Some very modern Major Generals

The Australian War Memorial Council believes it’s a strength that Council members can campaign against Council decisions – a far sighted and enlightened view in many ways but also one that could allow a minority to undermine the AWM’s mission.

Recently the Defending Country Memorial Project Inc wrote to AWM Chair, Kim Beazley and the Veterans Affairs Minister, Matt Keogh, suggesting that a Council member, Greg Melick should resign – given normal corporate governance principles – for campaigning against the representation of Frontier Wars in the Memorial and claiming that only people who wore the uniform should be commemorated.

AWM Chair, Kim Beazley, has now replied saying: “I am sorry it has taken me a while to respond to your communication concerning remarks by RSL President Maj Gen Melick. As you would be aware membership of the Council is not in the hands of the Chairman or the Council but the Government. In practice the Council has always had members with a variety of views on matters about Memorial content and more broadly. This is a strength.”

“These views are from time to time expressed publicly. What matters is what Council decides and Council has decided there should be recognition in the redeveloped galleries of frontier wars. All members of Council are entitled to individual views.”

While they may have individual views a quick look at their CVs shows some remarkable connections and networks with almost all members having links to others through employment, former employment, political party links and links to armaments companies.

To put it mildly the Council could be said to be a bit insular in background and connections.

More importantly though is what the Beazley letter omits. How extensive will the Frontier Wars representation be and what wriggles the AWM will use to suggest they are honouring the commitment. One recent example of their enlightened views was the fact that a sole victim of frontier violence subsequently got recognition because he later served in uniform. That’s not much consolation for those First Nations warriors from the 18th, 19th and 20 Centuries.

This, of course, is not the only odd thing about the AWM and what it does. A favourite example is former AWM Director, Brendan Nelson, who frequently asserted in speeches that Australians all fought under the flag when in fact they have served under many and varied ones over the years. While this was probably just a borrowing from customary US jingoism about ‘the flag’ it is still erroneous enough to question if Nelson knew what he was talking about.

Of course, we should also never forget Nelson as a Minister sending posters about Simpson of donkey fame as the epitome of patriotism to all Australian schools without checking who Simpson actually was, his motivations and what he stood for.

And if all that was not enough what about the way Nelson’s successor was appointed?

The appointment panel chair was, as customary for such positions, then Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott.

The other members were an interesting bunch. Nelson (Hansard Page 140 Senate Wednesday, 23 October 2019, of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee): told the Committee “… In terms of my successor [Senator Ayres had asked], that’s entirely a matter for the Public Service Commissioner and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, so I’ll invite the secretary to answer your question.”

The Secretary, then retired regular Army Major General Cosson, said: “I’m on the panel, as is the president of the national RSL, Major General Greg Melick, and Kathryn Campbell, Secretary of the Department of Social Services.

And what a bunch they were. Major General Cosson, who famously when a Brigadier, lost her laptop in a Qantas lounge with the Jake Kovco report details on it; Reserve Major General Kathryn Campbell is now notorious for Robodebt and is taking some well-earned and timely leave; and, of course, Reserve Major General Greg Melick, who is leading the push to keep any mention of the Frontier Wars out of the AWM.

It should be said that Cosson, unlike the others, was a regular rather than a Reserve officer. But perhaps they all reprise the Pirates of Penzance’s I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.

The author is secretary of the Defending Country Memorial Project Inc .He served in Vietnam as a Royal Australian Artillery officer.