New space in the proposed $498 million expansion of the Australian War Memorial would cost about 14 times as much per square metre as that at its Mitchell storage facility, according to a new paper by a former Registrar of the Memorial.
Richard Llewellyn, who held the position from 1986 to 1995, also questions the notion of providing a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for current veterans, saying there was a lack of medical evidence for it, and that even if it could be justified, space could be found within the World War I and II galleries.
Mr Llewellyn, who analysed documents produced by and referring to the Memorial, says the AWM took contradictory positions in its separate cases to the Federal Government for expansion of both the Memorial and the Mitchell facility.
He says that at the same time as it was arguing for more space at Mitchell and its significant role as part of the Memorial, it was also playing down its ability to provide enough room for the same large technology objects such as fighter jets and helicopters that the AWM plans to house at Campbell, and claiming that it would lessen ‘the importance of the Campbell site and commemorations told within’.
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The Memorial completed in early 2019 a new $16.1 million, 5288 square metres purpose-built facility on the Mitchell site (Mitchell E building), and offers very significant benefits in terms of cost-effectiveness, utility, preservation of the heritage integrity of the Memorial at Campbell, and other practical gains, the paper says.
“The Memorial could – as is shown by its own submissions to the Public Works Committee in 2017 – very adequately meet all of the potential demands for increased facility at its Mitchell Precinct for around $100 million, or around 20 per cent of the projected cost of the highly contentious Campbell site project,” the paper says.
But Mr Llewellyn says the AWM has sidelined Mitchell for spurious reasons.
He argues that if one accepts that the expansion will add 11,412 square metres of ‘new gallery space’, this will come at a cost of $43,648 a square metre.
“In simple terms, comparing the 11,412 square metres at Campbell and the 5288 square metres at Mitchell for Mitchell E, new space at Campbell is to cost (at the estimate most favourable to the Memorial) around 14 times as much per square metre as new space at Mitchell,” the paper says.
The AWM itself says the Treloar Resource Centre at Mitchell has sufficient land to accommodate another 75 years of storage growth through progressive development of higher density two-level buildings, resulting in 30,000 square metres of space, much more than that envisaged for the Campbell site.
The Mitchell Option is the best outcome for both the Memorial and the nation, the paper concludes.
Mr Llewellyn says the idea of using gallery space as a way of helping veterans readjust to peacetime and overcome the effects of combat such as injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is questionable.
“The Memorial has appropriated (with neither justification nor legislative approval) a role of providing space for the solace and rehabilitation of Veterans. This is possibly a laudable aim, though it must be recognised that it is medically and practically spurious, as has been pointed out by medical practitioners Margaret Beavis and Charlotte Palmer,” he says.
Historian Professor Peter Stanley had also pointed to the lack of justification in the Memorial’s Act for it taking on such a role.
Mr Llewellyn says that given there are no surviving World War I veterans and that the population of World War II veterans is rapidly declining, the ‘obvious way of providing a therapeutic milieu for veterans of say, Afghanistan, East Timor, and Iraq is to take floor space from older wars’.
Dr David Stephens for the Heritage Guardians, who have been leading the campaign against the Campbell expansion, says the Memorial has been able to have two bites of the funding cherry, securing $498 million in particular without finalising its proposal while dismissing the Mitchell option for which it had already received $16.1 million.
Dr Stephens says there is nothing stopping the Memorial opening the Mitchell facility to the public more than the usual one day of the year and operating it as a campus, much like the UK’s Imperial War Museum does with its Duxworth facility, which is one of five campuses.
The opening of light rail also makes Mitchell more accessible, with a station only 700 metres away.
He suggests with the apparent decision to drops plans to encroach on Remembrance Park to acquire more space for parking in the face of community opposition, the expansion is not set in stone and subject to change, which means Anzac Hall may yet be saved. But it also raises questions about the financial management of the project.
”It strikes us that they’ve got this $498 million but they don’t quite know how they’re going to spend it,” he said. “That’s back to front in terms of Government property management.”
Dr Stephens says the expansion project has thrived on the ability of Memorial Director Brendan Nelson to ‘sell ice-cream to Eskimos’ and the reluctance of many to criticise anything connected to Anzac.