Saturday, 3 November 2018

What is to be done - The Morrison Government doles out half a billion dollars to the Australian War Memorial and nothing to anybody else

Editor’s Note: Folks

This story was in the Australian Financial Review on Friday 2 November.  Seeing that you could access it if you click here I thought I’d make it easy for you to read the text. I only put it up because the amount of $500 million is about what the other national preserving institutions (NFSA, Art Gallery, National Library, Australian Archives etc) are asking the government for in order to digitize and hence give public access to their immense collections. You can only hope that Stokes knows what he’s talking about when he says: The priority at the moment is for the War Memorial. It is not to the exclusion of other things. They should put their cases”

Stokes is the Chair of the Australian War Memorial Council and is worth, according to the AFR report, about $5 billion. You might, if you were unkind, say he could fund the expansion himself if he wanted to and thought it was needed so badly.

Frankly I am not convinced that the War Memorial hasn’t gobbled up the entire amount that might have been otherwise available. Anyway, here’s the story.

 Rich lister Kerry Stokes has strongly backed the Australian War Memorial $500 million redesign, despite attacks from architects over planned demolition of existing award-winning buildings.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Thursday the government would spend $498 million on the ambitious, nine-year expansion of the historic Canberra site, increasing its footprint by 80 per cent.

The move comes after years of budget cuts to other national institutions and a warning from the National Archives of Australia this month that unique audiovisual items would be lost because of a lack of funding for preservation.

In June, an auditor-general's report warned the National Gallery of Australia's solvency was at risk, as its acquisitions budget was being used to prop up daily operations.
include major new facilities without changing the historic facade.
Mr Stokes, the chairman of Seven West Media and a major donor to cultural institutions, said Australia did better than other nations on arts funding.

"Any institution is far better off in Australia than they'd be in any other country in the world," he said after  a launch of the expansion project at Parliament House by director Brendan Nelson.

"There's always a demand for more funds than there are available.

"Goodness, wouldn't it be nice if we could satisfy every expectation and every desire. We can't and priorities have to be made."

Mr Stokes, worth an estimated $5 billion, said institutions in Britain and other countries were forced to sell major works to keep their doors open.

"The priority at the moment is for the War Memorial. It is not to the exclusion of other things. They should put their cases.

"The amount of money the federal government puts to arts and institutions is incredible."

Maintaining the memorial's heritage protected facade, the expansion will see a complete redesign of the lower ground floor and a new underground exhibition hall built to display large items including helicopters and fighter planes.

Visitors will have access to new research facilities, a live feed of defence operations, reflection areas and an interactive display of cenotaphs and memorials around Australia.

A British Museum-style atrium will enclose part of the rear of the 1930s building, and new commemorations of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and Australian peace keeping operations will be added.

Former principal historian Peter Stanley has criticised plans to demolish the memorial's Anzac Hall, describing the expansion as a waste of money.

Australian Institute of Architects president Clare Cousins said she was shocked at the lack of consultation over demolition of the award-winning building, opened in 2001.
Architects Denton Corker Marshall won the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture for the building in 2005.

"The apparent secrecy surrounding the plans, which were reportedly being explored since 2015, together with the complete lack of consultation is hugely disturbing," Ms Cousins said.

"The Australian War Memorial is one of our nation's most significant monuments and a site of immense pride and emotion. All Australians deserve a say in its future — not a small group of elites."

RSL NSW president James Brown called for the government to give the same amount of new funding to veterans' services.

Dr Nelson said he was "completely unapologetic" about the large funding commitment, backed by Labor, describing the expansion as a half-century redevelopment.

"I am an advocate for the Australian War Memorial and as far the decisions that are made by government in relation to the other institutions, that is a matter for those governments," he said.

Mr Morrison, appearing with Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith at the launch event, described the memorial as "the soul of the nation".

"The Australian War Memorial will be able to display more of their collection and proudly tell the stories from recent years in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and East Timor," Mr Morrison said.

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