Anzac Hall going; taxpayers foot war memorial expansion bill

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Anzac Hall is set to be be demolished. Photo: Donald Cant Watts Corke

ANZAC Hall will be demolished after the National Capital Authority has given the approval to expand the Australian War Memorial.

The controversial upgrade that will cost taxpayers in the vicinity of $500 million followed a consultation that was “carried out in accordance” with the National Capital Plan, states the final consultation report.

But the strategy and blueprint that falls within the Commonwealth’s interests while taking into account the national significance for planning, designing and developing Canberra and the territory has only come after accusations levelled at the federal government of steering the process away from one of independence.

Minister for Environment Sussan Ley had given the nod in the last hour of the final session of last year’s Parliament that would remove Anzac Hall after just 20 years of existence at the war memorial that included its award-winning exhibition gallery space.

Independents and Greens also accused both major parties of deliberately hiding the vote in the house to approve the expansion’s cash splurge amid a snap procedural motion that had only required two dissenters to call for a parliamentary debate.

National Capital Authority’s chief executive Sally Barnes recently told the Senate Estimates that their role is “to maintain Canberra as a capital that all Australians can be proud of and that reflects the national value”.

But according to a not-for-profit organisation working to promote peace and disarmament, public consultation that closed on April 30 seemed to largely ignore the greater sentiment of the Australian people.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) president Dr Sue Wareham has been a prominent proponent of the war memorial development.

“How can we be proud of a national capital where decisions are made by powerful people behind closed doors, and public opinion is trampled on?” she said.

“That’s how autocracies behave, not democracies.”

The National Capital Authority’s own report released on Monday (June 6) stated that from 601 submissions, just three supported the works.

The other 99.5 per cent expressing concerns had included “a large number of authoritative voices”, Ms Wareham said, but were overruled nonetheless.

“The whole consultation process has been an absolute disgrace – a sham from start to finish,” she said.

“With the early works approved and the Australian War Memorial reduced to a building site, the next step will be for the National Capital Authority to decide whether rebuilding should occur.

“One could not imagine a more ludicrous situation.”

Dr Wareham was also very critical of the great speed the submissions were assessed and a decision made.

Medical Association for Prevention of War have demanded the decision “must be reversed”, and the National Capital Authority reformed to reflects the views of the Australian people.

“From our communication with the National Capital Authority, we understand the agency was struggling to properly handle such a large number of submissions, but within a very short space of time a decision has been made,” Dr Wareham said.

“The Australian War Memorial has consistently lied about the extent of public support for their proposal – and the National Capital Authority is now complicit.”

The final decision came down to the authority that stated that the audacious project of the war memorial “is not inconsistent” and works were approved.

The proposed changes included excavation works and services relocation, but also impact on current temporary hoardings and removal of trees.

The National Capital Authority requested further information on the proposed tree removal and replacement planting from the war memorial before ticking off on the project.

The early works landscape plan indicated there are 595 existing trees within the precinct of which would call on 140 trees to be removed in spite of a further 250 native trees that are “advanced stock” required to be planted as a condition of approval for the works.

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