14 April 2014

Personality Rights

Post-mortem personality rights?

Today's Melbourne Age features an item about inclusion of a national serviceman's name on the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour, contrary to the wishes of his family.

Private Dallas Abbott died on active service in 1968. His family was reportedly opposed to Australian involvement in the Vietnam conflict, with his father reportedly characterising the death as "legalised murder".

The family was contacted by the AWM in the early 1970s to check Abbott's full name for official memorialisation on the Roll. The Age comments that
While the War Memorial's contact with the Abbotts was never to ask permission to use Dal's name (there is no legal requirement to do so), the Abbotts took the opportunity to suggest that they would rather his name not be included on what is arguably the nation's most powerful military symbol.
The War Memorial Council acquiesced and a space was left where Private Abbott's name would have been.
That this arrangement was always considered to be temporary is made clear in freedom-of-information documents requested by the Abbott family, copies of which have been obtained by Fairfax Media. Minutes from the meeting of the War Memorial's board of trustees on September 4, 1973, on the original decision not to include Abbott's listing, note ''a blank space should be left on the panel where Abbott's name would otherwise have been … the object of the board being that later, at an appropriate stage, the names can be added to the roll …'' The board's ultimate position to leave Dal Abbott's name unmemorialised until ''an appropriate stage'' even if family members still wished otherwise, was based on the view that it was likely all those who had died ''would wish their names to be commemorated … alongside those of their mates''.
Last year the family was informed that  Abbott's name was to be added to the roll, apparently reflecting lobbying by ex-service associations.

One representative is reported as commenting, when asked about his views on the family's position : ''I don't give a shit about them. It's nothing to do with them. It's about his sacrifice.'' Another representative is quoted thus
 ''Responsibility [for official commemoration] lies with government, not with a family or group of people.''
Family views, he says, should be no barrier. ''If the family objects, then so be it.'' 
The Age notes that the Council of the AWM, an entity established under the Australian War Memorial Act 1980 (Cth), is the sole arbiter in relation to the listing on the Roll. The Act  is silent on the Roll, with no direct reference to the use of the names and details of people for the purposes of commemoration.

Last year's letter to the Abbott family stated that
The current council felt that after 45 years, it was time for his sacrifice and life to be remembered and honoured by the nation.
The Age comments
 The act does not refer to the roll, so there is no mention of such a time period, either. Could the War Memorial council's feeling that ''it was time'' be connected to the death of Abbott's last living parent in 2012? Was Abbott destined to be honoured whatever his family thought? His story, and that of his family, while obviously rare, points to a possible grey area in the rights of families of ex-servicemen and women killed in action. [Abbott's sister Lynne] Peterson agrees that this case suggests the federal government and such bodies as the War Memorial have assumed the right to take possession of aspects of personal history and family memory in the interests of national military commemoration and recognition. ''That's what they do all the time,'' says Peter Stanley. ''In this particular case they have repudiated the family's wishes and I believe they were wrong.'' ...
Peterson says it is time the legislation surrounding commemoration of Australia's war dead - for example the Australian War Memorial Act - is amended to stipulate just what rights government bodies and family members have in relation to next-of-kin killed on active duty and how they may be included in the War Memorial's and others' commemorations. It would, she says, ''make it more dignified and rational than what we've been through. It would give people in our situation clarity.