War memorial expansion plans need greater scrutiny

Complaints about the expansion of the Australian War Memorial came thick and fast when the announcement was made in November but they were just as quickly overlooked.

If it was the case, as it appeared to be, that they were written off as a small group of Canberra NIMBY’s, the war memorial should look again.

The Australian War Memorial is in line for a redevelopment. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

The Australian War Memorial is in line for a redevelopment. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

As The Canberra Times reported on Saturday, a group of prominent Australians has united to call for a stop to the $498 million expansion plans.

There were 83 signatories to an open letter saying the expansion is unjustified and the money could be better spent, including 24 Australians awarded the highest national honours.

Opponents said the expansion, which has bipartisan support and would begin next year, showed the memorial received favour over other more cash-strapped national institutions.

What about the National Library and the National Archives that are buckling under budget cuts, opponent and Walkley-award winning journalist Paul Daley asked. Questionable priorities, he called it.

Meanwhile, Canberrans almost on the whole decried the announcement that the expansion would take part of the base of Mount Ainslie, a gem in Canberra’s Nature Park.

The busy little area, at the start of the very popular Mount Ainslie walk, is for Canberrans to enjoy as part of their bush capital.

The reason it would be paved? To host buildings used by construction workers during the redevelopment and then later turned into a car park of 118 spaces, war memorial director Brendan Nelson said.

Perhaps Mr Nelson doesn’t understand that the area isn’t just a piece of dirt for his mighty expansion to steam roll, it’s a well-loved location for Canberrans and visitors to the capital alike.

But it’s complaints like these that have been, it seems, overlooked and even ignored.

As the process progresses, its now obvious that the war memorial can’t keep thinking the majority of Australians are with them on this decision. Because rather than the public thinking nothing can be done and moving on, it seems opponents are becoming more vocal, and more opposed.

Australians deserve to be proud of their institutions and those who lead them, but there are too many unanswered questions and too many people opposed.

Why should the money be going to a memorial when it could go directly to initiatives to help veterans? Why is the war memorial in favour with the government when other institutions have lucked out of cash? Why not spend the money on a world-class museum honouring 60,000 years of Indigenous history?

One of the 83 opponents and circulator of the letter, Honest History website editor David Stephens, said it was an attempt to open discussion and apply more scrutiny to the expansion.

Let’s hope the war memorial obliges and listens.