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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (continued)

3. Managing heritage and protecting significant areas

New system for managing heritage in Australia

The Australian Government's new heritage legislation, which commenced on 1 January 2004, amended the EPBC Act to include National Heritage as a new matter of national environmental significance, complementing the existing World Heritage provisions within the Act. The legislation also provides for the identification and management of the Australian Government's heritage assets and established mechanisms for the transition to the new system. Separately, the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003, establishes the Australian Heritage Council as the Australian Government's principal advisory body on heritage matters.

The main features of the new heritage system include the creation of a National Heritage List and a Commonwealth Heritage List and the formation of Australian Heritage Council. The legislation establishes processes for nominating, assessing and listing places in the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists. The National Heritage List will include natural, Indigenous and historic places of outstanding significance to the nation. Places with heritage value in Commonwealth areas or under the control of the Australian Government may be included on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

The Australian Heritage Council assesses places against the prescribed listing criteria for both the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists. Separate sets of criteria have been developed for each list. In undertaking the assessments, the council must invite public comments and, if there may be heritage values present, consult with the owner or occupier of the place and Indigenous persons who have rights or interest in the place.

The council advises the Minister on the heritage significance of the nominated place. The Minister may decide to invite further public comment on proposed listings following receipt of the assessment report and prior to a listing decision being made.

The legislation also provides for the protection and management of places listed in the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists. Places listed are afforded protection under the referral, assessment and approval processes of the Act.

National Heritage

Listing places in the National Heritage List

To 30 June 2004, the Australian Heritage Council had 36 places under assessment for the National Heritage List, comprising 35 nominations from the public and one Ministerial request. The places include Mawson's Huts in Antarctica, Lark Quarry Dinosaur Tracks in Queensland, Lake Condah area in Victoria, Dampier Archipelago Art Site Area in Western Australia, Bradman's birthplace in New South Wales and the Recherche Bay Area and Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania. The Australian Heritage Council invited public comment on 20 of these nominations. Information on the nominations is publicly available online at

The Australian Heritage Council must provide a written assessment of the nomination to the Minister within 12 months of receiving the nomination (unless the Minister decides to extend the period). Although the earliest statutory deadline for the Australian Heritage Council's assessments is March 2005, assessments are progressing well and it is envisaged that assessments of most places will be completed within the initial 12 month deadline.

Provisions within the EPBC Act enable the Minister to include in the National Heritage List, as an emergency listing, a place that the Minister believes may have National Heritage values which are under threat. To 30 June 2004, the Minister had received four requests to emergency list places in the National Heritage List. One was subsequently withdrawn. The emergency listing requests involved the Black Mountain Aranda Bushland, Bruce/O'Connor Ridge and Gossan Hill in Canberra and the Lower Crown Street Precinct in Wollongong. In the case of the Black Mountain Aranda Bushland, Bruce/O'Connor Ridge and Gossan Hill, the Minister determined that although part of the place may contain National Heritage values, that part of the requested place was not under threat and the possible National Heritage values were not threatened; therefore emergency listing was not appropriate. In the case of the Lower Crown Street Precinct the Minister decided that the place did not have National Heritage values.

Progress in developing plans for National Heritage places

Under the new heritage system, management plans for National Heritage places owned by the Australian Government must be prepared. For a National Heritage List place entirely within a state or territory, the Australian Government must use its best endeavours to ensure a management plan is prepared an implemented in cooperation with the state or territory. A management plan must not be inconsistent with the management principles and an Australian Government agency must not contravene such a plan. Heritage management principles have been developed for the National Heritage List. These principles provide a guiding framework for managing heritage places.

In conjunction with the Australian Heritage Council's assessment process, mechanisms have been established to ensure that management plan requirements for a place (if listed) are being considered and developed in anticipation of listing. As there are no places yet listed on the National Heritage List, there are currently no management plans prepared.

Commonwealth Heritage Places

Listing places on the Commonwealth Heritage List

The Commonwealth Heritage List will include natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places, or groups of places, in Commonwealth land and waters or under Australian Government control identified by the Minister as having Commonwealth Heritage values.

A transitional provision within the legislation allows for Commonwealth places in the Register of the National Estate to be included in the Commonwealth Heritage List within six months of commencement of the legislation. As of 30 June 2004, the Minister determined to include 334 such places in the Commonwealth Heritage List. The Minister's decision to include these places followed consultation and discussions between the Department and relevant Australian Government agencies in relation to transfer issues and the management plan obligations that apply once a place is included on the Commonwealth Heritage List. Listed places include the Department of Defence properties such as Victoria Barracks in Sydney, lighthouses, the Australian War Memorial, York Park North Tree Plantation and Old Parliament House in Canberra.

