Former war memorial director Brendan Nelson once said criticisms of the institution's $498 million expansion project were the views of a small group of people who were mainly from Canberra.
That group included "intellectuals, academics, some retired public servants, even some former staff members who left this place more than 20 years ago who are opposed" to the expansion, he said in 2019.
Announcing his retirement from his role leading the institution, where he had advocated and helped secure government backing for the ambitious project, Dr Nelson argued: "I travel right around Australia, I'm reasonably well-known and recognised and I have not been approached by a single person to express anything other than support for what we're doing."
The war memorial has long said there is broad support among Australians for its expansion project.
It's an impression that has been reinforced by the largely bipartisan backing it's received from both the Coalition and the opposition. Only recently have Labor MPs expressed some misgivings, urging the government to reconsider the need to demolish Anzac Hall and proposing alternatives that would see the structure saved.
At other times, there have been large displays of pushback against the project, including when the National Capital Authority this year consulted the public before granting approval for the expansion.
However, absent many national measurements of public sentiment, it's been hard to know for sure the true level of national public support for the war memorial expansion.
There's now a debate about those support levels. It's a discussion based on survey findings released today by the Australia Institute, showing only 13 per cent of people wanted the $498 million spent on the redevelopment, compared to about 49 per cent who would rather it spent on services such as health and education, and about 26 per cent who would prefer the money used for veterans' support services.
The war memorial, in response, has referred to its own research in arguing there is broad support for the project.
Among the research are surveys it has sent to visitors, and one conducted by a market research firm.
While the Australian Institute poll sheds some light on broader public views about the redevelopment, it's hard not to feel that this discussion comes too late to have any meaningful influence on the project.
Critics of the redevelopment have called on the government to reconsider it, but the wheels have long been in motion.
The expansion has the approvals it needs and it's really only a matter of time before it gets fully under way.
That sense of inevitability about the project, however, has existed from the start.
It has arguably been a flaw in the process. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced it in 2018, the expansion project seemed a fait accompli.
One question is how much the government tested public views about the project before announcing the $498 million in funding. It may have reached a different decision, had it seen the kind of numbers revealed by the Australia Institute today.
It remains important to know just how much public support there is for the expansion, even at this late stage.
It may not change anything about the memorial's redevelopment, but there might be lessons for governments to learn about testing community views on major spending projects.
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