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Publications archive - Annual reports

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 2001-02

Environment Australia, 2002
ISSN 1441-9335

Reports - Operation of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986

Purpose of the Act

The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 regulates the export of cultural heritage objects from Australia. The purpose of the Act is to protect, for the benefit of the nation, objects which if exported would significantly diminish Australia's cultural heritage. The Act includes provisions that also allow Australia to respond to an official request by a foreign government to return objects that have been illegally exported from their country of origin.

The Act defines certain heritage objects as 'Australian protected objects' and implements a system of export permits. Some Australian protected objects of Aboriginal, military heritage and historical significance cannot be granted a permit for export under any circumstance. Other Australian protected objects may be exported provided a permit or certificate has been obtained. Permits are granted by the responsible Minister, on the advice of the National Cultural Heritage Committee and Expert Examiners. Heritage objects located overseas may also be defined as Australian protected objects under the Act, and a Certificate of Exemption may be issued for such an Australian protected object to enter Australia and return overseas without restriction.

National Cultural Heritage Control List

The National Cultural Heritage Control List sets out the categories of objects classed as Australian protected objects and the criteria defining each of these categories. These criteria include historical association, cultural significance to Australia, representation in an Australian public collection, age and financial thresholds.

The Control List includes Class A objects which cannot be granted a permit for export and Class B objects that may be granted a permit for export.

Class A objects for which a permit cannot be granted include:

1. some of the most significant items of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage:

2. Victoria Crosses awarded to Australian recipients.

3. The objects comprising the suit of armour worn by Ned Kelly at the event known as the siege of Glenrowan in 1880.

Class B objects which may be exported subject to a permit include:

Liaison with Australian Customs Service

During 2001-02, there has been an increase in liaison between the Australian Customs Service and the Department on the protection of movable cultural heritage. With the assistance of Customs, a number of inquiries were undertaken in respect of objects being imported and exported.

Departmental staff continued to provide input to the development of Customs' Cargo Management Re-engineering project.

National Cultural Heritage Account

The National Cultural Heritage Account was established under section 5 of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Amendment Act 1999 and in accordance with the regulatory requirements of the Commonwealth Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. Its purpose is to facilitate the acquisition of Australian protected objects for display or safekeeping. A total of $60 000 was allocated to the account during the 2001-02 financial year.

During the year the following assistance was provided from the account: $116 750 to the State Library of Victoria, to assist in the acquisition of the left shoulder guard of Ned Kelly's armour. In addition, five applications were made to the account. Two applications were withdrawn and three applications were under consideration at the close of the financial year.

Export Permit Applications

A total of 8712 objects were assessed under 248 applications (including requests for letters of clearance) during 2001-02. A statistical summary of all applications processed in 2001-02 is at Appendix I. As in previous years, a range of material was included in the applications and these are listed at Appendix II.

There were 34 applications covering 74 objects under consideration at 1 July 2001 and 32 applications covering 44 objects still under active consideration at 30 June 2002.

Permits for permanent export (including conditional permits)

Permits were issued to export permanently 96 cultural heritage objects covered 54 applications: of these 23 were conditional permits. In general, the exporters were seeking to either sell the objects on the international market or to exchange the objects with overseas collectors.

Twenty-two conditional permits were granted for the export of a number of Australian Aboriginal artworks on the condition that a high quality colour transparency of each work and, where applicable, historical documents relating to each work be forwarded to the Department for future research purposes.

One conditional permit was granted for the export of a number of carousel figures from the Victor Harbour carousel on the condition that photographs and historical documents relating to the figures be lodged with a South Australian collecting institution. (Permit issued in 2001-02 financial year. Incorrectly shown in last year's annual report.)

Permits for temporary export

Permits were issued in response to seven applications to allow the temporary export of 31 Australian protected objects for exhibition or assessment purposes. Included in these permits were:

Letters of Clearance

A total of 138 Letters of Clearance were issued covering a total of 8410 objects. These letters confirm that export permits are not required where objects do not fall within the Control List. Of the total, 67 letters covering 87 objects resulted from applications for export permits where the objects were found not to meet the Control List criteria and the Act did not apply to them. In addition, 71 letters covering 8323 objects were issued as a result of discussions with prospective applicants prior to the lodgement of a formal application, where it became evident that the objects would not meet the Control List criteria.

Applicants may obtain a preliminary assessment of certain natural science objects. Expert examiners have indicated that the vast majority of these applications relate to material that is of little or no scientific or cultural significance, or to material that is adequately represented in public collections by objects of equivalent quality. Where the object is assessed as being of little scientific or cultural significance a Letter of Clearance allowing its export is issued immediately by the expert examiner.

In cases where the object is assessed as being of high scientific or cultural significance and is not adequately represented in public collections, it is subject to the full assessment process, including consideration by the committee.

Applications later withdrawn

Sixteen applications received were later withdrawn in the year under review.

Certificates of Exemption

Seventeen Certificates of Exemption covering 104 objects were issued during 2001-02. Certificates of Exemption allow Australian protected objects that are currently overseas to be imported into Australia and subsequently re-exported. Owners of Australian protected objects located overseas are encouraged to repatriate them to Australia for display or sale. Objects imported for exhibition allow the Australian public access to elements of their cultural heritage that would otherwise be unavailable. Objects returned for sale provide opportunities for Australian residents to purchase and return these objects to the Australian domain. A certificate provides overseas owners with security that their objects can be reexported on completion of the exhibition or if sale to a resident of Australia is unsuccessful.

As an example, during 2001-02 Certificates of Exemption were issued for: