Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Jane Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates Pty Ltd, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06752 3
If we don't get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned, said Hanrahan,
Before the year is out...
And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
We'll all be rooned, said Hanrahan,
If this rain doesn't stop.
Environmental indicators reported on in this section.
|NCH G.5 | a | b | c | d |||Funds provided for maintaining heritage values|
|NCH G.6 | a | b | c | d |||Amount of funding provided to heritage agencies responsible for heritage places and objects|
|NCH G.7||Number of conservation practitioners and training courses|
|NCH N.2||Proportion of natural heritage places with protected area status|
|NCH N.3||Proportion of natural heritage places with a management plan|
|NCH H.2||Number of statutory mechanisms actively used to protect historic places|
|NCH IA 1.2||Level and distribution of funding or other resources provided to support systematic studies of indigenous heritage places of archaeological significance|
|NCH IC.5||Number of programs and funds allocated for repatriation of Indigenous artefactual material and/or human remains|
Government protection measured through funding is indicative of the relative importance society places on managing its heritage places for present and future generations. As preceding sections have shown, there is a range of conservation legislation, but without the funding of its implementation it could be relatively ineffective.
The responses of government to the perceived need to protect heritage values, and to address pressures on them, can be measured in a number of ways; for example, through measures ranging from the use of statutory provisions in existing legislation, reservation status of heritage places, and availability of trained staff, to training programs and level of operational funding.
A major action by government in the protection of heritage places is through their acquisition, use or reservation programs. This is particularly important in the case of reservation of natural heritage places, as few private organisations can afford to acquire and protect the large areas often needed to protect natural heritage values. An exception is the Australian Bush Heritage Fund which started in 1990 and which owns 13 properties across Australia with a total area of 61 500 hectares as at May 2001 (ABHF 2001).
Of the natural heritage places on the Register of the National Estate database, only 2% by number or 1% by area are completely inside a gazetted protected area (an area of land reserved by government, as defined by ANZECC); 60% by number or 82% by area are partially inside a protected area, and 37% by number or 17% by area are completely outside a protected area. Of those partially inside protected areas, 49% of their area is inside and 57% outside. Overall, by area, 53% of registered land is protected by gazetted reserve status. However, this analysis is based on the CAPAD dataset, which includes only gazetted reserves. Land acquired under the Natural Heritage Trust and some of that protected as a result of the Regional Forest Agreement process are therefore not included, as they have not yet been gazetted.
The National Reserve System Program, which is part of the Natural Heritage Trust Program, committed $85 million in a series of cooperative programs aimed at developing the National Reserve System. The areas identified and purchased for reservation in high-priority IBRA regions can be assumed to have heritage values, especially those in IUCN categories I and III. It has not been feasible to identify the number of areas listed in the Register of the National Estate that are protected under the Natural Heritage Trust generally, as this information is not collated and reported, and cannot be readily obtained in other ways.
The mid-term review of the National Reserve System Program (O'May, 1999a) found that:
'... While all State and Territory conservation agencies express strong support for the objectives of the NRSP, this is not reflected in the level of financial commitment by many States to land acquisition. Political reticence about management costs is influencing decisions about acquisition and compounding the difficulty of obtaining matching state funds. [The ratio of Commonwealth to State funding of acquisitions is 2:1]
... The use of the IBRA for targeting and assessing acquisitions has been an effective means of focussing the Program on regions with poor reservation status and high threats rather than areas where population (and interest) is high. However, the NRSP is limited by the reactive and opportunistic nature of grants programs and a proactive and systematic targeting of IBRA regions with high threats (such as land clearing and intensive agricultural development) is required.'
These issues will affect natural heritage places within the broader environment targeted by the Natural Heritage Trust as well as on IBRA targets.
It is important to recognise the change in approach to protected area categories over the past five years. The theory and practice of protected area management have both undergone dramatic change. Protected areas are becoming far more flexible in terms of their aims, definition, size and approaches to management. They are tending to become more inclusive than exclusive in the activities that may occur within them, and some of the uses are now far removed from traditional conservation priorities. The focus of protected area management is also shifting away from individual protected areas and towards protected area networks as part of a landscape or bioregional approach to planning.
In addressing this change, the IUCN drew up in 1994 a modified set of six Protected Area Management Categories (IUCN 1996). The IUCN defines 'protected area' as:
'An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.'
