Critics of the redevelopment say the scope of these early works is such that it makes the final approval of the entire project – yet to be submitted to the National Capital Authority – all but inevitable.
Australian Institute of Architects spokeswoman Clare Cousins said the processes had been disappointing.
She was outraged that the demolition of Anzac Hall and removal of more than 60 trees from the site was portrayed as “minor works” and split off from approval of the final work.
“It’s completely underhanded, it’s completely inappropriate,” she said. “None of these things should be proceeding until the whole project has got the green light, and it doesn’t.”
David Stephens, whose Honest History website has largely driven the campaign against the redevelopment, said if the authority approved the early works and then found the rest of the project didn’t meet its criteria, “you’re stuck with having agreed to it”.
“The three big things – demolish Anzac Hall, massacre 100 trees and do a huge excavation at the front – are not preparation in the same sense as putting up a fence is. They’re things without which the project could not happen,” he said.
The War Memorial’s former head of buildings and services, Stewart Mitchell, says the removal of the trees and the planned new entrance and parade ground were “an extraordinary change to what was a uniquely Australian and dignified site” that would transform it into a “formalised, hard surface, even quasi-military”.
“The sense of isolation of the main building in the landscape, that memorial, is really important,” he said.
”They say they haven’t touched the facade of the main building but that’s such a simplistic view of how that view up Anzac Parade will change. The reality is it’s only part of the impact.“
War Memorial chairman Kerry Stokes launched the $500 million redevelopment proposal with fanfare in late 2018. Since then, it has received approvals under federal environmental laws and from Parliament’s public works committee. While there is bipartisan support for the project, Labor members on the public works committee issued a rare dissenting report, suggesting that the War Memorial re-examine options which did not involve knocking down the 20-year-old Anzac Hall.
The AWM and supporters of the redevelopment say it’s necessary to give the institution more space to tell the stories of all Australians who have served, particularly in modern conflicts, and to improve access and circulation through the building.
Katina Curtis is a political reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.