Environment minister approves controversial $500 million war memorial re-development

By Matthew Elmas

Thursday December 10, 2020

War Memorial
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison lays a wreath during the 2020 Remembrance Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Environment minister Sussan Ley has approved a $500 million redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial, clearing the way for heritage impact assessments on the final design.

A coalition of critics including two former heads of the Australian War Memorial had called for the expansion to be abandoned, while a parliamentary committee was told in July it was an ‘extravagant waste of taxpayers’ money’ that could undermine heritage protections.

But Ley issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying the project should go ahead, granting it approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999.

I acknowledge the diverse range of community and stakeholder submissions made during the consultation period and the public interest in the project,” the minister said.

“The Australian War Memorial holds a sacred place in the hearts of Australians and there are 29 strict conditions of approval to minimize ant mitigate the residual impacts on the site’s National Heritage and Commonwealth Heritage values.”

Proponents of the redevelopment have argued the redevelopment–slated to increase the size of visitor areas by more than 83%–will allow the memorial to display more history about recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.

But former war memorial directors Brendon Kelson and Steve Gower signed a submission to an earlier parliamentary inquiry about the expansion arguing ‘excessive veneration’ of the ANZAC story denies the ‘richness of our history’.

“The Memorial wants added space to display more of the big artefacts representing recent conflicts, and to ‘heal’ veterans,” the Heritage Guardians submission reads.

“… The Memorial’s ambition to provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for veterans trivialises the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and suggests that memorials can play such a role –a claim for which there is scant evidence.”

The Australian War Memorial will be required to prepare heritage impact assessments on the final design of the redevelopment for Ley’s approval.

“The iconic shape of the front facade of the building will be preserved throughout this redevelopment, as will the main commemorative area including the Pool of Reflection, the Roll of Honour, the Hall of Memory and the galleries dedicated to the First and Second World Wars.”

But, perhaps most controversially, the redevelopment will demolish the award-winning Anzac Hall, with a new hall to be created and adjoined to a glazed courtyard with a bridge in between.

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