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Australians wanting to visit France for Anzac remembrance urged not to bow to terror fears

France's recent wave of terror attacks should not put off parents from allowing their children to go on school trips to the battlefields of the Western Front this year, the veterans affairs minister says.

It is 100 years since the Anzacs arrived in force on the Somme, and fought a series of key battles at places such as Fromelles that left thousands dead.

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After the attention on Gallipoli in 2015, this year Anzac Day's focus will be on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux where the governor-general will attend the dawn service.

French president Francois Hollande is also expected to join the service, though there has not yet been official confirmation.

Organisers have predicted up to 8000 members of the public will attend, thousands more than in 2015.

Australian high schools often send groups of students to the Somme around April, visiting the region's cemeteries and war memorials and engaging in cultural exchange with local schools.


But the Charlie Hebdo and November 13 terror attacks in 2015 have left the country at the highest level of terror alert.

The Australian government's official travel advice is "to exercise a high degree of caution in France", adding that "terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could target places frequented by tourists".

However Veteran Affairs Minister Stuart Robert encouraged people to come to France anyway.

"I believe it will be an extraordinary year this year, it will be very safe in terms of our commemorative events and I would encourage all tour groups and all schools to come and be involved in what is an extraordinary moment, 100 years since our nation made a definitive difference on the Western Front," Mr Robert said.

He and other government agencies have held talks with the French over security around Anzac Day in France.

"We are taking it sensibly and seriously," Mr Robert said. "But our message for Australians is we defeat terrorism by being unafraid. People should be clear-minded and unafraid to come and get involved."

Mr Robert was in Villers-Bretonneux to turn the first sod on a $100 million commemorative centre, to be dug into the hill behind the existing monument.

The Sir John Monash Centre will be opened by April 24, 2018, Mr Robert said, providing somewhere for "people to go and understand the entire Western Front, where 272,000 Australian soldiers served, 47,000 were killed and 132,000 wounded".

The centre would include more than 100 'relics' from the Front, including "at least one significant world-class relic", Mr Robert said.

It would also include digital, interpretive presentations, documents and maps that tell the story of Australia's involvement in the war, and the stories, lives and families of the soldiers.

Mr Robert defended the centre's price tag.

"Yes it's a significant investment," he said. "[The memorial at Villers] has been around for 80-odd years and this this will be around for hundreds of years, let's do it properly."

Former public servant David Stephens has labelled the centre a "boastful Aussie boondoggle", claiming on his Honest History website that "some wise heads in Canberra have wondered whether it should proceed".

The Guardian has also reported "tensions behind the scenes" among experts associated with the centre, with several questioning its cost.

Of the $100 million cost, $88 million is coming from the defence budget.

Dr Stephens calculated that Australia is spending on Anzac commemorations$8800 per soldier killed in the First World War – compared with $109 in the UK or $2 in Germany.

Just before Christmas the DVA announced it had finalised a construction contract for the Sir John Monash Centre with French builders Bouygues Batiment Grand Ouest.

Mr Robert blamed some of the contract cost on French workers – "we're building in France and all the challenges that brings with their given labour laws and so on. And that's fine, we understand and respect that."

But he said the main reason for the cost was the engineering challenge, to dig into the hill so as not to overshadow the existing memorial, and not disturb the cemetery next to it.

"The engineering required to [protect] the integrity of the cemetery at the front is nothing short of extraordinary," he said.

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