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Monday 23 July 2018

War memorial keeps 'God' reference

The Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier is at the centre of a row over changing its inscription (AP)
The Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier is at the centre of a row over changing its inscription (AP)

A decision to remove the inscription "known unto God" from the Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier has been dropped after opposition from new prime minister Tony Abbot.

Memorial director Brendan Nelson refused to confirm a report that Mr Abbott, a former Roman Catholic student, had personally intervened to prevent the change.

But he said: "Knowing Tony Abbott as I do so very well, I suspect he'd be quite comfortable with where we've landed." And Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson confirmed Mr Abbott had opposed the proposed change.

"I was very, very strongly of the view that this was not the right course of action and he very strongly shared my view," Mr Ronaldson said.

The sandstone war memorial opened in 1941 to commemorate Australians killed in the First World War and is among Canberra's most popular tourist attractions.

Mr Nelson had proposed replacing the phrase "known unto God," attributed to British writer Rudyard Kipling, with the inscription: "We do not know this Australian's name, we never will."

Those words open a eulogy given by then-prime minister Paul Keating for an unknown soldier killed in the war, exhumed from a French cemetery and re-interred at the memorial in 1993.

Mr Keating was a polarising politician who led the center-left Labor Party. Mr Abbott leads the conservative Liberal Party and Mr Nelson is a former Liberal leader.

Mr Nelson said some complainants "had particular views about Mr Keating." Others accused Mr Nelson of "de-Christianising" the memorial, which he said was always intended to be a secular institution.

"This was never driven by some suggestion that we should remove 'God' or political correctness or anything of the sort," Mr Nelson said. "The motive was to give permanence to this towering Australian speech by an Australian prime minister."

The memorial's governing council has settled on a compromise that will include Keating's words - "He is all of them, and he is one of us" - being inscribed in the stone surrounding the soldier's grave.

-AP

Press Association

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