National Memorials

I spoke in parliament today about the new national memorials report (and as it was my last speech for the year, thanked my staff, volunteers, interns and family).
National Capital and External Territories Committee Report
24 November 2011

National memorials are a crucial part of the nation's collective memory. They bind a nation together through one of the most powerful of unifying forces—shared history. The National Memorials Ordinance 1928 came about at a time when Canberra's population was under 10,000, and Lake Burley Griffin was just lines on a map. It was instigated by Prime Minister Stanley Bruce when parliament had just moved to Canberra and rapid development was underway in the new national capital. The recommendations arising from the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories into the administration of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 reflect Canberra's transformed milieu and how Australia's management and use of national memorials can be improved.

In seeking to improve the management of the capital's national memorials, the committee found it instructive to look at the case of Washington DC. Washington, like Canberra, is both a national capital and a planned city. Both are sites for the expression of the national aspirations of their people. Both are governed by a detailed planning regime that balances the legacies of the past with the needs of the present and the potential of the future. Part of the challenge is in choosing appropriate subjects for commemoration and choosing suitable designs and locations for new monuments and memorials. This process must balance the competing desires and interests of the different stakeholders.

We on the committee found that one of the key strengths of the Washington model is that the planning stage involves broad constituencies. Washington's National Capital Planning Commission has 12 members, representing federal and local constituencies. Each member represents a different section of the community and brings different perspectives. No one entity dominates the process.

As many Canberra residents made clear in their submissions to the inquiry, the need for local consultation and input in the development of national memorials is paramount. While memorials and monuments are of national significance, Canberrans live with the consequences of their designs and management on a daily basis.

The committee recommended, as the member for Riverina has pointed out, that the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 be repealed and replaced with an Australian commemorative works act, based on the United States model. The act would provide for a two-pass assessment process for national memorials—the first pass focused on commemorative intent, the second pass on character and locations. Time does not permit me to go into the detail of our recommendations, but I commend what is a very bipartisan report to the House.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank the committee secretariat, particularly Peter Stephens and the indefatigable William Pender, for their work on this report. To the many Canberrans and representatives of national organisations who took the time to put together submissions for the inquiry, to give evidence and to engage so deeply with this process: thank you.

As this is perhaps my last parliamentary speech for the year, I would also like to use this chance to briefly thank my hardworking staff, Louise Crossman, Gus Little, Claire Daly, Lyndell Tutty, Ruth Stanfield and Nick Terrell, as well as my team of terrific volunteers, including Ken Maher, Barbara Phi, Alex Dixon, and Gerry Lloyd. I would also like to thank the interns who have worked in my office during the year, including Hariharan Thirunavukkarasu, Louisa Detez, Angela Winkle, Jessica Woodall, Huw Pohlner and William Isdale.

I am pretty sure that after our 3 am finish on Wednesday I was the only MP who was woken at 6 am by a four-year-old entering the bedroom. My two wonderful boys, Theodore and Sebastian, are more than a full-time job, and I would like to acknowledge my extraordinary wife, Gweneth, as well as my parents, Barbara and Michael, for all their help during the year. Our families bear much of the burden of this job, and I could not do it without them.

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