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Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2005–06

Volume two
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006
ISSN 1441 9335

Legislation annual reports 2005-06 (continued)

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

3. Managing heritage and protecting significant areas

Listing and managing heritage places in Australia

The Australian Government’s new heritage system, which commenced on 1 January 2004, provides protection for national heritage places as a matter of national environmental significance, complementing the existing world heritage provisions within the EPBC Act. Separately, the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003 established the Australian Heritage Council as the Australian Government’s principal expert advisory body on heritage matters.

The Australian Heritage Council has responsibility under the EPBC Act for assessing the heritage values of places for the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List. Such assessments can be instigated by referral by the minister of nominations made by the public for either of the lists, by direct request for assessment by the minister or by the council commencing an assessment on its own initiative. The council provides its assessments to the minister who makes the decisions on whether places are listed.

During 2005–06 the council provided advice to the minister on 39 national heritage assessments, six Commonwealth heritage assessments, one management plan for a Commonwealth heritage place and two works proposals for places included in the Commonwealth Heritage List. Nine Commonwealth agencies sought advice from the council and have taken its advice into account in preparing their heritage strategies.

The council has provided statutory advice to proponents wishing to make changes to places with national or Commonwealth heritage values.

World heritage

There are 16 Australian properties inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Fifteen of the 16 Australian properties on the World Heritage List have management plans. The Australian Government provided $8 million in 2005–06 from the Natural Heritage Trust to assist the states to manage world heritage properties to ensure their protection and promotion is consistent with undertakings under the World Heritage Convention. Activities funded include agreed on-ground priority projects and strategic management support projects including community consultation and coordination.

National heritage

As at 30 June 2006 the minister had included 31 places in the National Heritage List. The 21 places added to the list in 2005–06 were:

One place was removed from the national list during the year—Alpine National Park, Victoria. This place had been entered in the list by the minister under the emergency provisions of the EPBC Act and had then been referred to the Australian Heritage Council for assessment. Although the council found that the park had national heritage values, it recommended that the whole of the Australian Alps be assessed for listing rather than individual parks. The minister agreed and removed the Alpine National Park from the list and requested the council to assess the whole of the Australian Alps.

The minister decided not to include a total of 22 places in the list in 2005–06. The reasons for the minister’s decision in each case are available on the heritage public notices database at www.deh.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/heritage_ap.pl.

During 2005–06 the Australian Heritage Council was requested by the minister to undertake 51 new assessments of places for the National Heritage List, including 48 nominations from the public. The council made considerable progress in the year in meeting its responsibilities under the new heritage system. As at 30 June 2006 the council was processing or had completed a total of 148 assessments for the National Heritage List (39 completed in 2005–06). Information on places under assessment is publicly available on the heritage public notices database at www.deh.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/heritage_ap.pl.

Provisions in the EPBC Act enable the minister to include in the National Heritage List a place that the minister believes may have national heritage values which are under threat. During 2005–06 the minister received requests for the emergency listing of eight places in the National Heritage List. As at 30 June 2006 no places had been emergency listed, three places were being processed, and five had been rejected. Requests for emergency listing and reasons for the minister’s decision in the case of rejections are available on the heritage public notices database at www.deh.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/heritage_ap.pl.

Progress in developing management plans for national heritage places

To ensure the ongoing protection of a national heritage place, the EPBC Act provides for the preparation of management plans which set out how the significance of the site will be protected or conserved. Where a national heritage place is in a state or territory, the Australian Government must use its best endeavours to ensure that a management plan is prepared and implemented in cooperation with the relevant state or territory government. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage is responsible for preparing management plans for national heritage places in Commonwealth areas. Guidelines are being developed on the preparation of management plans for national heritage listed places.

Regulations were made in July 2005 specifying criteria to be met by state or territory management plans for World Heritage List properties and for National Heritage List places for accreditation purposes.

The minister has accredited a management plan for the Sydney Opera House. The plan covers the gazetted national heritage values of the place. In accordance with an approvals bilateral agreement entered into by the New South Wales and Australian governments, any action proposed to be taken in accordance with the accredited management plan will not need to be referred to the minister for approval under the EPBC Act.

Management plans are currently being prepared for Mawson’s Huts Historic Site in Antarctica and the Royal Exhibition Building National Historic Place in Melbourne. The department has written to the Tasmanian agency responsible for managing Richmond Bridge and to Wangaratta Rural City Council for the Glenrowan Historic Precinct seeking cooperative approaches in the preparation of management plans consistent with national heritage management principles. Although many of the places included in the National Heritage List have management plans prepared under state or territory legislative arrangements, these may not fully satisfy EPBC Act requirements. The department has commissioned consultants to report on the adequacy of plans to protect listed heritage values and consistency with the EPBC Act.

During 2005–06 there were a number of initiatives to commence development of management plans for places in the National Heritage List. For example, the Australian Government provided funding to develop a plan, to be consistent with the national heritage management principles, for the national heritage listed Brewarrina Fish Traps (Baiames Ngunnhu) in New South Wales. The government also provided funding to develop a sustainable tourism strategy for the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape in Western Victoria.

