9 Heritage | 7 Outlook for 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
Our heritage includes places that we have inherited and want to pass on to future generations, so the notion of outlook is a fundamental concept for heritage. Heritage provides an important context for our perception of ourselves as Australians, and is part of the 'social glue' that binds communities together and expresses identity. Heritage provides the distinct character that underpins the economic future of regional Australia. Australians see natural and cultural heritage as important and vulnerable, but these sentiments are not reflected in the resources devoted to heritage assessment and conservation.
The systems we use to manage our heritage are cumbersome: land reserves, inventories and statutes. These structures do not adequately identify, protect, manage, resource or celebrate the integrated nature of our nation's cultural landscape. Consequently, our heritage is at great risk from the impacts of climate change, the threats arising from development, and the resource implications of population growth. The outlook for Australia's heritage will depend on government leadership in two key areas: undertaking thorough assessments that lead to comprehensive natural and cultural heritage inventories and truly representative areas of protected land; and changing management paradigms and resource allocation in response to emerging threats, and responding strategically, based on integrated use of traditional and scientific knowledge.
Neither private nor public natural heritage places are adequately protected. The National Reserve System continues to improve, but statutory listing of natural heritage places and reservation of a truly representative set of landholdings are hampered by factors such as perceived economic values. Climate change poses massive risks to natural heritage, and this heritage is also threatened by inappropriate land use, development pressures, loss of habitat and invasive species. The ultimate impact of these will depend on the ability of scientists and managers to work proactively together, and on the commitment of government to well-resourced, proactive management rather than belated reaction to crises. Adverse effects can be minimised through thorough understanding of the natural heritage resources, recognition of the benefits of public—private partnerships and a whole-of-landscape approach to conservation and management.
There is increasing recognition of the importance of Australia's Indigenous heritage by all Australians. However, Indigenous heritage in Australia is inadequately documented and protected, and incremental destruction continues. The inclusion of Indigenous heritage places within protected reserved lands is therefore particularly important. Closing the Gap is a welcome initiative, as is the increasing involvement of Indigenous people in sustainable land and sea management. However, loss of language, knowledge and traditional practices, and informed destruction all continue to erode Indigenous cultural traditions and connections to country.
There are many well-managed Australian historic heritage places that remain in good condition. However, statutory lists and registers are inconsistent and incomplete. Historic heritage conservation is not well supported by planning and assessment systems and is directly threatened by development, often because heritage is identified only after a project is proposed and is therefore perceived as a problem. Population shift and inadequate incentives for private owners also threaten historic heritage. A wider range of management approaches would improve the place of historic heritage in the community and facilitate effective conservation.
This section focuses on the pressures, threats and risks arising from Australia's major environmental drivers—climate change, population growth and economic growth. Observations on these are followed by more specific consideration of the key factors that may influence outcomes and outlooks for natural, Indigenous and historic heritage.