9 Heritage | 4 Effectiveness of heritage management
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 is recognised internationally for leadership in heritage management. We have a range of systems and processes for identifying, protecting, managing and celebrating our heritage that should lead to reduced pressures, minimised risk and retention of those values that make our heritage places special. However, despite our excellent understanding of the context for heritage management and good planning processes, the resources allocated to heritage identification and protection are insufficient and fall well short of what is needed to achieve effective outcomes.
Identification processes for Australian heritage are erratic. The National Reserve System offers a proactive approach to identifying a representative system of natural heritage places. By contrast, there is no national picture for Indigenous heritage (either tangible or intangible), and reliance is placed on 'blanket' provisions in legislation, leading to ill-informed decisions. Many historic heritage places have been identified, but the ad hoc approach of heritage registers means that they are skewed towards particular aspects of history and a select group of values.
Heritage places in public ownership are often supported by well-prepared, values-based management plans. For nonpublic heritage places, planning systems, land zonings and related regulations do not necessarily help to achieve conservation outcomes, and some building codes and standards create pressure for demolition or inappropriate change. Decisions about development impact usually consider stakeholder perspectives, especially for Indigenous places, but the reactive nature of the process and an inadequate knowledge of the total resource tend to militate against conservation outcomes.
Resources available for heritage conservation are declining in real terms, as evidenced by the erosion of core budget funding for heritage in the 2011-12 Budget. Although some programs, such as the recent Jobs Fund initiative, have targeted heritage conservation with excellent outcomes, a combination of dwindling public sector resources (both human and financial) and the progressive erosion of the specialist skill set required for heritage management has placed cultural heritage on a precipice. An underlying cause of this resource erosion is that community perceptions of the value of heritage as public good are not reflected in public sector resourcing or incentives for private owners.
And yet the Australian community continues to celebrate its heritage. National Parks are visited; Traditional Owners play a greater role in presenting Country and enthusiastic owners of historic buildings undertake private conservation projects. These positive trends underpin the importance of heritage and the need for ongoing improvement in heritage management effectiveness.
A vigorous heritage and cultural sector has significantly increased Australians' understanding, participation in and enjoyment of our cultural and heritage assets. Australian Heritage Council57
Managing Australia's heritage involves taking action to protect heritage places from pressures, to retain their values. Effective heritage management requires a holistic approach across the spectrum of pressures identified in this chapter (and elsewhere in this report), rather than individual responses for every pressure. There is a simple, logical process for effective management: understand the place and its values, identify the issues (i.e. the pressures) and then manage the place in response to the issues. This process is set out in key documents such as the Burra Charter,58 the Ask first guidelines56 and the Australian Natural Heritage Charter,59 but is not always reflected in statutory requirements. The outcomes actually achieved by these processes will also depend on the resources available.
In this discussion and analysis, Australian heritage management is considered according to the components of the management process: understanding, planning, inputs, processes and outcomes. The summary table at the end of this section addresses natural, Indigenous and historic heritage according to this framework, using the current DSEWPaC heritage management themes of identification, management, protection, leadership and celebration.60 These themes broadly encapsulate the logic and process of key Australian heritage management charters such as the Burra Charter, the Ask first guidelines and the Australian Natural Heritage Charter.