The reference to 'natural and associated cultural resources' clearly includes heritage. The definition also is not limited to government-sponsored reserves, but can include those managed, for example, by Indigenous communities, private landowners, or industrial holdings.
The percentage increase in natural heritage places listed in the Register of the National Estate between 1995 and 2000 was 12%, but the percentage increase in natural places afforded the protection of IUCN Categories I-III protected area status is 37%. This increase in areas with protected area status (IUCN Category I-III) was brought about by two factors. The first is that the natural places listed over the past five years had a high incidence of protected area status. The second and more important reason is that many of the natural places listed in 1995 have since been declared as reserves. This action would have been taken largely by State and Territory governments and is a very positive form of recognition for the status and credibility of the Register of the National Estate.
The greatest percentage increase (more than a doubling) in natural heritage listings having IUCN Category I-III protected area status occurred in 10 IBRA regions: Central Mackay Coast, Einasleigh Uplands, Flinders Lofty Block, Geraldton Sandplains, Jarrah Forest, Murray-Darling Depression, Mount Isa Inlier, NSW South Western Slopes, Pilbara, and South East Coastal Plain. There is no clear regional concentration of these IBRA areas, but unfortunately none are in the Northern Territory or Tasmania.
Category Ia : Strict nature reserve/wilderness protection area managed mainly for science or wilderness protection - an area of land and/or sea possessing some outstanding or representative ecosystems, geological or physiological features and/or species, available primarily for scientific research and/or environmental monitoring.
Category Ib : Wilderness area: protected area managed mainly for wilderness protection - large area of unmodified or slightly modified land and/or sea, retaining its natural characteristics and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which is protected and managed to preserve its natural condition.
Category II : National park: protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation - natural area of land and/or sea designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations, (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area, and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.
Category III : Natural monument: protected area managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features - area containing specific natural or natural/cultural feature(s) of outstanding or unique value because of their inherent rarity, representativeness or aesthetic qualities or cultural significance.
Category IV : Habitat/Species Management Area: protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention - area of land and/or sea subject to active intervention for management purposes so as to ensure the maintenance of habitats to meet the requirements of specific species.
Category V : Protected Landscape/Seascape: protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation or recreation - area of land, with coast or sea as appropriate, where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant aesthetic, ecological and/or cultural value, and often with high biological diversity. Safe guarding the integrity of this traditional interaction is vital to the protection, maintenance and evolution of such an area.
Category VI : Managed Resource Protected Area: protected area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural resources - area containing predominantly unmodified natural systems, managed to ensure long-term protection and maintenance of biological diversity, while also providing a sustainable flow of natural products and services to meet community needs.
Source: IUCN (1996).
The IBRA regions with the greatest number of natural heritage listings (over 50) are Australian Alps, Eyre Yorke Block, Flinders Lofty Block, Jarrah Forest, Kanmantoo, Murray-Darling Depression, Naracoorte Coastal Plain, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands, South Eastern Queensland, Swan Coastal Plain, and Wet Tropics. These regions are primarily southern coastal or near-coastal, and include or adjoin areas with high population densities (except the Wet Tropics, in northern Queensland).
A characteristic of the Commonwealth datasets that makes data-matching of reserve areas and other heritage indicators (such as the Register of the National Estate) through GIS difficult is that areas acquired for reserves through processes such as NRSP or RFA, are only incorporated in key datasets such as CAPAD when the areas are gazetted by State and Territory governments. This gazettal may occur many years after the land is acquired, because once the land is under protective management the pressure to follow through with gazettal is reduced.
A delay in gazettal can cause other difficulties, because in many if not all jurisdictions some important management tools are available legally only when the land is gazetted as a national park, nature reserve, or the like. Also, legal requirements such as the preparation of management plans are required for a gazetted reserve that are generally not required under the Crown Lands or related Acts under which the land is held in the interim.
