Nelson faces a fight over roll of honour

THE new director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson, is on a potential collision course with veterans groups after rekindling a fierce debate about adding peacekeepers to the memorial's roll of honour.

The memorial's governing council voted unanimously in November to reject a petition for the names of peacekeepers who have died overseas to be added to the bronze panels that honour Australia's 103,000 war dead.

But Dr Nelson has flagged his intention to have the decision reviewed when the council meets again in March.

''I have had a really good look at this now and I will certainly be putting a point of view,'' he said. He would not discuss the details of his submission, but said he supported a more flexible policy to honour Australians killed on peacekeeping mission since World War II - invoking the memory of Charles Bean, the correspondent, official historian and founding father of the War Memorial.

''Bean took the view that every life was of equal value. It didn't matter whether you were a VC winner or whether you had died in the most ignominious circumstances, you were treated equally,'' Dr Nelson said.

But the chiefs of the army, navy and air force, who are represented on the council, are believed to share the opposition of veterans groups to any change. Only those who have died as a result of active service in a conflict designated as ''warlike'' by the Defence Department are eligible to named on the roll.

Vietnam Veterans Association national president Ron Coxon said it was not appropriate to open the roll to peacekeepers, some of whom had died in road accidents.

''This is a war memorial. If they open it up to others there are too many grey areas and people are going to get upset,'' Mr Coxon said.

Members of the Australian Defence Association are believed to have met the Memorial council chairman, Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, and Dr Nelson - the former Liberal Opposition leader who took over as the Memorial's director in mid-December - to try to overturn the November decision. The ADA executive director, Neil James, said it was inevitable that the Memorial would have to amend its rules. ''To say that peacekeeping is not a warlike situation is nonsense,'' he said.

Mr James said the criteria for inclusion on the roll would need to consider the circumstances of death.

This story Nelson faces a fight over roll of honour first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.