A thousand Anzac centenary ideas down the gurgler
The centenary of ANZAC commemorations deserve and demand bipartisanship. Any suggestion, however, that the Australian people need their Government to spend $500,000 of their money to tell them how to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC is, quite frankly, deeply offensive.
The thought that it could only be done by paying highly-priced consultants looking for the faults is even more concerning.
The Gillard Labor Government’s approach to the centenary of ANZAC can at best be described as chaotic, at worse it can be described as an ill-fated attempt to re-write history before it has even happened.
The centenary of ANZAC will be the most significant period of commemoration which this nation will have witnessed. It will focus the nation’s attention on our Century of Service which began with the storming of the beaches of Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and continues today in Afghanistan and on peacekeeping operations much closer to home.
It will appropriately honour those thousands of young men who never came home from Gallipoli and who make up the 104,000 Australians who have died in defence of our nation’s freedoms, way of life and spirit of openness and inclusiveness which is the hallmark of the Australian character.
The present Government’s approach to the centenary has been erratic from the beginning. From the announcement of the National Commission for the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Anzac Landing on ANZAC Day 2010, the Government’s never really known what to do next when it came to planning for the future.
The six-person commission called for submissions from the general public and asked them to give their ideas about the commemoration of the centenary.
More than 1100 ideas were received. Some suggested re-creations of the marches undertaken by soldiers from country recruiting stations to bigger cities. Others the striking of special coins, greater education for our children, assistance for veterans to travel to commemorative events and enhanced engagement for all Australians with our military history.
To date, these 1100 ideas remain unanswered, collecting dust in a cellar somewhere at ANZAC centenary HQ. Perhaps the Government wants them to go away? Or, at the very least, hopes that they do.
The National Commission handed their report to the Prime Minister in February 2011. It recommended the establishment of a ANZAC Centenary Advisory Board to coordinate the centenary planning, as well as a $25 million ANZAC Centre for the Study of War, Peace and Conflict at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Veterans across the country, and the Coalition, roundly criticised the emphasis on the ANZAC Centre, while the 1100 community-based ideas for the commemoration languished in the bowels of the Minister’s office.
It took the Government nearly five months to appoint the board’s Chairman, and nearly 10 months to appoint the 20-person Board proper. The Coalition welcomed the appointment in July last year of former Chief of the Defence Force, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
To date, Labor is yet to establish a budget for the board and its six sub-committees to work within as it prepares suggestions on the commemoration of the centenary of ANZAC.
For the Coalition, this indecision is crippling the community’s ability to plan local, community-based commemoration.
The Coalition’s approach is simple. The Government should, firstly, replicate the hugely-successful Australia Remembers programme administered by Labor veterans’ minister, Con Sciacca. It has set the high-standard by which these commemorations should be managed.
Secondly, the Government needs to set a budget for the board and give them the framework necessary to properly support the centenary commemorations.
Thirdly, Labor apparently can’t decide whether they want Canberra-based commemoration or something else. The Coalition does not support, for example, more funds being spent on new institutions in Canberra when that will undoubtedly come at the expense of events and commemoration in small country towns right across Australia.
This Government needs to remember that the commemoration of the centenary of ANZAC is not about them and it’s not about consultants.
The ANZAC centenary gives this nation the opportunity to reflect, remember and commemorate the extraordinary deeds or ordinary men and women who fought and died for this nation. We must never lose sight of the fact that ANZAC Day is about veterans, not about the governments in Canberra that they served without question.
Michael Ronaldson is the Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Shadow Minister assisting the Opposition Leader on the ANZAC centenary.
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