War Memorial should ditch weapons manufacturers: Anti war organisation
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War Memorial should ditch weapons manufacturers: Anti war organisation

The Australian War Memorial risks making war a source of entertainment instead of being a site of commemoration, the parent organisation of last year's Nobel Peace Prize winners has told a parliamentary committee.

Last year's Nobel Peace prize winners, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, grew out of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, which has used the federal inquiry into Canberra's national institutions to take aim at the memorial's sponsorship arrangements with weapons manufacturers.

The Australian War Memorial and its director Brendan Nelson have been criticised by an anti-war group.

The Australian War Memorial and its director Brendan Nelson have been criticised by an anti-war group.Credit:Jay Cronan

The association's president, Canberra-based retired GP Dr Sue Wareham, has taken particular issue with the audio visual elements of the memorial's exhibitions, the lack of peace movement materials on display and the prospect of recent border patrols to recent asylum seekers reaching Australian shores being recognised at the memorial. Dr Wareham was one of the founding members of ICAN and is a board member of the Australian arm of the organisation.

The inquiry will cover the ways in which the capital's galleries, museums and other institutions receive funding from private sponsorship. The association believes that the memorial should have a policy against accepting funding from weapons companies that profit from ongoing conflicts.

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"It's particularly blatant when one walks into the theatre at the War Memorial and it's named BAE Systems theatre. BAE Systems is Britain's biggest weapons manufacturer, they're selling a lot of material to Saudi Arabia at the moment," Dr Wareham said.

"There's BAE Systems alongside our people who have fought and died in the defence of freedom and there's BAE Systems sponsoring, helping, assisting the Saudi Arabian government, which is contributing to a humanitarian disaster in Yemen."

Dr Wareham said the memorial shouldn't be expected to raise its own revenue, and that its plans should be scaled back to be more affordable.

"One of the things our organisation would like to see is that the AWM plans are a little less grandiose and actually get back to the basic function of commemoration of our war dead, which doesn't require a huge and grandiose budget."

Dr Sue Wareham OAM, is national president of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, which believes the War Memorial should not accept funds from weapons companies.

Dr Sue Wareham OAM, is national president of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, which believes the War Memorial should not accept funds from weapons companies.Credit:Rohan Thomson

According to the submission, the audio visual elements now used at the memorial, as well as interactive activities where children can dress up a nurse or pretend to be in a trench "[run] the risk of blurring the distinction between commemoration and understanding on the one hand, and entertainment on the other. Entertainment is not a part of the purpose or mission of the AWM."

The association believes the memorial sanitises the reality of war, and its current direction doesn't do enough to make people think twice about going to war. The submission also took issue with the suggestion that the memorial may include exhibitions relating to Australia's border patrol to deter asylum seekers.

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"Proponents who regard the AWM as a suitable place to display Australia’s rejection of boatloads of desperate people have simply lost the plot."

The memorial has defended itself in the wake of the criticism.

"The Australian War Memorial refutes the notion that any parts of its displays are 'entertainment'. Exhibits and displays are developed to engage all visitors and cater to a range of learning styles including those of children," a spokesman said.

There are no plans for a memorial for Operation Sovereign Borders, the spokesman said, clarifying that comments by memorial director Brendan Nelson about all Defence personnel, including border protection, "were made in the context of the proposed extension to the Memorial being considered by Government next year."

The Memorial said it will continue its funding arrangements with weapons companies.

"The overwhelming majority of cultural institutions rely on partnerships and corporate support to supplement revenue and support continued operations. These arrangements commonly and understandably involve acknowledgment or recognition of the supportive individual or organisation," the spokesman said.

"The Memorial highly values the support of its corporate partners which allows investment directly back into the development of the Memorial’s galleries, exhibitions, programs, collection and staffing."

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service.

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