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Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee: Defence Portfolio: Australian War Memorial

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 13 Jun 2018

Wednesday, 30 May, 2018

War Memorial 

Senator RHIANNON: Dr Nelson, I want to ask some questions about sponsorship and financial contributions. Can you provide the committee with a total figure for the value of contributions that the Australian War Memorial received from military and defence firms in the year to date?

Senator Payne: On notice, Senator?

Senator RHIANNON: Considering the issue has been in the news quite a bit, I was hoping that the staff may have those figures. If not, it can go on notice. But I was hoping that it would be available.

Senator Payne: I'm not sure if it is totalled, Senator. Perhaps the AWM can take the total on notice for you.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you have anything, Dr Nelsen, or do you want to take it on notice?

Dr Nelson : Senator Rhiannon, we're happy to be as helpful as we possibly can, and we will certainly take it on notice and give you a detailed response. Only a week ago we announced a three-year continued funding program from Lockheed Martin, which is $375,000. Thales Australia has committed $30,000 to support the Napier Waller veterans art prize. Kynetic is providing $100,000 of in-kind support to help the engineering and scoping for the preservation and conservation of our large technology objects, which are in our Mitchell storage facility. Leidos Australia—

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, which one was that?

Dr Nelson : Leidos Australia—which does a lot of work in the defence space and in the civilian space and for government departments, such as the Department of Human Services—has signed a partnership with us for three years for $450,000 to provide a virtual reality tour of five large technology objects. These are our Mark IV tank—our First World War tank—our G for George Lancaster bomber in Anzac Hall; the Lockheed Hudson bomber, which you would have seen at the Canberra Airport; the bridge of HMAS Sydney IV; and also the inside of a Bushmaster. As a consequence of that support, what we are now building with the support of Leidos is the capacity for people to do a tour of the inside of these large objects. The narration—where they are still alive, of course—is going to be provided by men and women who actually served in these particular objects as a way of describing it to visitors. By the way, the target is principally young people learning about these objects. They are just some, but I'll respond on notice in detail.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, if you could take that on notice. Could you also provide the figure for the 2015-16 financial year and 2016-17? Also, could you break that down by company for the last three financial years? Moving on, how much private sponsorship does the government expect the War Memorial to source each year?

Dr Nelson : I can't speak for the government, but I can speak for the Australian War Memorial. The government doesn't expect us to seek or receive any, as far as I know. I have never been directed, in the five-and-a-half years that I've had the privilege to be in this job, by any government minister or, indeed, any shadow minister, to go out and seek funding. I do, however, think that both sides of politics have been generous to the War Memorial over a long period of time. There have been periods under the previous Labor government and, indeed, under the current government when funding has become a challenge and the government has responded by correcting it. The Gillard government did such and certainly the Turnbull government has recently done such. But no-one has ever said to me, 'Can you go out and raise money from the private sector?' Every single day, I see things, I have ideas and my staff come to me with ideas and proposals—things we'd like to do that we can't do within the budget that we've got. I just described to you, for example, a $450,000 project to be supported by Leidos. We have no capacity within our existing budget to do such a thing, but it's an important thing to do in terms of bringing the stories of these veterans to life and examining and exploring the objects that they used in the service of our country.

I appreciate that, philosophically, Senator Rhiannon, you might disagree with me. The committee has spent two days examining the Department of Defence, which has a $38 billion budget, with about $11 billion spent every year—$11,000 million—on Defence procurement, which our country needs to do. I think these companies have a responsibility to complete the loop and help tell the story of what has been done in our country's name and the impact that it's had on the men and women who have done it. I realise we would disagree on this. What makes me angry are the ones who won't support us. Most of these companies are populated by ex-service men and women, and they regard what they do, whether it's for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Thales, Raytheon or Navantia, as still being an important part of the Defence of the country and they want their companies to support the Australian War Memorial. When you consider the amount of support they give us, which is greatly appreciated, I can assure you, it's pretty small when you consider the scale of the procurements and the contracts that they are receiving. I might also add, to their immense credit, a lot of these companies are supporting Legacy, Soldier On and the Invictus Games, which I think we're all supporting—a whole range of these things. By the way, not one of those companies has ever said to me, 'Well, we will give you money but only if you do this or you do that.' Not one has ever said, 'We want our name on something.' In fact, all of them have said, 'We don't really want any recognition,' and I have said, 'No, you're going to get recognition because I want your employees to know that you are supporting something good and I also want to send a signal to some of the others who won't support us that there is value in supporting us.' The recognition is really quite discreet.

