The Australian Institute of Architects has urged the federal parliament’s powerful Public Works Committee to recommend that plans to expand the Australian War Memorial be reconsidered to address widespread concerns from the community and experts alike.
Giving evidence at a public hearing in Canberra today, Institute CEO Julia Cambage raised serious issues of due process and grave concerns about the demolition of Anzac Hall at the nationally significant site.
“Far from being a simple exercise in rubber-stamping, this Inquiry provides a critically important opportunity to reset these expansion plans and address the many legitimate concerns raised in the record number of submissions the Committee has received,” Ms Cambage said.
“The overwhelming majority, some 80 per cent of submissions, oppose or express concern about demolishing Anzac Hall.
“This lengthy, detailed and deeply considered feedback stems from veterans and their families, concerned citizens, distinguished and honoured Australians, leading academics, renowned historians, as well as former memorial directors and staff.
“We fully support measures to better honour the sacrifice and service of Australia’s servicemen and servicewomen throughout history and modern times.
“The Australian War Memorial is one of our most highly valued and deeply cherished public institutions. Its expansion must occur in a way that expends public funds judiciously and preserves the site’s sacrosanct nature.
“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.
“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.
“Throughout this process we have seen numerous attempts to circumvent due process in a manner that is unbefitting those who manage such a revered and respected public institution,” Ms Cambage said.
“The demolition of Anzac Hall would breach the War Memorial’s own Heritage Management Plans which explicitly require its retention.
“Given time, we are confident that Anzac Hall will achieve status as a heritage listed building in its own right – something the plans to bulldoze it clearly seek to avoid, setting a dangerous precedent for other iconic sites.
“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.
“Had we been consulted, the Institute could have provided expert assistance in the conduct of best practice design competition to creatively explore further options identified in the Preliminary Design stage, which would have supported the retention of Anzac Hall.
“The Committee has a serious responsibility to ensure the appropriate expenditure of public funds. We urge them to act on the evidence presented to this Inquiry and require amendments to the proposal to address the very legitimate concerns raised and engender broad public support.”
Copies of submissions to the inquiry are available here.