The Australian War Memorial’s new director has promised to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, as he oversees renovations that are expected to cost at least half a billion dollars.
- Matt Anderson has taken over as the memorial’s director from Brendan Nelson
- Money for expansion is not affected by coronavirus spending
- The new director says he supports the ongoing war crimes inquiry
In a wide-ranging interview, Matt Anderson also acknowledged a long running inquiry into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan is having a “personal toll” on Australian veterans.
At the end of his first fortnight in the job, the former soldier strongly backed the Memorial’s contentious expansion plans which were passionately pursued by his predecessor Brendan Nelson.
“We’ve created 100,000 veterans over the last 25 years, and yet we devote about 4 percent of gallery space to them,” Mr Anderson told the ABC.
“This is a memorial for all Australians, it’s a place that is overdue refurbishment … the $498 million price tag is over seven years and my sense is that the Government is determined to honour that commitment.”
Despite growing budgetary pressures from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Anderson doesn’t believe the Memorial’s ambitious plans will be scaled back by the Federal Government.
“No one’s raised it with me in the first two weeks in the job so I don’t anticipate it, but I’m very conscious that it’s public money and we will spend it wisely”.
Plans to expand the Australian War Memorial were first announced in 2018. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)
Personal toll of war crime inquiry
Between 2015 and 2016 Matt Anderson served as ambassador to Afghanistan, where Australia had just ended its longest-ever combat mission.
The former diplomat says he continues to monitor the situation in the war-torn nation and supports the peace talks that have begun with the Taliban.
“It was never going to be won on the battlefield, it was always going to be won in negotiations including with the Taliban,” Mr Anderson said.
“The people of Afghanistan deserve peace; the women and children of Afghanistan are long overdue the peace dividend.
“Ultimately the solution in Afghanistan is a political one and so I’m all for talks.”
Unlike his predecessor Brendan Nelson, the new Director is not a critic of the long-running Defence inquiry into allegations of war crimes by Australia’s Special Forces in Afghanistan.
“Any inquiry needs to be allowed to take its course … I’ll just let that take its course,” he said.
Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson lays a wreath at the 2020 ANZAC day ceremony. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)
But, the Duntroon graduate said he appreciated the probe, which began in mid-2016, is having a detrimental effect on some Australian veterans.
“I’m very, very conscious that anyone who has served in the Australian uniform in Afghanistan doesn’t suffer any more than they need to on their return,” Mr Anderson said.
“I’m very conscious that any inquiry has a personal toll.”
Call for Australia to ‘clap for carers’
The long serving diplomat recently returned from London where he served as deputy high commissioner and said he thought Australia’s response to coronavirus has been far superior to the United Kingdom’s.
“It was interesting to juxtapose the decisions that the cabinet was taking in the United Kingdom with the decisions that the Australian government was taking back here — and I think Australia’s decisions have come out very favourably,” he said.
He does, however, believe Australia should embrace the British “clap for carers” movement as a public acknowledgement to health workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.
“When they go out there on a Thursday and they stand at their letterboxes and thank the frontline National Health Service staff it’s a lovely thing and perhaps that’s something we could emulate”.