A new poll has undermined claims from the Australian War Memorial that it has the support of most Australians for its controversial $500 million redevelopment, which a former Memorial director has called a “Khaki Disneyland”.
The Australia Institute poll comes as tree felling and demolition of Anzac Hall gets underway at the Memorial after the National Capital Authority’s approval of the Early Works phase of the project.
The survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,006 Australians found that one in two Australians would prefer the funds budgeted for the expansion of the Memorial to be spent on services such as health and education, a further one quarter (26%) of Australians would prefer the money to be spent on support services for veterans.
Just 13 per cent of Australians prefer the funds to be spent on the redevelopment, including a refurbished southern entrance, a new, bigger Anzac Hall connected to the main building, an extension to the Bean Building to establish a research centre, and public space improvements.
Respondents were asked what they would prefer the money to be spent on.
Spending the money on services such as health and education is the most popular preference across all voting intentions.
Between 41 per cent and 60 per cent of Coalition, Labor, Greens, One Nation and Other voters would prefer the money be spent on government services such as health and education.
Support for spending the $500 million on the redevelopment is highest among Coalition voters, with one in five (20%) supporting the project. One in 10 (10%) of Labor voters prefer the money be spent on the redevelopment, along with 15 per cent of One Nation voters, 5 per cent of Greens voters and 3 per cent of Other voters.
Support for spending the money on the War Memorial redevelopment is higher among men, with one in five (19%) men preferring the redevelopment spending over other options, compared with 7 per cent support among women.
Forty-two per cent of men and 55 per cent of women preferred the money be spent on government services such as health and education.
Opponents of the redevelopment have long contested the Memorial’s claim that it had the backing of Australians outside of the national capital.
Convenor of Heritage Guardians Dr David Stephens said it was good to have reliable polling data supporting the Heritage Guardians’ long-held feeling that most Australians do not want the Memorial project.
“By contrast, the Memorial’s own ‘surveys’ have been notable for their leading questions, lack of context, and dishonest reporting. A project based on spin and misrepresentation should never have got this far,” he said.
National President-elect of the Australian Institute of Architects Shannon Battisson said the polling exposed the Memorial’s repeated attempts to mislead the people – and the Parliament – about the level of public support for their redevelopment proposal in its current form.
“With only 13 per cent of Australians surveyed supporting the expenditure and an overwhelming majority of submissions to both the NCA and Public Works Committee opposed, we call again for a rethink,” she said.
“The tremendous service of our current and former defence personnel can be better recognised without going down this destructive and deeply unpopular path.”
But with the site fenced off and heavy machinery moving in, it may be too late to reconsider the current redevelopment plans.
Former Memorial director Major General (Ret’d) Steve Gower called the bulldozing of Anzac Hall an act of vandalism.
“The doubling of size for a display area in no way compensates for the heritage damage caused by the project,” he said.
“Given the lack of support and the damage to heritage, there is no excuse to go ahead with the project under the guise of supporting veterans. We should not be building a Khaki Disneyland.”
Another former director, Brendon Kelson, said the project had created a historic crisis in the national capital – and its story.
“If it proceeds, Australia and its people will have lost a national treasure,” he said.
Former Head of Buildings and Services at the Memorial Stewart Mitchell said the redevelopment was a gross overreach and would have serious adverse impacts on the heritage-listed site.
“It’s simply tragic to know that excellent concepts for development exist which provide the additional space required without destroying the site’s National and Commonwealth Heritage listed attributes, and at considerably less cost,” he said.
President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War Dr Sue Wareham said the new poll was consistent with other evidence of strong opposition to the redevelopment, including public submissions to formal processes and media comments.
“It’s a national disgrace that the AWM’s surveys, which they use to claim strong support for the project, had highly leading questions and biased information which was clearly intended to deliver the desired results. They should have engaged in more listening and less spruiking from the outset,” she said.