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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Distinctively Australian launch at Chowder Bay Heritage Area, Mosman
18 December 2003

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Protecting Australia's Heritage

Prime Minister, The Honourable John Howard; Senator Meg Lees; Geoff Bailey, Chief Executive of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust; who are the custodians of this wonderful area that we’re in this morning for this launch; Roger Beale, the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Heritage; parliamentary colleagues; distinguished guests; thank you all for coming this morning to an historic occasion for Australia’s heritage.

We’re here this morning to mark the forthcoming launch of the new national heritage arrangements, and in particular the launch of the Australian Government’s major national heritage programme, Distinctively Australian.

Valuing, recognising and protecting our heritage is important for us as a people, for our heritage reinforces and reminds us of who we are as a people – where we’ve come from, what we’ve done to make us Australians, what it is that we value about our country.

The story of our heritage is the story of our nation. It’s the visible record of the natural wonders and historic achievements that have moulded our national identity, and provided us with that unifying sense of what it is to be Australian.

The Australian story is remarkable. Each of us will have our own understanding of what is significant in that story, but we’re surely united in our pride in our land, in the continuing quest to build a society based on human equality and dignity, and in our achievements in building one of the world’s great democracies.

The story of Indigenous Australia over 60,000 years is one of the great chapters in the history of the human race. The cultures and the rock art which represents them are important in world terms. We can turn to these places and discover more about the first Australians who developed a rich, diverse culture in sympathy with that land.

Our heritage encourages us to tell and to understand the stories of the settlers – men and women - who overcame vast distances and isolation and who, despite their differences or perhaps because of them, were able to form a nation and democracy that is unique in the world.

And when you ask Australians what makes them proud to be Australian, as often as not they’ll mention features of the spectacular countryside in which they live – its beaches, mountains, coral reefs, deserts, gum trees and unique wildlife – Dorothea Mackellar’s “sapphire misted mountains, the hot gold hush of noon”. Our natural heritage can also be protected under this new regime, and we should not underestimate how important a part our land itself is of our national identity.

Our outstanding national heritage places are our anchors. They don’t belong to just one city or state.

Their individual stories are part of the larger, continuing story of Australia.

That is why we must give serious consideration to their identification, protection and management.

The Howard Government is committed to working with the Australian public to take stock of these places and to protect them. We want to ensure that this heritage, yours and mine, becomes a legacy for future Australians and one they’ll thank us for.

We’ll introduce Australians to a new approach to heritage identification and protection through the Distinctively Australian program.

The new heritage legislation will allow us to take the necessary steps.

Through this legislation, we’ve redefined the role of the Australian Government to focus attention on heritage places important to the nation.

Fittingly, the amendments give us the legislative capacity to protect outstanding national heritage places to the highest possible levels and to manage them accordingly.

These places will be included on a new National Heritage List, which will develop over the next several decades to become an important reference for all Australians.

It will be a list created by Australians for Australians to tell the Australian story.

The legislative changes will also allow the Government to show leadership by protecting Commonwealth heritage places. We’ll record these places in a separate Commonwealth Heritage List.

This new system builds on the foundation created by the Australian Heritage Commission in 1976 with the Register of the National Estate.

The Commission led the pace for the states and territories to develop their own heritage legislation to protect their heritage places.

The new system will reduce Commonwealth and State duplication but importantly, will retain the Register of the National Estate as a publicly accessible and evolving database of cultural and natural heritage places.

To advise me on the listing and protection of heritage places for the lists and the register, an independent expert body will be established to replace the Australian Heritage Commission.

It will be called the Australian Heritage Council and will consist of six members with expertise in heritage areas.

These changes to our heritage system have involved the energy and input of many individuals and groups and I would like to record my thanks to the many contributors from all levels of government, in heritage agencies, volunteer groups, from the heritage professions and industry groups.

In particular, I would like to recognise those members of the Senate, some of whom are here today, who had the vision to join with the Government to acknowledge the need to better protect our heritage, and the will to greatly improve the process to do so.

They have been part of an important achievement and have helped to make this historic transformation possible.

I hope that, like me, they are feeling proud and excited, as the recognition of Australia’s heritage is about to be elevated to an unprecedented level.

So today’s event at Chowder Bay marks the passage from the old to the new. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved in the 28 years since the Australian Heritage Commission Act was passed and then look forward to what we now have the capacity to achieve in the years ahead.

Importantly, it’s an opportunity for all Australians to reflect on what they have achieved, and their forbears have achieved, over generations passed that we would all want to see recorded, protected and preserved for the future.

I’d like to record my sincere thanks to the Australian Heritage Commission for the superb foundation it has laid for heritage appreciation and conservation in Australia.

Commonwealth of Australia