Commonwealth heritage

The Commonwealth Heritage List includes natural, Indigenous and historic places in Commonwealth areas (land and waters owned or leased by the Commonwealth) identified by the minister as having Commonwealth heritage values.

As at 30 June 2006 the Commonwealth Heritage List included 339 places, including such places as:

The minister has decided not to include a total of nine places in the list (all in 2005–06). The reasons for the minister’s decisions in each case are available on the heritage public notices database at www.deh.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/heritage_ap.pl.

As at 30 June 2006 the Australian Heritage Council was assessing nine places for listing in the Commonwealth Heritage List, all public nominations. Three new public nominations were received during the year. Places under assessment for the Commonwealth Heritage List include the Canberra School of Art and nine Queensland places including Green Hill Fort on Thursday Island, Low Islets Light Station and Victoria Barracks in Brisbane. Information on nominations and places listed in the Commonwealth Heritage List is available online at www.deh.gov.au/heritage.

Provisions in the EPBC Act enable the minister to directly include in the Commonwealth Heritage List a place that the minister believes may have Commonwealth heritage values which are under threat. During 2005–06 the minister received no requests to emergency list places in the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Progress in preparing Commonwealth agency heritage strategies

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.

A heritage strategy must address the matters set out in the EPBC Regulations, including the period within which the agency must prepare management plans for its Commonwealth heritage places, and a process for identifying and assessing the Commonwealth heritage values for all the places it owns or controls. The department continues to build strong partnerships with other Australian Government agencies through one-to-one briefings to ensure that obligations in the preparation of heritage strategies are understood. The department provides the publications Heritage Strategies—A Guide for Commonwealth Agencies and Process for Preparation of a Commonwealth Agency Heritage Strategy, Assessment Programme and Heritage Register to assist agencies with their responsibilities under the EPBC Act.

The minister advised nine Commonwealth agencies that their heritage strategies are consistent with the Commonwealth heritage management principles. The agencies are Air Services Australia, Bureau of Meteorology, Department of Defence, Department of the Environment and Heritage, Department of Transport and Regional Services, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, National Capital Authority, Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the Department of Finance and Administration. Four other agencies have submitted their draft heritage strategies to the Australian Heritage Council for comment and nine more are preparing their strategies and have sought advice from the department.

Progress in developing management plans for Commonwealth heritage places

The department continues to provide advice and to work with Australian Government agencies on their responsibilities to prepare management plans for Commonwealth heritage places under their ownership or control. Australian Government agencies must make a plan for managing a Commonwealth heritage place and may seek to have the plan endorsed by the minister. Once the minister has endorsed a plan, the agency is not required to seek advice from the minister about taking an action in accordance with the plan. If plans are already in place and are consistent with the new Commonwealth heritage management principles prescribed in the EPBC Regulations, a new plan will not be required.

Following advice from the Australian Heritage Council the minister decided that the management plan for Mount Stromlo Observatory is consistent with the Commonwealth heritage management principles. The observatory was severely damaged by bushfire on 18 January 2003 but still retains significant Commonwealth heritage values. The management plan will guide future development and protect the heritage values of the remaining buildings
and structures.

The council provided advice on a management plan for the High Court–National Gallery Precinct. Commonwealth agencies that have completed their heritage strategies have commenced, or are about to commence, their nominated programme for the preparation of management plans for Commonwealth places that they own or control. Commonwealth agency programmes for preparing management plans, as detailed in their heritage strategies, extend from 2006
until 2015.

Wetlands of international importance

No additional sites were designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention during 2005–06. However, a number of nominations are being progressed around Australia for under-represented wetland types.

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, and do have, management plans. To date, 50 of the 64 listed Australian Ramsar wetlands have management plans or draft plans in place. During 2005–06 a number of draft management plans were assessed for consistency with the Australian Ramsar Management Principles, including Lake McLarty Nature Reserve Draft Management Plan 2005 (Western Australia), and the draft plan for Bool and Hacks Lagoon (South Australia).

Section 336 of the EPBC Act allows the Commonwealth to provide assistance for the protection or conservation of a Ramsar wetland. No direct assistance has been provided under this section of the Act. However, a number of projects have been funded under the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust to assist the conservation and management of Ramsar wetlands in Australia. This includes funding to develop descriptions of the ecological character of a number of Ramsar wetlands in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and a number of marine protected areas. These projects will helps to inform future management of the wetlands and EPBC Act decision-making.

The department convened a workshop on describing the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands in May 2006. The workshop focused on developing a nationally agreed process for describing the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands. A legal review of the framework for describing the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands in relation to its adequacy to support implementation of the EPBC Act was undertaken as a background paper for consideration by the workshop.

Biosphere reserves

In response to the 2003 Periodic Review of Australian Biosphere Reserves, the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management agreed with the recommendations of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) advisory committee that it is appropriate to withdraw the Prince Regent site from the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

No new nominations were submitted in 2005–06, although several sites are being considered for nomination.

No financial or other assistance was provided under section 341 in 2005–06 beyond the provision of technical and other advice to a number of organisations and groups involved in biosphere reserve development.

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