Abbott in line for billionaire’s top job

Exclusive: Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being mooted as a replacement for Kerry Stokes when the Perth billionaire's term as chairman of the Australian War Memorial expires later this year.

Mr Stokes, a noted philanthropist and generous supporter of veterans and their families, has been on the council of the war memorial in Canberra since 2007, and was appointed chairman in November 2015.

His term was due to expire last year, but he received a rare extension for 12 months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Morrison Government wanting to ensure continuity at the top of the organisation following the decision by then-director Brendan Nelson to retire.

But Mr Stokes' term will now expire on July 31 and Mr Abbott, who joined the Australian War Memorial council in 2019 to replace the historian and journalist Les Carlyon, is being considered as a potential replacement.

Christine Simpson, Chairman of the Australian War Memorial Kerry Stokes, Linda Hurley, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Jenny Morrison at the conclusion of the Anzac Day commemorative service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Picture: AAP
Christine Simpson, Chairman of the Australian War Memorial Kerry Stokes, Linda Hurley, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Jenny Morrison at the conclusion of the Anzac Day commemorative service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Picture: AAP

 

No comment could be obtained from Mr Abbott about the matter.

Mr Stokes declined to say whether he would seek another term on the council, with his spokesman telling News Corp "we have no comment.''

The businessman and chairman of Seven West Media has sat on the war memorial council for 14 years, apart from a brief hiatus in 2014 when his appointment lapsed as a result of then-PM Mr Abbott's unofficial ban on reappointing anyone who had been installed by Labor.

Mr Stokes has been a generous benefactor to the museum, has personally guaranteed the $500 million redevelopment currently underway will not run over budget, and purchased several Victoria Cross and other medals which he donated to the museum.

 

 

Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes at the unveiling of the Long Tan Cross exhibit at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 2018. Picture: AAP
Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes at the unveiling of the Long Tan Cross exhibit at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 2018. Picture: AAP

 

 

 

But his close involvement with the venerable institution has become complicated in recent months, with Mr Stokes also bankrolling the legal expenses of Australia's most decorated living soldier, Perth-born Ben Roberts-Smith.

Mr Roberts-Smith has confirmed he is one of those under scrutiny by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force's Brereton inquiry into alleged war crimes linked to some Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan.

He has also confirmed he is being investigated by the Australian Federal Police over murder allegations relating to his time in Afghanistan.

Mr Roberts-Smith, who is employed by Mr Stokes as Seven's Queensland general manager, strongly denies any allegations of wrongdoing, and is suing the Nine Entertainment Group over its reporting of the allegations - a lawsuit which Mr Stokes has confirmed he is funding.

Mr Stokes had said he has accepted Mr Roberts-Smith's Victoria Cross as collateral, and that if the war hero loses his case, the medal will be forfeited to Mr Stokes, who will donate it to the Australian War Memorial, where it is already on display. He is understood to have loaned around $1 million to Mr Roberts-Smith, who has also been embroiled in a legal fight with his former wife Emma Roberts-Smith.

 

 

Australian Army soldier Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC, MG. Picture: Department of Defence
Australian Army soldier Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC, MG. Picture: Department of Defence

 

 

News Corp revealed last year Mr Roberts-Smith was spending personal time with his defamation lawyer, Monica Allen, from Mark O'Brien Legal. Ms Allen's boss, Mark O'Brien, later said: "she and I agree that it was unwise to spend some time socially with him."

Mr Roberts-Smith has since publicly confirmed he is in a relationship with Sarah Matulin, a former Seven employee.

Mr Abbott has been a strong supporter of the war memorial in Canberra. He was also the driving force behind the development of the $100 million Sir John Monash Centre at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in northern France.

However he deeply upset the family of the late military leader Sir John Monash in 2018 by joining a group of Coalition backbenchers supporting coal-powered energy, which called itself the Monash Forum.

Originally published as Abbott in line for billionaire's top job


Interactive: Where you can still get a house for $500k

Premium Content Interactive: Where you can still get a house for $500k

Here’s where you can still get a house for less than $500,000

Queen's sorrow as PM sums up sadness

Premium Content Queen's sorrow as PM sums up sadness

Scott Morrison speaks to the Queen on Prince Philip's passing

Blue-eyed surfer becomes dad-of-50 in sperm bank glitch

Premium Content Blue-eyed surfer becomes dad-of-50 in sperm bank glitch

There are now fears he could have fathered dozens more