Australian Heritage Commission, 2000
Australian Heritage Commission: An overview
- Enabling legislation
- Definition of the National Estate
- Minister responsible
- Register of the National Estate
- The listing process
The Australian Heritage Commission has its origins in the growing national awareness of environmental issues that began in the 1970s. It was established in July 1976 following Mr Justice RM Hope’s Commission of Inquiry into the National Estate, which recognised that Australians wanted to identify and conserve their cultural and natural heritage.
The Commission is an independent statutory authority administered as part of the Commonwealth Government’s Environment and Heritage portfolio. The Commission continues to carry out its statutory functions under the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975. scientific or social significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community.’
The Commission was established by, and its functions and powers are set out in, the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 (No. 57 of 1975). The principal Act was amended by the Australian Heritage Commission Amendment Act 1976 (No. 135 of 1976), the Australian Heritage Commission Amendment Act 1990 (No. 17 of 1991), and by a series of other Acts concerned with administrative issues such as public service reform.
‘National Estate’ is a term first coined by William Clough Ellis, a British architect, in the 1940s. It was introduced into Australia in 1973 when the Commonwealth Government undertook to ‘preserve and enhance the quality of the National Estate’ by setting up the Hope inquiry. Following the recommendations of this inquiry, the Australian Heritage Commission Act was passed in 1975 with the support of all political parties.
The National Estate is defined in the enabling legislation as ‘those places, being components of the natural environment of Australia, or the cultural environment of Australia, that have aesthetic, historic,
The minister responsible for the Commission is the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator the Hon Robert Hill. The Minister has statutory powers to direct the Chairman or Commission under sections:
- 7(a) to provide advice to the Minister about the National Estate;
- 20(3) to convene a meeting of the Commission;
- 24(1) to reconsider the continued entry of a place in the Register of the National Estate;
- 25 to enter, not to enter or to remove a place in the Register (such directions by the Minister may only be made in connection with inquiries made under section 11 of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974); and
- 28(2) to provide advice about the National Estate and the operation of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act.
This annual report contains a description of the condition of the National Estate as required under section 43(1)(a) of the Australian Heritage Commission Act. Performance reports on the programs undertaken by the Commission are discussed in Chapters 5 to 8. The Commission’s financial statements are in Chapter 10.
The Minister gave no statutory directions to the Chairman or Commission during 1999–2000.
The Minister also has powers under sections:
- 12(5) to recommend to the Governor-General appointments to the Commission;
- 16(1) to appoint an acting Chairman;
- 23B to appoint an independent assessor to assist and advise the Commission in its consideration of objections;
- 23(2A), 23(3)(b) and 24(2)(c) to extend, at the request of the Commission, the periods within which objections to the intended entry, a decision not to enter and a decision to remove places from the Register must be considered by the Commission;
- 31C to approve grants under the National Estate Grants Program (NEGP); and
- 31D to vary grants under the NEGP.
The major functions of the Commission are set out in section 7 of the Act, which states:
The functions of the Commission are:
(a) on its own motion or on the request of the Minister, to give advice to the Minister on matters relating to the National Estate, including advice relating to:
(i) action to identify, conserve, improve and present the National Estate;
(ii) expenditure by the Commonwealth for the identification, conservation, improvement and presentation of the National Estate; and
(iii) the grant of financial or other assistance by the Commonwealth for the identification, conservation, improvement or presentation of the National Estate;
(b) to encourage public interest in, and understanding of, issues relevant to the National Estate;
(c) to identify places included in the National Estate and to prepare a register of those places in accordance with Part IV;
(d) to furnish advice and reports in accordance with Part V;
(da) subject to Part VA, to administer the NEGP, being the program devised for the grant by the Commonwealth, in accordance with that Part, of financial assistance to the States and internal Territories and to approved bodies for expenditure on National Estate projects;
(e) to further training and education in fields related to the conservation, improvement and presentation of the National Estate;
(f) to make arrangements for the administration and control of places included in the National Estate that are given or bequeathed to the Commission; and
(g) to organise and engage in research and investigation necessary for the performance of its other functions.
