Australia’s leading architecture body has slammed the consultation process regarding plans to expand the Australian War Memorial, claiming there have been efforts to circumvent due process and describing a proposed demolition of ANZAC Hall as ‘grossly wasteful and unnecessary’.
Launched by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the plan to redevelop the Australian War Memorial includes a new southern entrance, refurbishment of the main building, a new Anzac Hall connected to the main building via a glazed link, an extension to the Bean Building, a new research centre connected to the Poppy’s Café forecourt, and public realm works.
The works would see the demolition of the existing Anzac Hall.
The project is now in its second phase of consultation under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act referral process.
But the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has slammed the consultation process, claiming there have been numerous attempts to circumvent due process.
Giving evidence at a public hearing held as part of an inquiry by the Federal Parliaments’ Public Works Committee in Canberra on Tuesday, AIA CEO Julia Cambage said onsite works had occurred before the inquiry had concluded and variations to the referral made under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act being made after lodgement.
“Throughout this process we have seen numerous attempts to circumvent due process …” Cambage said.
“… We’ve seen works onsite commence prior to the Public Works Committee’s inquiry concluding and the relevant motion being put to the House of Representatives for a vote.
“Variations have been made to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act referral after lodgement, effectively precluding public comment on these additional changes and consultation generally has lacked in transparency and comprehensiveness.
“When other significant public institutions have embarked on journeys of expansion and redevelopment, such as the National Gallery, they have engaged openly and constructively with our organisation and many others to achieve the best outcomes for the Australian community.”
Cambage also slammed the proposal to demolish the existing Anzac Hall.
“The demolition of Anzac Hall is grossly wasteful and unnecessary. It is a building meticulously designed and crafted to honour national service which now holds two decades’ worth of precious experiences where countless veterans, families and visitors have engaged in shared remembrance,” she said.
“Anzac Hall still has many decades of useful life ahead of it and we know that at least three other preliminary expansion designs met the same requirements for increased floor space while also retaining Anzac Hall.”
Many of the AIA’s sentiments are shared by others.
Of 72 submissions received by the Committee, several expressed disappointment in the process whilst most opposed the extension.
Objections centred around the scale of the extension along with the $500 million plus price tag.
On the latter point, many feel that money could be better spent on other cultural institutions or supporting existing veterans.
“Many of our veterans are homeless, struggle with mental health, and have a shockingly high rate of taking their own lives,” said David Wise, a Canberra resident whose family has served in the armed forces over several generations.
“Surely the funding for the War Memorial extension would be better put towards their needs?”
Still, some support the proposed extension.
“I believe it is essential that the extension to the Australian War Memorial proceeds so that those who have served, as well as their families and all Australians can have galleries presenting their stories so that the living can continue to heal, and so the dead are remembered for their sacrifice,” said Richard Wolfe AM, a Canberra resident and board member of the National Australia Day Council whose youngest son served in Afghanistan.
“As the father of a veteran, I assure you the benefit of the extension to the Australian War Memorial will be far more valuable than the cost in dollars to build it.”