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Abbott flags Arlington-style National war cemetery for ACT

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has given a huge boost to the proposal to create an Arlington-style national war cemetery in Canberra.

He suggested on Friday a national war cemetery could be built in the ACT to commemorate the Anzac centenary in 2015.

It is believed the plan, previously flagged by the RSL, would have to be approved by the Canberra National Memorials Committee – which he chairs.

The RSL and Australian War Memorial were caught unawares by Mr Abbott’s suggestion, made in a speech to Legacy’s national conference in Brisbane.

RSL national president Rear Admiral Ken Doolan said his organisation’s national executive would revisit the idea at its next meeting. Two years ago the RSL national executive deferred a decision on a proposal from the Victorian branch for a cemetery in Canberra  for soldiers killed in action, Victoria Cross winners, former governors-general and former prime ministers.

‘‘This matter has been raised from time to time within the RSL and  we will consider what the Prime Minister has said and make an appropriate response in due course,’’  Admiral Doolan said. ‘‘We have a national executive meeting coming up and we’ll consider it.’’

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Mr Abbott said the Anzac centenary could be marked by an interpretive centre on the Western Front or a national war cemetery in Canberra. ‘‘Australia’s Arlington if you like, in which significant ex-soldiers could be interred,” he said.

The Arlington National Cemetery in the United States covers 253 hectares and honours fallen servicemen and women.

Mr Abbott said ways to commemorate the centenary would be considered by the government.

“These are questions that I hope we might ponder and decide in the next few months so that we can ensure that we go through the four years, if you like, of the Centenary of ANZAC with something to remember and with a lasting legacy, so that this generation has appropriately honoured the sacrifice, the service, the achievements of our mighty forebears,” he said.

It was believed a cemetery might have been built in section five at the corner of Anzac Avenue and Constitution Avenue, which is now being developed. However, that area is territory land and would not normally be considered for a national memorial.

The National Capital Authority would advise the Canberra National Memorials Committee on suitable sites for a national cemetery. Other  committee members include the Territories Minister and the Opposition Leader.

War memorial director Brendan Nelson said  a national cemetery  was  a matter for the federal government.

‘‘The Australian War Memorial is the final resting place of the Unknown Australian Soldier and, while not envisaging the memorial as having a direct role in hosting a national cemetery,  [we] would, of course, work with government in exploring the feasibility of one should it be asked to do so,’’ he said.

‘‘The proposal for an Australian  commemorative centre on the Western Front has been considered previously by Australian governments and found to be logistically very challenging in terms of site, approvals, construction and through-life support costs.’’

‘‘The AWM would be only too happy to provide any assistance it could for the more detailed examination of such a centre.’’