Time to review memorial process
BY THE CANBERRA TIMES19 Aug, 2011 04:00 AM
For the many Canberrans troubled by proposals to build two 20m-high granite towers at the end of Anzac Parade in commemoration of the more than 100,000 Australians who died in the two World Wars, the decision to inquire into the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 comes not a moment too soon. Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh is on the National Capital and External Territories Committee that has been directed by Local Government Minister Simon Crean to conduct the review. He says the major focus will be on whether - and how - current arrangements might be improved. However, the terms of the inquiry make clear that closer scrutiny of "current proposals for memorials which have not yet been constructed" will be undertaken if an overhaul of the Ordinance is considered necessary and worthwhile. The two memorials have been proposed by the Memorial(s) Development Committee, which is a public company whose website states it is a group of "like-minded servicemen and women drawn together by a single purpose: to elicit support to plan, design, construct and dedicate separate, but complementary, memorial(s) to World War I and World War II". The memorials have been heavily criticised as likely to result in an unnecessary distraction to the pre-eminence of the Australian War Memorial. Others contend the towers are not in keeping with the Griffin legacy plan and will be a blot on the lake's vista. However, the most contentious aspect of the memorials centres on the way the idea received approval in principle from the National Capital Authority.
That approval process is alleged to have taken place behind closed doors, with no public consultation. In an appearance before Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories in June, NCA chief executive Gary Rake more or less admitted the authority had erred by stating that if such a proposal came forward today the NCA would follow different procedures.
A recommendation directing the NCA to consult more widely seems a foregone conclusion, but Mr Leigh and his fellow panel members should also examine whether membership of the Canberra National Memorials Committee needs to be broadened. To ensure that future memorials do not contravene the Griffin legacy, the Canberra National Memorials Committee should also be encouraged to seek independent expert advice during its deliberations.
For many Canberrans, the most puzzling aspect of the Memorial(s) Development Committee memorials is the apparent momentum they have developed, despite only having received authorisation in principle. That air of inevitability is a none-too-pleasing reminder of the way the ASIO headquarters building was foisted upon Canberra (by federal politicians) with scandalous disregard for long-standing planning and development precepts in the Parliamentary Triangle. Governments have a poor record for implementing the recommendations of parliamentary inquiries, which does not bode well for stricter rules governing national memorials. Having initiated this review, however, the onus is on Mr Crean to ensure the Government acts on any findings.
The ACT Government has for some time had evidence that the Public Interest Disclosure Act is inadequate in protecting public service whistleblowers. That it has taken until now to redress matters is cause for concern. Earlier this month, The Sunday Canberra Times detailed the case of a Territory and Municipal Services whistleblower, Debbie Scattergood. She suffered four years of harassment and intimidation from co-workers after she brought a serious case of waste and mismanagement to the attention of her bosses. Owing to a loophole in the Act which excuses people who harass a whistleblower if they claim they did not believe that person's disclosure was "in the public interest", none of Ms Scattergood's persecutors have been disciplined. She, meanwhile, has suffered emotional distress, and has had to sell her home because of the strain her four-year long battle for justice has had on her finances. ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallager has promised to have a draft of amendments to the 17-year-old Act ready by year's end. It may be months before they are enacted. In the meantime, any public servant who is aware of Ms Scattergood's trials and tribulations will look the other way should they become aware of any instance of wrong doing. Hardly a desirable outcome for a Government committed to wise and efficient administration.