Poll finds most Australians oppose $500 million spend on War Memorial

Ian Bushnell 6 July 2021 62
Australian War Memorial

Heavy machinery at work at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Fiona Scott.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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62 Responses to Poll finds most Australians oppose $500 million spend on War Memorial
Malcolm Roxburgh Malcolm Roxburgh 1:46 pm 09 Jul 21

It is supposed to be a memorial, a place for quiet reflection on the sacrifice made by many veterans over the years, NOT a bloody computer game arcade.

Ash Latimer Ash Latimer 11:51 am 08 Jul 21

500 million better spent elsewhere like education and health programs. ACT Health especially is in dire need of work, so why are we working on the war memorial instead?

Jon Rooks Jon Rooks 7:54 pm 07 Jul 21

@nick James, That’s called shooting the messenger. Could equally say that AWM polling was self serving. But the institute poll was taken of over a thousand people from diverse backgrounds. This is what’s called a ‘representative sample’ in statistics so, is done correctly. I don’t care one way or another, just annoyed that the AWM is spending a lot of Australia’s money under false pretences.

Finagen_erection Finagen_erection 10:34 am 06 Jul 21

Quite simply put last year; no Digger would have sacrificed their lives to see half a billion dollars spent on this expansion, which could have gone instead to health or schools and improved the lives of those they fought so valiantly for.

Tom Allen Tom Allen 10:01 am 06 Jul 21

Yes go go go

David Brown David Brown 8:30 am 06 Jul 21

They polled 1,000 people. That is hardly most Australians. Also we have no idea how biased the sample was.

    David Stephens David Stephens 11:04 am 06 Jul 21

    Read the poll and decide for yourself: http://honesthistory.net.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/Polling-May-2021-War-Memorial-redevelopment-Web.pdf

    Morris Reinbear Morris Reinbear 2:00 pm 06 Jul 21

    Current AWM Director wrote a letter to the Canberra Times saying a poll of visitors showed support for the project. I asked for a copy of the survey. The AWM picks visitors at random as they enter and asks them a series of questions. Three questions on the redevelopment were included in a survey. Without any background, we'd all likely say 'yes'. This was the case here with no mention of the cost and no mention of such things as wholesale tree removal. And of course, those surveyed were likely well disposed towards the Memorial by virtue of wanting to visit it. In short, a simple survey narrowly focused asked of those likely to agree with the project.

    David Brown David Brown 4:03 pm 06 Jul 21

    Morris Reinbear I think the redevelopment is wonderful but I imagine that is fairly obvious.

    Jon Rooks Jon Rooks 7:57 pm 07 Jul 21

    See my below. The over 1000 is considered representative for statistical purposes.

    Ash Latimer Ash Latimer 11:54 am 08 Jul 21

    Jon Rooks without context, a lot of people would say yes. They polled random guests on site.

    "Hey, would you like to redevelop your house?"

    "Hell yeah!"

    "It's going to cost 500 million, still keen?"

    "Hell no."

    Crude but simple example of how this statistic means FA.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 6:16 am 06 Jul 21

The hawks immediately set up straw men to discredit the poll. But it merely reinforces the deluge of submissions – don’t do it.

I don’t know of credible evidence that suggests a majority of Canberrans – or Australians – favour this ugly boondoggle.

I accept, even in a democracy, governments may have valid reasons to ride roughshod over what voters want. Not this time.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:09 am 06 Jul 21

    I’m not a hawk and don’t need to be one to discredit the poll.

    It was clearly designed and commissioned by a group opposing the upgrade to give them a stick to claim there was no public support for the upgrade.

    This is becoming far too prevalent these days on all sides of politics, it’s extraordinarily easy to skew poll results with question design as they’ve done here. Ironically in the same fashion that they were complaining the War Memorial did in claiming wide public support.

    Unfortunately there is only one poll that truly counts in this democracy. A federal election.

