Most Australians would prefer $500 million in funding for the war memorial expansion spent on education, health and veterans' support services instead, new polling shows.
Critics of the controversial project say the results show widespread opposition to redevelopment plans they say would turn the revered institution into a "Khaki Disneyland" and "cheap tourist entertainment".
Survey findings from think tank the Australia Institute, released today, showed only 13 per cent of people wanted the money used for the redevelopment project.
The poll of about 1000 Australians found one in two people would prefer the money to fund services like health and education, while one in four would rather the expansion funding used for veterans' support.
The redevelopment will drastically change the war memorial by replacing the award-winning Anzac Hall, an overhaul the popular institution says is necessary to grow space for exhibitions about more recent conflicts.
Opponents to the project said the Australia Institute's findings confirmed the expansion had broad opposition, while some accused the war memorial of misleading the public about support for the expansion.
But the war memorial's director Matt Anderson said the redevelopment had strong public support.
The Australia Institute's survey found support for spending $500 million on the redevelopment was higher among Coalition voters (20 per cent) compared to people who voted Labor (10 per cent), One Nation (15 per cent) and Greens (5 per cent). One in five men and about 7 per cent of women supported using the money for the expansion.
Former Australian Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie urged the government to reconsider the project, saying the survey confirmed the public would prefer the money spent on support for veterans.
"The Australian War Memorial in its current form encourages reflection and tribute," he said.
"This proposed expansion would see it become a place of cheap tourist entertainment. It is unconscionable."
Former war memorial director Major General Steve Gower said the redevelopment, including the bulldozing of Anzac Hall, was an act of vandalism.
"The doubling of size for a display area in no way compensates for the heritage damage caused by the project," he said.
"Given the lack of support and the damage to heritage, there is no excuse to go ahead with the project under the guise of supporting veterans. We should not be building a Khaki Disneyland."
Medical Association for Prevention of War president Sue Wareham said the memorial's surveys, used to claim strong support for the redevelopment, had highly leading questions and biased information clearly intended to deliver the desired results.
"They should have engaged in more listening and less spruiking from the outset," Dr Wareham said.
National president-elect of Australian Institute of Architects Shannon Battisson accused the memorial of trying to mislead the public and the parliament about levels of support for the redevelopment proposal in its current form.
Memorial director Matt Anderson said the Australia Institute's findings did not match results from the memorial's surveys.
"The memorial has surveyed people across the nation and the results have been one of the many indicators of public support and confidence that the development project has great value to the Australian population and is supported in the Australian community," Mr Anderson said.
A national survey of 500 people on social heritage values, conducted in February 2020 by a market research firm, showed opposition to the project at 3 per cent and support at 79 per cent, he said.
About 400 visitor responses to surveys between October 2020 and June 2021 showed 71 per cent agreed, 26 per cent of respondents were mixed and 3 per cent said they did not support increasing gallery spaces for more recent conflicts, humanitarian or peacekeeping operations.
Mr Anderson said the memorial had extensively consulted the public on the need to expand since 2018, including through community group meetings and a national roadshow.
"We have consulted widely and listened to feedback, and more than 50 changes have been made to the project in response to these consultations," he said.
"As shown in the memorial visitor surveys and in quantitative surveys conducted by independent researchers we have very strong public support for the development project."
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