Jun 15, 2005

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2005-2006 – ANZAC Cove

APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 1) 2005-2006

Consideration in Detail – ANZAC Cove

15 June 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (5.23 p.m.)—I wish to raise the issue of Anzac Cove and the government’s role in the desecration of Anzac Cove in requesting road works. We all know that way back on 18 December 2003 the Prime Minister gave an unequivocal commitment. He said then:

… it seems to me … appropriate that the Anzac site at Gallipoli should represent the first nomination for inclusion on the National Heritage List. And, although it’s not on Australian territory, anyone who has visited the place will know that once you go there you feel it is as Australian as the piece of land on which your home is built.

The next day the Prime Minister categorically stated:

… I’m quite sure that the understanding that we—

have—

… with the Turkish authorities will ensure that—

Anzac Cove is listed. We know that still has not occurred. Not only has that not occurred but, as a result of a request from the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, roadworks took place at Anzac Cove that have desecrated and changed the character of the site forever. We know from historians such as Les Carlyon that this was one the world’s great preserved World War I battlefields, and it has been desecrated as a result of the request by the government.

We in the opposition have been determined to get to the heart of how this desecration could occur, who funded it and what the process of accountability was. From go to whoa this has been a debacle on behalf of the government. Perhaps the final insult was the decision by the minister sitting opposite in the chamber to approve the playing of Bee Gees songs, including Stayin’ Alive, on the morning of the 90th commemoration of the landing. The government does not seem to understand the difference between a commemoration and a celebration, and what is appropriate.

As the shadow minister for heritage, I made a number of freedom of information requests in April going to the heart of the matter, including the funding. That has been rejected by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I put on the record for the parliament the extraordinary decision by Helen Brinsmead, the FOI Privacy Assistant, Legal Services Group, who wrote to me and indicated the following:

Turning to the second test, that is whether the disclosure of the documents would add to a continuing debate and the existing body of public knowledge,

In your application you infer the 90th Anniversary of the ANZAC landings and the proposed Heritage Listing of the Anzac Area at Gallipoli are matters of ‘public controversy’. While the details of the Anniversary commemorations have being discussed in sections of the media, it is not a continuing debate. Neither is the proposal for Heritage Listing.

On the information you have provided, it is hard to see how many of the documents would not be merely used for ‘curiosity value’, given the lack of debate in the general media on the topics.

But this matter was on page 1 of every newspaper in the country. It led television bulletins. It led radio bulletins. It is the subject of discussion in every Returned Services League club in the nation. Yet the government says that this is not a public issue.

It is a public issue, Minister, and we intend to pursue the answers to questions about how this debacle could have occurred and who is responsible for it. I note that some people may be forced to take the blame for this debacle, in terms of at least one person in the department making a decision to move on or to be moved on. But the accountability stops at the top. It stops with the Prime Minister who, when we first raised questions about this in parliament, said it was ‘regrettable’ that the questions had even been asked. We know that the government received information from surveyors and archaeologists indicating the sensitivity of the site. (Extension of time granted) We intend to pursue this issue and this FOI. It is appropriate that this information be given to the opposition so that the government can be held accountable. You cannot hide behind rejection of FOI requests.