Therese van Leeuwen Therese van Leeuwen 10:33 pm 05 Jul 21

Give it to the veterans who are struggling with mental health issues

hgak hgak 9:54 pm 05 Jul 21

For a “Peace Loving Country” Australia spends an awful lot of time and money celebrating war. If a war memorial has to be constantly updated so that “it never happens again”, how come every time someone throws a war, Australia is one of the first to arrive and the last to leave.

    jwinston jwinston 8:07 am 06 Jul 21

    The War Memorial is not celebrating war/s. It’s there to remind people like yourself, why you live in such a great country with great conditions. Over 102,000 men and women have died for your right to live freely and without fear.

    astro2 astro2 11:50 am 06 Jul 21

    My family members fought for the right to question and criticise the need to go to wars where we are not defending our country, for example the American attack on Vietnam.

Nick James Nick James 9:04 pm 05 Jul 21

The Australia Institute. Enough said.

Dan Myles Dan Myles 7:45 pm 05 Jul 21

The neon sponsors signs from weapons manufacturers will really lift the vibe

Todd J.R. O'Rourke Todd J.R. O'Rourke 7:10 pm 05 Jul 21

Build a bigger fort!

Jorge Gatica Jorge Gatica 5:40 pm 05 Jul 21

Was this poll taken in Braddon?

Margaret Gracie Margaret Gracie 5:19 pm 05 Jul 21

Some people see it as glorifying war, but visiting the memorial you realise the heartache and loss of those involved. It's a lot of money when the government has rorted so much from the taxpayers. That's what leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Ray Ez Ray Ez 5:10 pm 05 Jul 21

Just like when they built the Sydney Opera House…look at it now.

Mat Barber Mat Barber 4:59 pm 05 Jul 21

You didn't poll me. Ive got no issue with it

Rosemary Brooker Rosemary Brooker 4:39 pm 05 Jul 21

I think the AWM should have be retained as a Memorial which covers the personnel from all wars, that Australia has participated in, where Veterans & their families can go to reflect. However, I think weapons, planes etc could be relocated to the Museum at Mitchell & be opened for anyone who wants to look at that side of war. The expansion is making the AWM overwhelming in size which is great for tourists but not for veterans.

    John Garvey John Garvey 7:23 pm 05 Jul 21

    Rosemary Brooker I completely agree with you. Most countries seperate their military museums from their memorials. Many have large annexes in regional areas. The government has completely missed an opportunity here. They could have spent less and built a completely seperate, fit for purpose building somewhere like Yass, and both improved the display of these exhibits, and increased economic activity in a regional area.

Stephen Mee Stephen Mee 4:27 pm 05 Jul 21

The thoughts of Canberrans are not aligned with the thoughts of the rest of the country.

You can see that in the way they have voted for local government for the last 20 years.

Toby McLenaghan Toby McLenaghan 3:56 pm 05 Jul 21

Everyone will be super happy once it’s done and it will be all forgotten about when there is another project to whinge about.

Acton Acton 3:54 pm 05 Jul 21

Why does the media continue to breathlessly report discredited opinion polls when they have so often been proven wrong? Look at the small sample size with this one. Only 1,006 people were polled but then it is reported as XX% of Australians believe that….. No only XX% of 1,006 believe that… The other big problem with opinion polls is obtaining a representative sample by age, locality, gender, diversity and other factors. Most poll companies no longer use random sampling techniques anymore because of the difficulty in making contact with random people. Phone books are no longer useful for that. Instead they use panels of people who self register and give their opinions in exchange for rewards. A self-selecting sample is not a representative sample and so the polling company then has to weight some opinions more than others to get a result it thinks is representative. The whole business model of polling is flawed and so their results cannot be relied upon. Same goes for opinion polls on political parties and voting intentions.

    vigilans vigilans 5:30 pm 05 Jul 21

    The mathematics of sampling shows that 1K is more than adequate to give reasonably accurate result for population of 26M. (confidence interval 0.05)
    https://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/d3310114.nsf/home/sample+size+calculator ….
    Assuming random selection. Try it yourself.
    So small sample size is not the problem here.

    Acton Acton 8:03 pm 05 Jul 21

    That calculator is interesting and must have credibility being on the ABS site. However the more hetrogenous a population is the greater the sample size has to be to give a reliable and valid result. Some populations are quite homogenous so smaller sample sizes can be relied upon. The fact is that opinion polls are notoriously inaccurate as evidenced by their failures to predict outcomes. Besides sample sizes and obtaining a representative sample in a hetrogenous population, other survey complications are that people change their minds and some have been known to give answers they think will please the pollster.

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