Senator RHIANNON: Corporations come in all shapes and forms. Do you have some standards, and can you explain the AWM's processes for determining whether to seek or accept offers of corporate sponsorship? Do you have some system in place—a process?

Dr Nelson : It's like a lot of things in life: it’s hard to define it but you know it when you see it. For a start, there is no way I'm ever going to go out and seek support from the tobacco industry. There are perhaps companies involved in certain activities that I would not be approaching.

Senator RHIANNON: What about weapons manufacturers?

Dr Nelson : Well, weapons manufacturers—those who produce aeroplanes and ships and munitions and all of those—yes, we actively seek them. But to answer your question specifically, the ultimate arbiter of whether or not we would or wouldn't seek or accept support from a particular corporation is a matter for the council. It's my responsibility as the director, along with my senior management, to make a judgement about whether a particular company is appropriate or not.

Senator RHIANNON: Have any concerns been raised about the war memorial, considering what your mission is? Have concerns been raised about taking money from weapons manufacturers?

Dr Nelson : Yes, they have. There are some very good people, particularly in the ACT community, who run a peace vigil, which we support, every eve of Anzac Day, on 24 April, every year. Most of them don't think that we should receive support from defence contractors. The Medical Association for Prevention of War: we're all committed to the prevention of war, of course. In fact, I was a member of that organisation myself, during my leadership of the Australian Medical Association in the mid-nineties, and I'm very familiar with it. That organisation in the ACT has argued strongly, including in a submission to the joint standing committee looking at cultural institutions in Canberra, that we should not receive such support. I've also had a small number of individuals write to me in this regard. I certainly respect their point of view but, as I said, my view and indeed that of the council of the Australian War Memorial is that these companies—and we're never going to have a name-and-shame operation, I can assure you—really need to think about supporting us in some way. Obviously we're agreeing to disagree.

Senator RHIANNON: Do those making decisions on sponsorship see any conflict in accepting funds from companies that profit from war and therefore have, in many cases, a vested interest in Australia being at war—at a venue designed, as yours is, to memorialise and reflect on war?

Dr Nelson : Well, there are a number of issues in that. Firstly, I challenge anybody to come to the Australian War Memorial and then leave thinking they can't wait for another war. The whole place is a monument to peace. The paradox, as I say to young people, is that it's called the war memorial but it's not actually about war; it's about love and friendship, love for friends and between friends, love of family, love of country. It's honouring two million Australian men and women whose lives have been devoted not to themselves but to us, in their last moments, to one and another.

The second thing is that if we were to accept such a premise, that the defence contractors who make a whole range of defence materiel, who are also engaged in cybersecurity and air traffic management and logistics, and most of them in fact are doing things in the non-defence space—that we would not accept partnership support from defence contractors—then we wouldn't take government money. I know this will sound ridiculous to you, but if you followed it through to its logical conclusion, the defence materiel—this is why your committee's here; you've spent two days going over all of this expenditure in defence—the government makes the decision to equip the nation with its defence capability. The government makes the decision as to whether that's going to be used, and in most cases the equipment that's being used is being used for search and rescue, humanitarian, disaster, relief and, sadly, at times also in the defence of our interests and values. I was Minister for Defence, as you may recall, over a decade ago. I also spent a year earlier than that in a junior part of the Defence portfolio. I have never met a person anywhere in the Defence space that wants to see their equipment used unless it is to fly a C-17 into the Pacific to a disaster. To send our troops with their equipment up to East Timor in 1999 was arguably the most significant thing we have done here in 20 years.

I haven't met anybody who ever thinks that way. There are some people in our country who do think that way, and you and I would certainly agree that those people's views should certainly be refuted.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Have any concerns been raised with the War Memorial regarding the financial sponsorships from BAE Systems, given it is a major weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia, which is using these weapons in Yemen in attacks that are widely considered to amount to war crimes?

Dr Nelson : I have had, again, the same group that I referred to before. I don't think I've had individual representations, but following what I've just said I suspect I'll now get them! But I have had people who have said that. I can only say to you that BAE Systems in Australia employs 3½ thousand people. It produces and provides some of the most significant capabilities that we need, not just in defence but in the non-defence space.