In addition, the Australian Heritage Council is assessing 18 places nominated for the Commonwealth Heritage List, including 17 public nominations and one instigated by the council. Of the 18 nominations received, one - Point Cook Air Base - was included in the Commonwealth Heritage List via the provision for entry of places in the Register of the National Estate. Public comments have been invited on three nominations. Information on nominations to, and places listed on, the Commonwealth Heritage List is available online at

Progress in developing plans for Commonwealth Heritage places

All Commonwealth Heritage listed places, unless otherwise provided for under the EPBC Act, must have a management plan that details how the Commonwealth Heritage values of the place will be conserved and managed for the benefit of present and future generations. The preparation and implementation of a place's management plan is the responsibility of the Australian Government agency that owns or controls that place.

The EPBC Act requires that all management plans for Commonwealth Heritage places be both consistent with the Commonwealth Heritage management principles and address the matters set out in schedule 7A of the regulations to the EPBC Act. In some cases, there may have to be more than one plan to address a place's full range of values.

Since the commencement of the new heritage protection arrangements, the Department has been working with Australian Government agencies on their responsibilities to prepare management plans for places entered on the Commonwealth Heritage List. Government agencies, such as the Department of Defence, have sought guidance and comment from the Department on the development of heritage management plans and management plans, in anticipation of places under their control being placed on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Endorsing management plans for Commonwealth Heritage places

The EPBC Act provides that an Australian Government agency that makes a plan for managing a Commonwealth Heritage place may seek to have the plan endorsed by the Minister. The Minister may only endorse a plan where the Minister is satisfied that it provides for the conservation of the Commonwealth Heritage values of the place, and is not inconsistent with the Commonwealth Heritage management principles. By having a plan endorsed by the Minister, the agency is not required to ask the Minister for advice about taking an action in relation to that heritage place if the action is provided for or taken in accordance with the plan.

To date no management plans have been endorsed although a number of Australian Government agencies have expressed a desire to seek endorsement of their plans when places they own or control are entered onto the Commonwealth Heritage list.

Preparing heritage strategies for Commonwealth Heritage values

Australian Government agencies that own or control one or more places must prepare, within two years from 1 January 2004, a written heritage strategy for managing the places to protect and conserve their Commonwealth Heritage values. The principal objective of a heritage strategy is to outline a strategic approach for the agency to effectively manage places which it owns or controls for the long-term protection and conservation of their Commonwealth Heritage values. Before developing a heritage strategy, the agency is required to consult the Australian Heritage Council and take its advice into account.

In April 2004, the Department of the Environment and Heritage released a publication titled: Heritage Strategies - A guide for Commonwealth agencies. The guide identifies and provides advice for Australian Government agencies on their responsibilities and obligations in the preparation of a heritage strategy. It also provides useful advice on the types of heritage places that should be considered, and procedures for identifying Commonwealth Heritage values.

In keeping with the Department's initiative to build strong partnerships with Australian Government agencies, briefings and meetings have been held with various agencies to discuss their new heritage obligations. In addition, a professional heritage officer of the Department was transferred for six months to the National Capital Authority to assist the agency in laying the ground work for its heritage strategy.

Case study
Heritage management by the Department of Defence

Defence has a rich and valued heritage. Australia's history and that of its military forces are intrinsically linked. Defence is also one of Australia's largest land and property owners and is responsible for outstanding natural, Indigenous and historic heritage sites with special value to present and future generations.

Currently Defence has in excess of 200 places with recognised significant heritage value and has several properties that are also entered on the World Heritage List. As a principal Australian Government landholder, Defence is in many areas taking the lead in recognising and responding to its heritage obligations and opportunities under the EPBC Act. This is evident in the establishment of a strong working relationship between Defence and the Department. Regular meetings are conducted between heritage officials from both organisations to discuss and address issues concerning heritage protection. A key outcome has been the opportunity for the Department to have early involvement in the Defence planning processes and the development of key documentation - such as heritage management plans. Further, a Departmental heritage officer undertook a six-month posting with the heritage office in Defence to provide guidance and assistance with the introduction of the new heritage amendments to the Act.

World Heritage

The 16 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List receive the full protection of the EPBC Act, enhancing the protection and management arrangements of each property.