Part IV of the Act describes the operation of the Register of the National Estate.
Part V of the Act defines the responsibilities of Commonwealth ministers as they relate to the National Estate.
Part VA of the Act describes the operation of the NEGP.
Section 30 of the Act imposes several obligations on Commonwealth ministers, departments and authorities to protect places entered in the Register of the National Estate or the Interim List.
In summary, section 30 requires that:
- ministers ensure that their own actions and those of their departments and authorities do not adversely affect the National Estate values of places in the Register unless there are no feasible and prudent alternatives and, if there are no such alternatives, unless all reasonable measures are taken to minimise the adverse effect. A minister’s actions to achieve these ends must be consistent with any relevant laws;
- authorities of the Commonwealth similarly avoid adversely affecting the National Estate;
- before a minister, department or authority takes any action that might significantly affect the National Estate value of a place in the Register, the Commission must be informed and have reasonable time to consider the proposed action and comment on it.
Other sections of the Australian Heritage Commission Act relating to Commission powers include sections 9(2) and 10(1 & 2). Section 9(2) requires all Commonwealth Government departments and authorities to comply with all reasonable requests for information by the Commission. Section 10 gives the Commission administrative power to undertake its functions.
One of the Commission’s major responsibilities under its Act is to prepare and maintain the Register of the National Estate.
The Register is an inventory of all those parts of Australia’s natural, historic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage that have special value for present and future generations. It is compiled solely on the basis of National Estate significance.
Any place within Australia, its territories, its territorial sea or its continental shelf may be entered in the Register. Portable artefacts and moveable items, such as working trams and ships, are not eligible for entry in the Register in their own right, but may be included if associated with registered buildings or structures.
Entry in the Register means that a place has established natural or cultural heritage value, having met a criterion of National Estate significance. Listing in the Register:
- provides planners and decision-makers at all levels of government and in the private sector with objective information about the National Estate values of places so that this can be considered when decisions are being made;
- obliges the Commonwealth Government to avoid damaging National Estate places (unless there are no feasible and prudent alternatives) and to consult with the Commission before taking any action which could affect a registered place;
- alerts all Australians to the presence of National Estate places and their natural and cultural heritage values;
- provides researchers and scientists with information about the National Estate; and
- makes places eligible for grants for conservation or promotion under relevant Commonwealth heritage programs.
Listing is not a land management decision and the Commission does not own or manage registered places. Entry in the Register does not give the Commonwealth any rights to acquire, manage or enter places which are private property.
The Commonwealth Government is the only body whose actions are directly constrained as a result of a place entering the Register (see the summary of section 30 of the Act given above).
Any member of the public can obtain information from the Register of the National Estate database by writing to the Commission or by examining the database on the Internet (at http://www.ahc.gov.au/register/index.html). Information can be obtained on the name and location of a place, with a statement outlining why the place is considered to have National Estate values, a description of the place and its condition at the time of entry in the Register.
The chart on page 8 shows the steps leading to the listing of a place in the Register.
Places proposed for entry are assessed against detailed technical criteria outlining National Estate values. Assessments are made solely on the basis of National Estate values which include:
- evolutionary significance;
- contribution to research;
- rarity; and
- historic, aesthetic, technical, creative or social value.
Other attributes, such as economic value, are not considered in the assessment.
Assessments of places are made by independent experts or Commission technical staff. Commissioners decide on Register entries during formal meetings which take place four to six times a year.
An entry approved for listing is advertised in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette and in public notices in the press. The place is then entered on an interim list. The Commission informs State and local governments of its intention to register a place. Private owners are notified in writing before any public announcements.
Any person can object to, or comment on, the interim listing of a place in the Register. Objections must usually be made within three months of notice of listing. The Commission must consider all objections before making a final decision on whether an interim-listed place qualifies for entry.
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