House debates

Monday, 22 February 2021


Public Works Committee; Report

3:12 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I present the committee's report, incorporating a dissenting report, No. 1 of 2021 relating to a referral made in April 2020.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—This report contains and considers one proposal: the Australian War Memorial development project. The total value of this project was $498.7 million.

The Australian War Memorial plays a central role in the remembrance of Australia's war dead, as well as those Australians who have served in conflicts. It is both a memorial and a museum, and is unique in the world in serving these two functions. The memorial is an institution of international standing—one of the most significant memorials of its type—and the Australian community clearly holds it as one of the country's premier cultural institutions.

As with all projects examined by the committee, the committee took its role in scrutinising this project very seriously. The proposal outlines a major development at the Australian War Memorial's Campbell site, the location of one of the most iconic buildings in Australia. The War Memorial identified that the need for these works arose largely due to a lack of space to commemorate modern conflicts. In order to address this, the War Memorial proposed a significant expansion of the display space available at the current site. This proposal was referred to the committee in April 2020 and this inquiry was just one of several approval processes for the proposed works.

Since its referral, the committee has received a larger-than-usual number of submissions responding to the project: 77 original submissions, with many submitters adding their comments. The committee took this as a clear indication of the depth of public interest in the proposal before the committee. The committee held a public hearing on the project, hearing from historians, architects, the medical profession, museum experts, former Australian War Memorial directors, heritage experts and the Australian War Memorial itself. The evidence received from every group and individual was invaluable, and the committee sincerely thanks all of those who gave either written or oral evidence to this inquiry. The passion of many Australians who gave evidence was clear, and the committee has been left in no doubt that Australians consider the War Memorial a highly significant cultural site.

In terms of the project before the committee, the report recommends that it is expedient that works be carried out. The committee sincerely thanks all who engaged in this inquiry, including the former member for Groom, the Hon. Dr John McVeigh, who provided a steady hand as chair of the committee through the early part of this inquiry. I'd also like to thank my fellow committee members for their thoughtful consideration of this project, including visiting War Memorial facilities and engaging with the evidence, and their collegiate approach to the committee's work on this inquiry. I commend this report to the House.

3:15 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I thank the House for allowing me to make some brief remarks, and I speak for myself and the member for Bean in respect to the dissenting report. Let me state from the very outset and make it absolutely clear that the member for Bean and I support, in principle, the refurbishment of the Australian War Memorial. We accept the need for doing so as outlined by the Australian War Memorial.

The Australian War Memorial is indeed an iconic national institution which attracts 1.1 million visitors each year, and it serves as a monument, a museum and an archive for Australian military history. It honours the lives of men and women who have served in Australia's armed forces. We are conscious that not all military engagements are presently adequately recognised in the Australian War Memorial. We also note that what is proposed, at a cost of half a billion dollars, will be the most significant redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial since its opening in 1941 and will very likely remain in the design form selected for decades to come. It is therefore critical that we get it right and that the refurbishment respect the views of all of the people who have a deep interest in the memorial.

The Australian War Memorial advised that four redevelopment options were considered after an extensive redesign process was undertaken. I also note that the Australian War Memorial's preferred redevelopment option has attracted considerable public and media interest. It has been controversial. Not surprisingly, therefore, there were numerous submissions made to the Public Works Committee from individuals and professional organisations representing dozens of people, with recognised experience, expertise, knowledge and credibility, that raised concerns about the redevelopment options chosen by the Australian War Memorial. In particular, there was strong opposition to the replacement of the award-winning Anzac Hall, built only 18 years ago at a cost of $11.9 million. Labor members of the Public Works Committee are not satisfied that those concerns have been adequately considered or responded to. All but one of the submissions made to the committee are public documents and therefore are there for all to read. Labor members therefore recommend that the Australian War Memorial consult further with representors who made submissions questioning the benefits of replacing the existing Anzac Hall, in an endeavour to reach a consensus on the way forward. Preserving Anzac Hall may also result in a lower-cost redevelopment option for the Australian War Memorial that still achieves the objectives being sought.

The Australian War Memorial redevelopment proposal has also attracted concerns about heritage matters and the EPBC approval process, which ultimately came with a long list of conditions. As to whether those conditions are able to be met or not, I guess time will tell.

It has been a difficult inquiry. In fact, it's been the most controversial inquiry in my time on the committee, which now spans several years. There were changes made to the committee membership in the course of the inquiry as well. I therefore thank the committee secretariat for their valuable work and assistance in supporting the Public Works Committee and in the preparation of our dissenting report.