The newly appointed member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, Tony Abbott, will ensure the stories from recent military conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and East Timor will be proudly told.
That’s the view of the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, who said Mr Abbott’s extensive experience will see the memorial upgraded to tell the stories of more recent conflicts.
The appointment of Mr Abbott to the Council marks the former prime minister’s first return to public life since his bruising election defeat earlier this year.
“The Australian Government recently announced an investment of almost $500 million to be able to display more of the Australian War Memorial’s collection and I have no doubt Mr Abbott will be an asset to the Council during this period,” Mr Chester said in a statement today.
Plans were announced in November for a $498 million expansion over the next nine years that will double the size of the 77-year-old institution’s visitor areas. They also include demolishing Anzac Hall.
There has been criticism of the approach to broaden the displays at the Memorial which could diminish its intended purpose.
David Stephens, the Coordinator of Heritage Guardians, a community campaign against the proposed $498 million extensions to the Australian War Memorial, told Region Media in August that Mr Abbott would deliver more of the same sentiment that has characterised the War Memorial since Dr Brendan Nelson was appointed Director in 2012.
“I have suggested elsewhere that the present Council looks like the governing body of an ex-service club and that future vacancies should be filled through public advertising to produce a different mix,” Mr Stephens said.
The Australian War Memorial board is headed by Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes and includes chair of Qantas Margaret Jackson, Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr and Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.
The Council of the Australian War Memorial is responsible for the conduct and control of the affairs of the memorial and its policy with respect to any matters determined by the Council.
Mr Stephens said Tony Abbott is the wrong choice for the Council of the Australian War Memorial, but not just because his appointment would be “jobs for the boys”.
“A country whose forces in the major wars were representative of the whole nation has a very narrowly based group running its premier commemorative institution,” Mr Stephens said.
However, Mr Chester said he was confident Mr Abbott will continue to record the stories of those who have served, in their words, to the more than one million visitors to the memorial each year.
“As Prime Minister, Mr Abbott led the case to build the Sir John Monash Centre in Villers-Bretonneux to tell the stories and honour the thousands of fallen Australians who served in the First World War,” Mr Chester said.
Mr Abbott has been appointed to the Council as a part-time member for a period of three years. His appointment fills the vacancy left following the death in March of acclaimed author and historian Les Carlyon.