In 2003-04, the Australian Government submitted a nomination of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in Melbourne to the World Heritage Committee for World Heritage inscription. The Royal Exhibition Building was built in Melbourne's Carlton Gardens in 1880 for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. It subsequently hosted Melbourne's second international exhibition, the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition. It is one of the great enduring monuments to the International Exhibition movement, which began in the mid-19th century.

At the 28th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Suzhou, China, between 28 June and 7 July 2004, the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Melbourne, was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens is the first for Australia's built heritage property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The Australian Government undertook consultations for the development of possible future nominations, including a series of Indigenous rock art sites, convict sites, the Sydney Opera House, Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and Cooloola in Queensland.

Management planning for World Heritage properties continued. In relation to Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia), plans were adopted for the Mt Seaview Nature Reserve and the Castles Nature Reserve, and planning continued for others.

Following on from the 2002 completion of the management plan for the Commonwealth Waters part of Lord Howe Island Marine Park, a draft operational plan, regulations and operational plan for the state waters were released for public comment.

The preparation of a new management plan for Purnululu, incorporating Indigenous heritage values, was given a high priority following the park's inscription on the World Heritage list. In addition, funding was allocated to support the engagement of a new executive officer for the Purnululu World Heritage area, the establishment of World Heritage management committees and a cultural heritage management study to support the management planning process and the proposed re-nomination of cultural heritage values for the area.

Case study
Protection of World Heritage in North Queensland

One of the important protection mechanisms of World Heritage values under the EPBC Act is that a person must not a take an action that has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on a world heritage value of a declared World Heritage property. The provision is important as its application relates to areas both within and adjacent to a World Heritage property.

During 2003-04, an industrial minerals company proposed to develop the Mourilyan silica sand deposit situated between Mourilyan Harbour and Kurrimine Beach, approximately 20 kilometres south of Innisfail in North Queensland. The proposed boundary was situated three kilometres west of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area at Kurrimine Beach and one kilometre west of the boundary of Kurrimine Beach National Park, which is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

The proponent referred the development to the Department in July 2003 claiming that it was not controlled action. Based on the information available, the Department considered that significant impacts were likely on matters protected, namely the World Heritage values provisions under section 12 and section 15A of the EPBC Act.

On the basis of consultations with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Wet Tropics Management Authority, the mining operation was determined to be a controlled action.

Wetlands of international importance

No additional sites were designated as wetlands of international importance ('Ramsar sites') under the Ramsar Convention during 2003-04. A number of nominations of under-represented wetland types are currently being progressed. The Australian Government is currently funding a project to progress a nomination for the Piccaninnie Ponds karst wetland in South Australia. The Australian Government is also progressing nominations for under-represented wetlands on Commonwealth land.

In 2003-04, the Australian Government continued to assist in the development and review of management plans for Ramsar sites across Australia. Under the EPBC Act all Ramsar sites in Commonwealth areas are required to have management plans. To date, 50 of the 64 listed Australian Ramsar wetlands have management plans or draft plans in place. Of these, management plans for 15 sites were released as a final or draft plan in 2003-04, and existing plans for three additional sites (Bool and Hacks Lagoons - South Australia, 'Riverland' - South Australia and Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve) were being reviewed as at 30 June 2004. The draft management plan for Banrock Station Wetland Complex was assessed in 2003-04 for consistency with the Australian Ramsar Management Principles, established by the Act.

The EPBC Act allows the Australian Government to provide assistance for the protection or conservation of a Ramsar wetland. No direct assistance was provided under this section of the EPBC Act, although a number of projects were funded under the national and statewide components of the Natural Heritage Trust to assist the conservation and management of Ramsar wetlands in Australia. This includes funding for piloting and testing a framework for describing the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands, a project that will help inform future decision-making under the EPBC Act. Projects were also funded to improve knowledge of the ecological characteristics of the Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Wetland and Coongie Lakes Ramsar sites. Funding was also provided to assist private Ramsar site managers to enhance the management of their sites through increased awareness and exchange of knowledge. A project was funded to help support the conservation of privately owned Ramsar sites in New South Wales.

The Department successfully took legal action against a land manager for taking an action that had a significant impact on a the Gwydir Wetlands Ramsar site (see the case study in part 4 below).

Biosphere reserves

A nomination to list the Barkindji Biosphere Reserve (in the Mildura area) is currently with UNESCO for assessment. Managers of a number of these biosphere reserves are now investigating, and in some cases implementing, initiatives that will provide economic and other benefits through best practice in land management. Additional benefits include the development of sustainable responses to social issues emerging in some communities.

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