Government agencies support the concept of private cooperative arrangements for biodiversity conservation. The Natural Heritage Trust has also provided funds to allow for non-government acquisition and covenanting of land. There is a growing understanding that conservation is a legitimate land use and that land acquisition on the open market is one means of providing full-value compensation for landholders where land is to be managed for biodiversity. Bushcare has been the main vehicle of this process. The Bush for Wildlife Revolving Fund, which had not commenced operation at the time of the 1999 mid-term review, was set up to acquire land with high natural values, covenant it, and sell it on to conservation-committed private owners. This is the way in which the successful Victorian Conservation Trust scheme has operated.
Peery Station covers 42 000 hectares in the arid zone of north-western New South Wales, approximately 100 kilometres north of Wilcannia. The property includes part of the belt of stony ranges, mesas and footslopes that characterise far western New South Wales, and part of the extensive alluvial plains and dune fields of the Paroo River system. The main focus for the acquisition for conservation is the Peery and Poloka Lakes. These lakes are highly significant habitat for waterbirds, including 13 species listed under international agreements.
The property includes active mound springs and a unique meeting of high stony ranges and lakebed. Few of the land systems represented are currently protected in reserves in New South Wales or Queensland.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service acquired the property in 1999 with a contribution of $601 795 from the NRSP after a rapid approval process. The new reserve substantially enhances the comprehensiveness of the National Reserve System. Nomination of the lakes as a Ramsar site is being pursued by NPWS, and this has stimulated the interest of landholders in nominating additional areas for Ramsar listing. The acquisition has also stimulated interest in a further acquisition of 177 354 hectares in the area. It is expected that the new reserve will provide a substantial boost to the regional economy by enhancing regional tourism opportunities.
Source: O'May (1999a).
Paroo River, Murray-Darling Basin.
The Paroo River is the last unregulated river in the Murray-Darling Basin system and has a catchment the size of Tasmania. The Australian Heritage Commission has undertaken a comprehensive study of the region's natural and cultural heritage to tease out the themes that make this area so distinctly Australian.
Source: Andrew Tatnell/Big Island Photographics
The Natural Heritage Trust has also had an important role in acquiring Indigenous heritage places during the reporting period. It was noted earlier in this section that the acquisition of lands for nature conservation can also result in the passive protection of Indigenous sites. In addition, the Indigenous Protected Area Program (IPAP) was allocated $6 million, of which $2.4 million had been spent by late 2000. The program is aimed at encouraging, through cooperative arrangements, the protection of biodiversity values of lands owned or leased by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. The stimulus for this program was the recognition of the number of priority IBRA regions which are wholly or partly owned and managed by Indigenous owners. Comanagement agreements are usually initiated by land managers rather than Indigenous owners, because they wish to conserve areas with high natural values within the priority IBRA regions. Indigenous owners receive funding to manage land where the natural values are indistinguishable from the cultural heritage values.
By the end of 2000, twelve Indigenous Protected Areas had been declared over Indigenous land covering almost 2.6 million hectares (see Table 20), adding significantly to the National Reserve System.
|Nantawarrina||SA||August 1998||58 000 ha adjoining the southern Gammon Ranges National Park, managed by the Nepabunna community|
|Preminghana||Tas.||June 1999||524 ha on Tasmania's north coast, managed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council|
|Deen Mar (Yambuk)||Vic.||July 1999||453 ha, 50 km west of Warrnambool, managed by the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust|
|Oyster Cove||Tas.||July 1999||32 ha, 30 km south of Hobart, managed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre|
|Risdon Cove||Tas.||July 1999||109 ha close to Hobart, managed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre|
|Yalata||SA||October 1999||456 300 ha at the head of the Great Australian Bight on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain, managed by the Yalata Community Inc.|
|Watarru||SA||June 2000||1.28 million ha including Birksgate Ranges, north-western South Australia|
|Walalkara||SA||June 2000||700 000 hectares of Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands, north-west South Australia|
|Mount Chappell Island||Tas.||September 2000||325 ha, in the Furneaux Group, Bass Strait|
|Badger Island||Tas.||September 2000||1 244 ha in the Furneaux Group, Bass Strait|
|Guanaba||Qld||November 2000||100 ha adjacent to the Mt Tamborine National Park in south-eastern Queensland, managed by the Ngarang Wal Land Council|
|Dhimurru||NT||December 2000||100 000 ha of Aboriginal land in north-eastern Arnhem Land, managed by the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation|
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage (2001).