Coming back to what I said before: BAE Systems—and, again, I'm not here to represent them!—went through a pretty tough time by the standards of defence contractors. When I first arrived—in fact, in 2013, I recall one of the senior representatives of the company coming to see me about their support of our theatre. I'm glad you asked me the question, because the way this has been portrayed in the media, good, decent, open-minded Australians have heard some of this and think that the BAE Systems theatre is like a picture theatre where people are going in to be entertained. It's not, it's a lecture theatre. It has state-of-the-art technology in it which we use for conferences and for the launch of exhibitions. We run our Soldiers in Residence program there, the Q&As about what Australian soldiers have endured on operations for us, amongst other things.

The chief negotiator from BAE Systems himself had spent 30 years in the Royal Australian Air Force. His own father died in the service, in the Royal Australian Air Force. He said to me, 'The company is going through tough times, but I want to make damn sure that whatever else happens we continue to support the Australian War Memorial.' The only reason I say that is because it reflects the fact that much of the support for the memorial isn't just me approaching these companies, it's also driven by them internally because their own employees—veterans themselves—want to see their company making a positive contribution to this iconic national institution.

Senator RHIANNON: But there's also this very ugly side—what is going on in Yemen. You and I are interested in this but we hardly read about it. There are terrible crimes being committed and BAE is involved. Surely you can see that at times corporations undertake these projects to present themselves in a positive light when there are very serious, shocking things happening?

Dr Nelson : I certainly don't disagree with you, not just about Yemen but other parts of the world. But I certainly wouldn't associate myself with the view that BAE Systems, or, indeed, any other defence contractor, is principally responsible for what happens to innocent civilians and the protagonists in these internal conflicts. That's not something that I would do.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to an issue that's been in the news lately. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Chester, has recently said that he would ask the memorial for a detailed briefing about its donations, including the $560,000 donation from Dr Chau, who is allegedly the subject of bribery allegations. What will be the scope of that briefing and when will it be delivered to the minister?

Dr Nelson : We have already provided a briefing to the minister on it, and I'm happy to tell you—going back to what I was saying earlier—that in 2013 I was trying to do what I could to raise funds to support the Australian War Memorial; things we would like to do and would need to do, but simply couldn't afford or, certainly, justify within our existing budget.

I wrote to a number of high-wealth individuals, and Dr Chau Chak Wing was one of them. I had had dealings with him professionally in my political life, as I suspect others here have had, and he had a reputation, or has a reputation, for philanthropy, and I thought he might be prepared to support us. I wrote to a number of others, by the way, and didn't even get a reply. That's another matter. He replied, and I invited him to come to the memorial and he did so. I wrote to him in late April 2013. He came to the War Memorial with his family, and I took them on a tour and I introduced them to the memorial. They were unfamiliar with the Australian War Memorial, but I explained it to them. I took them through the commemorative area. I took them through the galleries. I particularly pointed out to him and his family the Chinese Australians who are on the roll of honour and the stories that are told of Chinese Australians through the galleries, as you would expect. I subsequently wrote to him, I think, about mid-2013 with a proposal for $60,000 for, again, something we wanted to do but didn't have the money to do, and that was to produce an ANZAC Diversity project. What we wanted was to have a project that was an online presence—which, obviously, would take resources to research and produce—to explain the non-English-speaking nature of those who've served our country, including Indigenous Australians. The ANZAC Diversity project, which he agreed to fund for $60,000, also provides online teaching tools for classroom teachers.

Having done that, we had this big problem with an old analog studio. This was a place in the basement of the administration building—archaic. If you're into vinyl records and things like that, you'd love it. We were trying to get oral histories. We would bring veterans who had come out of Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years, or the Vietnam War, into this poky little place that was cluttered with, by modern standards, very low quality recording equipment. So we had a proposal for half a million dollars to relocate this to what's called the Bean building, which is the building behind Poppy's, our cafe-restaurant. In that Bean building is our photograph, film and sound area; we have a lot of back-end operations. It was going to cost us half a million dollars to redevelop a space—that's the basic capital infrastructure—and to install state-of-the-art technology for audiovisual recording for live streaming out to universities, to schools and to audiences to create multi-layering, where one of our staff could be walking through a Lancaster, for example, and explaining what it's all about—

Senator RHIANNON: I'm conscious of time, Dr Nelson. I appreciate that. I think—

Dr Nelson : He agreed to fund it.

Senator RHIANNON: Right. I was just after the details about the report. The report that Minister Chester requested has now been provided, has it?

Dr Nelson : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: So that job's done.

Dr Nelson : Yes, and he'll be able to relate to you what I was relating to you.

