Radio Interview - ABC Radio Canberra - 15 June 2021

Radio Interview - ABC Radio Canberra - 15 June 2021 Main Image

By David Smith MP

15 June 2021


SUBJECT: The Australian War Memorial expansion and resource constraints suffered by National Capital Institutions.

LISH FEJER, HOST: Now, last week, you remember the NCA, the National Capital Authority, approved early works on the expansion of the Australian War Memorial and things have moved in pretty fast. You'll see now that there's a lot of demountables there. A lot of the exhibits are being taken out of Anzac Hall for that work. Well, this Thursday, the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories will hold a scheduled bi-annual hearing on the NCA. Joining me this morning is David Smith. He is the Labor member for Bean and is a member of that committee. Good morning.

DAVID SMITH, MEMBER FOR BEAN: Good morning, Lish, how are you?

FEJER: Very well, thanks. What's your response to the NCA approval of last week?

SMITH: Lish, probably not that surprised, but I guess my concern is a lack of engagement with so many dissenting contributions from the general public.

FEJER: When you say lack of engagement, I think there was 601 submissions to the NCA, of which three were pro, I understand, and the remainders were calling for it to be reconsidered.

SMITH: Yeah, that's right and I think if you're going to have a consultation process like that then there has to be substantive responses to such an outpouring of opposition to the proposals.

FEJER: Why wasn't there? There has been a lot of questioning about this consultation process and saying that the NCA is not democratically elected. It's just looking at the submissions. How do they assess those submissions?

SMITH: I think the challenging thing, Lish, is that we got to a stage in the process where the actual remit of the National Capital Authority is actually quite narrow. So the actual substantive approval of the project, if you like, had occurred earlier when it went through Public Works. That said, if you're still going to put these proposals out to the public, then I think you need to engage properly with a response.

FEJER: Yeah. What was the role of the NCA in it then if they weren't going to engage .. if they didn't engage with the response?

SMITH: They've got a more technical remit and there's probably still an underestimation of the feeling around elements of the War Memorial proposal.

FEJER: It's hard to find out because I know many Canberrans and many Australians are scratching their heads with such a sort of the weight of submissions, so much in in favour of not going ahead with it or at least having big changes made to the redevelopment. Is this a topic that the committee will broach on Thursday with the NCA?

SMITH: Almost without a doubt there'll be questions regarding this process. It could be quite difficult for us, for the committee, not to think about asking questions along those lines.

FEJER: Is it going to be quite an uncomfortable committee meeting to bring that up as it's been discussed before in previous meetings?

SMITH: No, I don't think it's uncomfortable. I think it's part of our job, really. Even in terms of the NCA getting to the bottom of what were the limitations on their capacity to respond, having a proper understanding of that. One of the obvious issues, too, is that the NCA themselves have limited resources---but I think the public expected better here.

FEJER: My guest this morning on ABC Radio Canberra is David Smith, Labor member for Bean, (who) is a member of the committee, the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. They've got their bi-annual hearing on the National Capital Authority. This is one of those organisations a lot of people probably don't quite understand what the National Capital Authority do. David, can you outline what their actual role is?

SMITH: One of their concerns is actually how the proposals actually fit in with the whole of the impact on the broader national capital environment. So, there are issues around how they might affect the skyline, the vista. They've also got responsibility for maintenance to an extent of elements of the National Capital area. So, it's an unusual role and there may be a view about whether there should be some sort of revisiting of that role. Should it have a more significant part to play in proposals such as this one?

FEJER: Yeah, I would love to hear from listeners what they think the role of the NCA is or should be---1300 681 666. Is there any kind of appeal that could be made here or a captain's call from government?

SMITH: Certainly. At the end of the day, it's basically the government that's decided to support the broader proposals that went forward. These proposals have gone through the Public Works Committee, which is another committee that I sit on, Lish. There was a dissenting report there, but it actually went through. It's actually gone through most of the appropriate processes. Particularly the demolition of Anzac Hall is one that many parts of the community have been pretty disappointed by when possibly there were other opportunities that could have been pursued.

FEJER: In terms of public consultation, do you think the public lose faith in public consultation when it's done like this?

SMITH: Well, when they're not responded to substantively. To be fair, they've actually been a number of opportunities for the public to make their views known and they've made them known quite clearly. I think the frustration is seen when, despite those clear views, there isn't necessarily a change in proposals going forward.

FEJER: On the text line, people say don't conflate, this is one text, don't conflate the numbers for and against as community acceptance. People who approve of the project when they hear it's going ahead won't feel the need to make a submission because, well, it's going ahead. However, if your only way to stop this is to write in, well, of course, you do it. So that text implying that the overwhelming response against the redevelopment of Anzac Hall is because people write in to stop it rather than to accept it. Another text saying "I've answered ministerials for DVA and veterans who also oppose the Australian War Memorial expansion; have not seen one letter in favour. Lots against. There are practical things that this money could do for veterans." On that, David Smith, what would you like to see this money ... is there anything you would have seen it be better spent on?

SMITH: As a proud Canberran there's pretty obvious areas where the expenditure could have gone. For example, we know the challenges that the National Archives of Australia has. We know the pressures on staffing across most of our national institutions have. So there was capacity. I actually support some changes to the War Memorial as certainly addressing issues such as disability access and looking at some additional sites--- but you could have done that without necessarily knocking down Anzac Hall.

FEJER: David Smith, thank you so much for joining me.

SMITH: Thanks, Lish.

FEJER: David Smith, who's a Labor member for Bean.