17 May 2024: our original draft missed this gem which we've now included: 'It’s a time of great opportunity and managed risk as the Memorial takes the steps it needs to remain relevant to future generations' (Department of Veterans' Affairs, Portfolio Budget Statements, p.79).

We've also clarified the discussion under 'Budget documents' below of AWM Program 1.1.

19 May 2024: MYEFO stands for Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. It is an official government document that, among other things, lists new decisions that have been taken since the previous Budget. MYEFO 2023-24 was released on 13 December 2023 and includes a table at page 200 and following of 'Payment measures since the 2023-24 Budget' (emphasis added).

Under 'Defence' at MYEFO 2023-24 pages 202-03 there is no mention of $8m for the War Memorial. Yet the papers for the most recent Budget include a table 'Payment measures since the 2023–24 MYEFO' (emphasis added) which does include the $8m (Budget Measures, page 23). So, somewhere between MYEFO 13 December and Budget 14 May, someone in government struck a deal and the $8m flowed.

21 May 2024: DVA PBS for past years (AWM Section 3.1.2 Explanatory notes and analysis of budgeted financial statements in each case) show losses for the Memorial in every year since 2021-22 with more expected in the out-years. The difference in 2024 is that the loss is covered by 'additional government funding', the $8m.

7 June 2024: Senate Estimates last evening (after approx Mark 20.55) has Memorial representatives insisting that money is to make up for shortfalls in cash reserves and will only go towards current operating costs.

Many years ago, the author of this post heard the then Secretary of the Department of Finance say that the purpose of accrual accounting was as much to conceal as to reveal. Accrual accounting was at that time just being introduced to Commonwealth budgeting.

Perhaps the Secretary way back then had his tongue in his cheek, but yesterday's 2024 Budget provides a good example, relating to the additional $8m for the Australian War Memorial. All the Budget documents are here.

Budget documents

Budget Measures (Budget Paper No. 2; 200 pages): page 77 says, 'The Government will provide $8.0 million in 2024–25 to support the financial sustainability of the Australian War Memorial'.

Budget Strategy and Outlook (Budget Paper No. 1; 440 pages): no mention.

Agency Resourcing (Budget Paper No. 4; 217 pages): no mention.

Overview: Cost of Living Help & A Future Made in Australia (66 pages): no mention.

Budget at a Glance (Department of Veterans' Affairs, two pages): repeats and slightly adds to the words from the Measures Paper, placing them in the very last line of the document, with no link provided to where further detail might be found: 'The Australian War Memorial (AWM) will receive $8.0 million additional funding in 2024-25 for the Australian War Memorial – financial sustainability measure, attributed to AWM program 1.1 – Australian War Memorial'.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs Budget document Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS, 114 pages) tells us that 'AWM program 1.1' comes under Outcome 1, which reads: 'Outcome 1 – Australians remembering, interpreting and understanding the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact through maintaining and developing the National Memorial, its collection and exhibition of historical material, commemorative ceremonies and research'. (Emphasis added.) Program 1.1 reads: 'Program 1 – To maintain and develop the National Memorial and a National Collection of historical material and through commemorative ceremonies, exhibitions, research, interpretation and dissemination. Key Activities (a) 1. Commemorate, reflect and understand Australian experiences of war and service.' (Emphasis added.)

What is the $8m for and why is it being spent?

The DVA Budget document Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS, 114 pages) gets to the official nub at page 92:

The Memorial is forecasting a loss in the Budget year of $14.6 million with similar losses reflected in the forward year estimates.
The losses reflect reduced non-government revenue due to the disruption of major construction on site, with additional costs incurred to support operations during the Development construction phase. Cash reserves have been used in prior years to cover these additional costs, however, 12 months additional government funding has been provided in 2024-25 to ensure the continuation of the Memorial’s current services and fund critical existing resources (emphasis added).

Further digging (PBS page 83) gives the detail of how this money is to be spent: $8m (actually $7.991m) includes '0.339 million in capital funding in 2024-25 year'. So, the bulk of the additional amount - $7.652m - is for other 'expenses'. $0.339 million is about enough to get an additional plaque somewhere in its $550m redevelopment project; the words we have bolded in the previous paragraph are perhaps the Memorial's attempt to head off accusations of cost blowouts on that project.

Yet, during 2022, the Memorial had foreshadowed cost increases for the big build due to COVID, the Ukraine War's disrupting of supply chains, plus domestic labour supply problems. Indeed, these were given as reasons for the $50m additional payment to the Memorial in the final Morrison Budget (see below). And now we have another $8m - and you can bet that much of that money will also go to pay bills related to the big build.

Media mentions of the $8m

We have only found two to this point: Lucy Bladen in the Canberra Times; Sky News includes the $8m in a short list of 'Things buried within the budget papers'. Happy to be told of other mentions and will add them. And if the Memorial or Treasury or Finance wants to tell us where we've got it wrong, please do so.

Historical comparisons


the Auditor-General's recent (heavily qualified) report on how the Memorial has managed the redevelopment project, plus media comments on the report: sub-heading 'Audit Office (ANAO) performance audit on management of the War Memorial project';
the full story (here; here) of that extra $50m the Memorial received in the dying days of the Morrison government - and how that payment was at first kept secret and then slithered around the Commonwealth's books over two Budgets.

Taken together, these two examples do not engender confidence in the Memorial's ability to spend money responsibly or to be held accountable for that spending. Your taxes at work, folks.

Above picture: onlookers line the front entrance of the Australian War Memorial at the ceremony for the building's opening in 1941; AWM credit.

This post also appears on our sister site, honesthistory.net.au .

May 15, 2024

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