Senator RHIANNON: You mentioned, when you were just speaking, Indigenous Australians, and I did want to ask about that. Has the memorial considered dedicating any resources to memorialising the frontier wars, which, I'm sure you're aware, refer to the conflicts between Europeans and Aboriginal peoples, including battles, acts of resistance and open massacres from 1788 to about the 1930s?

Dr Nelson : I have been asked this before. The Australian War Memorial's origins are Pozieres, France, in July and August 1916—23,000 dead and wounded in six weeks. A mortally wounded Australian asked the official war correspondent, Charles Bean, who was at the front, 'Will they remember me in Australia?' From there Bean conceived and resolved that, at its end, he would build this memorial. Our charter, our origin, our mission is to tell the story of all Australians who have served our country, not only fighting wars but, from 1947, in peacekeeping operations, and humanitarian and disaster relief.

The conflicts that occurred between Europeans and First Australians, and the devastation that followed for the First Australians' culture and custodianship, from 1788—all of that, including the violence, at Myall Creek or Coniston, or perpetrated by mounted police, pastoralists or mounted native militia, is a story that has to be told. But the mission for that story to be told is that of the National Museum of Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that in your mission statement that your job starts from 1916?

Dr Nelson : No. In fact, we tell the stories of what happened with the South African wars—the Boer war—including the Indigenous Australians who went to the Boer War—

Senator RHIANNON: That's what I thought and that's before 1916. We are going back to the 1800s there—

Dr Nelson : Yes, that's right, 1898.

Senator RHIANNON: Therefore, if you're are going back to those wars—and we're talking about sensitive issues here and I appreciate that—why aren't you dealing with those tragedies like—

Dr Nelson : Our mission isn't to tell the stories of conflict and violence within our country; it is to tell the stories of Australians going overseas to serve our country.

Senator RHIANNON: Who decided that?

Dr Nelson : It's in our act. It is also, as I say, in our charter and mission. Having said that, what we have been doing is we have been collecting artworks. I sent our people out to purchase Rover Thomas's Ruby Plains Massacre 1. We have got Queenie McKenzie's Horso Creek Killings. We are presenting the stories of some of the violence that occurred in the 19th century and early 20th century, so that Australians can think about and reflect on this remarkable group of Australians—that they endured all of that and then they enlist to fight and die for the young nation that took so much from them. I should also add that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans & Services Association itself is totally opposed to the idea of the Australian War Memorial having an exhibition relating to the violence on the frontier in the 19th century. It too is of the strong view that it should be the mission of the National Museum of Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice and supply us with the section of the act that spells that out in terms of how you arrive at those decisions?

Dr Nelson : Sure.

Senator RHIANNON: Moving on, in April it was reported that there is a plan to expand the War Memorial with more weaponry on display. How will the planned additional displays of weaponry help fulfil the memorial's mission, 'to assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society'?

Dr Nelson : Everything the memorial does is based around our collection. Of course, increasingly we've embraced new technologies and ways of presenting artefacts and relics. Five and a half years ago, I wouldn't have known any of this but I do now. It's not about the object; it's the stories of the men and women that are behind it. So, whether it is a Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle, whether it is a First World War tank or whether it is a weapon used by a commando in Afghanistan it's the story of the person and the people that were using those, and their personal stories. That's what we intend and we need to present and display. As you know, with the Afghanistan exhibition, for example—of which we're proud, but is still inadequate given what our nation has given there—you see the cowling from the Black Hawk helicopter that was used to carry out three of our dead in 2010 in Kandahar. We have the ScanEagle suspended from the roof that was used as a drone, basically doing surveillance before our troops would do operations. In terms of weaponry, as you describe it, that's what we're looking at.

Senator RHIANNON: I've read that the cost could be half a billion dollars, is that your expectation?

Dr Nelson : As I said to Senator Gallacher earlier, in response to his question on this, it's in that order over a seven year period. Our nation spends $12 million a year on veterans. If it were in that vicinity of $500 million it would be over a seven year period, but until we complete the detailed business case we can't be absolutely certain of cost.

Senator RHIANNON: When will the business case be completed? And will there be any opportunity for the public to have input into the decision?

Dr Nelson : The detailed business case will be completed by the end of this calendar year and, indeed, there will shortly be a public consultation in terms of what would go into any expanded gallery space. The decision itself is a matter for the government, so—

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, questions on that have been asked. You will find them in Hansard.


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