareham: “Anyone who wants to pay their respects to the dead and maimed, and express their support for peace, is welcome to join thousands of Australians who will be honouring them here at the Memorial at the Remembrance Day National Ceremony.”
Retired Catholic Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Pat Power said: “As we commemorate the end of a period of human suffering on a scale that is hard to imagine, it is imperative that the need for peace is uppermost and visible in Remembrance Day commemorations. Tragically, this message has become almost lost over the past four years with our nation’s focus on battles and military campaigns. The role of ordinary citizens in redressing the balance by promoting peace is critically important, especially at key commemorative times and places.”
Professor Stanley, who is not a member of MAPW, blasted the NCA as anti-democratic, saying it was an absolute affront that Australians are told by a faceless bureaucrat, without a valid reason, that they can’t exercise their democratic rights.
“The NCA appears to have forgotten what it exists for, to serve the people of Australia using the national places, and Anzac Parade should be used by Australians of whatever persuasion in a way that’s fitting,” he said
“People conducting a silent vigil couldn’t ever be described as inappropriate, or not in accord with the day.
“Is this the democracy for which 60,000 Australians died in the Great War?”
Professor Stanley said it would seem that the only commemoration allowed was that which was officially organised, but, just as 100 years ago when people responded in different ways to the news of the Armistice, everyone will not think the same about it today.
“Having done its best to get us interested in the Great War for five years, the bureaucrats have suddenly discovered that people are interested in it and what they are saying is there should be no more wars,” he said.
“That’s not the message they thought they were fostering, they thought the message was to remember the sacrifice of 60,000 a century ago, which is a good thing to do, and we should do that. The thing about history is that people draw their own conclusions.
“Now these people have quite reasonably drawn the conclusion that, as the Governor-General, Lord Gowrie, said when he opened the AWM in 1941, ‘Never again’, these people with their silent vigil are also saying, ‘Never again’.
“Somehow the Government through the NCA is saying we can’t have people saying that. Why can’t we?”
A spokeswoman for Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester said the Australian Government was working closely with the State, Territory and local governments on a national approach and recognition of one minute’s silence for Remembrance Day.
“The Australian War Memorial, in conjunction with the ACT Government and local authorities, have a comprehensive program of events planned to commemorate the Armistice on Remembrance Day 2018 in Canberra. All communication and interest in the events on Anzac Parade should be referred to those authorities,” she said.
A spokesperson from the NCA said that on 11 November 2018, Anzac Parade (including the Memorials) had been reserved exclusively for the AWM for the 2018 Remembrance Day Commemorations.
“Once an event booking is confirmed, the venue is then not available to be reserved by another event organiser,” the spokesperson said.
- The AWM will host the nation’s key commemoration from 10.30 am to noon on Sunday, 11 November. The ceremony includes a formal wreath-laying and will be attended by many high-level dignitaries, diplomats, school students, as well as thousands of members of the general public. Australia’s Federation Guard and the Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon will be on parade, and there will be a special commemorative address.