6 July 2021

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

| Ian Bushnell
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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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Malcolm Roxburgh1:46 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.

Finagen_erection10:34 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.

Stephen Saunders6:16 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.

Stephen,
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

When is a total of 1006 people polled a nationally representative sample?

This poll is meaningless in the form it has been put together and considering who commissioned and delivered it, it’s hardly surprising.

If you asked the public if they would prefer government spending on essentials like health and education over every area of government spending like this, you’ll find the same result.

Does this mean that the government should never spend money on these types of memorials or even almost all areas of the Arts that would be considered non essential? It’s a misleading choice presented.

It’s also ironic that the opponents have attacked the memorials surveys as dishonest considering they’ve used the exact same tactics here.

@chewy14, it is dishonest to portray opponents as so all or nothing. Memorials are important, but $500,000,000 is objectively excessive and shows great disrespectful to veterans, their/ my families and the broader Australian community.

Ambla,
I personally would agree that the price tag seems excessive but I don’t think you can claim it’s objectively so. I’ve seen government’s at all levels waste bigger amounts in more egregious fashion and the new found fiscal conservativeness of some of the opponents does seem disingenuous.

And I would also disagree that’s it’s necessarily disrespectful to veterans or the community, it’s a false equivalence to think this money would otherwise be spent in those areas.

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