9 Heritage | 2 State and trends of heritage
State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
At a glance
Australia's heritage listing structure is complex and reflects both land tenure and governance arrangements. Heritage registers list natural and cultural places at national, state and local levels, but in an inconsistent manner and with disparate levels of resourcing and control.
Australia's listed natural heritage and reserved lands are in good condition but continue to face threats from invasive species, fire, erosion, use and impacts on threatened species. There are differences in condition according to land tenure and listing status. Available national information relates to a select sample and may not be truly representative.
Of the 85 bioregions in Australia, more than half have at least 10% of their area within reserved land. Although having 10% of each bioregion within reserved land is the current national target, it does not necessarily reflect the fine grain of significant ecosystems and habitats. The Convention on Biological Diversity suggests that a more appropriate target may be 17% of protected land (and 10% for inland waters). There may be merit in considering an even greater percentage, comprising both protected and privately held lands, which should be selected and managed as an interconnected system to help maintain large-scale landscapes and ecosystem processes.
Interest in Indigenous heritage in Australia has increased. There have been many positive developments, but also some trends that significantly undermine the protection of Indigenous heritage. Recognition of the role of Indigenous people in managing Indigenous heritage has expanded, but individual assessment and development decisions cause incremental destruction of the Indigenous cultural resource.
A survey of a national sample of historic heritage places indicates that the majority are in good condition and retain their identified values. Variation in the observed condition is likely to reflect maintenance and repair cycles. Places that are both vacant and in poor condition remain under threat.
The current condition and integrity of Australia's reserved and listed heritage are generally good, with some deterioration evident over recent years. However, the nation's protected natural and cultural resource is not adequately identified and protected, nor is its conservation adequately resourced.
Unlike other aspects of the Australian environment, heritage places are already a discrete subset, defined by having natural or cultural ‘value’. Therefore, a description of the current state of Australian heritage cannot be a description of the resources themselves (as might occur with coasts, inland waters or land), but rather must be an assessment of what values have been identified and their current condition. Similarly, while it may be possible to measure the condition of other environmental aspects according to a nominal benchmark year of 1750 (representing European settlement), the appropriate benchmark for heritage places is not a particular former condition, but a measure of whether the place retains its heritage values. Retaining heritage values creates the opportunity to transmit value to other generations—an aim that aligns closely with the notion of heritage as our ‘inheritance’.
Identification and assessment can be described according to the different jurisdictions under which heritage places receive listing and statutory protection (i.e. world, national, state or local) and according to the nature of heritage places (i.e. natural, Indigenous or historic). The following assessments and commentary present information for both of these frameworks. In reality, of course, such distinctions are arbitrary and often blurred, as heritage places and their values transcend jurisdictional boundaries and site types. Assessment components used in this section relate to natural and cultural heritage indicators (see Section 1.3).