Across Australia a number of other forms of land use agreements are being developed between Indigenous people and interested stakeholders. For example, French (1997) discusses intra-Indigenous agreements, common form agreements, and urban claims. He points out that, even with Native Title determination, there is often still a need to reach some form of Indigenous land use agreement with other interested parties. In some cases these agreements pre-date any Native Title claim resolution, as in the case of the agreement between the Shire of Broome and the local Aboriginal groups. Langton (1999) also points out that in many instances in Northern Australia Indigenous people would prefer a negotiated settlement over land issues rather than a litigated one. These negotiated agreements often contain a reference to the Indigenous heritage of the area under consideration.
In the historic heritage field there is no national acquisition program. Most States and Territories have acquired historic heritage places ad hoc, sometimes adding them to a national parks portfolio or placing them under the management of a dedicated body such as the NSW Historic Houses Trust. This Trust is an excellent model, but it competes for resources with community-run organisations such as the National Trust. The voluntary National Trust organisations own and manage more than 280 historic heritage properties around Australia, of which 182 are open for public inspection. Many of these properties have been acquired with government funding assistance. However, new forms of partnerships are needed between government and the community to achieve a joint heritage management regime that brings benefits such as education and economic returns through tourism.
There is no national approach to identifying those places of historic heritage significance that ought to be acquired in the public interest. The conservation and management of these places' heritage values can be achieved by a range of techniques including, for example, partnerships or restoration and resale. During the reporting period, one model of acquisition for conservation and management was the establishment (by Commonwealth legislation) of the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1999 as a Centenary of Federation program to manage former Defence lands around the harbour foreshore.
Orroral Homestead, ACT.
Built in the 1860s, this rural homestead was occupied until the 1950s. Reconstruction work was completed in the early 1990s and the homestead is now conserved by Namadgi National Park.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
The Regional Forest Agreements process has identified approximately 3000 places with national estate values, which under the agreements are to be listed in the Register of the National Estate (see Table 3). Victoria has not agreed to proposed listings from four new RFA areas. Table 4 also illustrates the extent of identified old growth forest and its reservation. Across the nine RFA regions (upper and lower North East NSW were combined in the end) the agreements have increased old growth protection by 42%. These broad figures however, mask the regional differences in distribution and composition such as in northern NSW where many ecosystems are fragmented. Table 21 illustrates the distribution of old growth forest added to reserves; however, as Table 3 shows, many places with other heritage values have been identified. These are being protected through better management practices such as zoning, codes of practice, pre-disturbance assessment processes etc.
|South West WA||47 800|
|East Gippsland Victoria||2 800|
|Central Highlands Victoria||7 900|
|North East Victoria||51 200|
|Gippsland Victoria||54 400|
|Western Victoria||39 100|
|Eden NSW||22 500|
|Upper North East NSW||244 100|
|Lower North East NSW||206 100|
Source: Commonwealth Forests Taskforce (2000).
Under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), forestry operations permitted by Regional Forest Agreements are not subject to Commonwealth approvals. Unless the Act is amended there will be no further Commonwealth action in relation to forestry activities in RFA regions for 20 years.
The formalisation of national estate values through listing places in the Register currently gives them greater status and definition, and thus increases the responsibility of State or Territory forest managers to take these values into account in harvesting operations and in reserve management. This is particularly important for places with national estate values which occur outside reserves or are in informal reserves. Places inside reserves are more likely to be considered in park infrastructure and development plans if they are identified as formal national estate places. Listing in the Register of the National Estate is also relevant for protecting values from mining and other non-forestry activities.
The mid-term review of the Natural Heritage Trust (O'May, 1999a) found that there was some concern among stakeholders that the management of conservation reserves in general is below standard. Few believed that good progress was being made towards implementing ANZECC best practice management guidelines for conservation reserves. The review includes the important reminder that the success of conservation programs should be judged on management actions, not on reserve status.
This concern with monitoring the actual conservation outcome rather than simply the funding activity of government was identified in the 1996 State of the Environment Report, which noted that:
'No national programs are currently in place to monitor the physical condition of Australia's heritage places or objects, increasing the difficulty of assessing the effectiveness of responses in conserving heritage resources...'(Purdie et al. 1996)
This observation is clearly still true. However, one tool in effective management of protected areas is the management plan. While it sometimes happens that a management plan simply sits on a shelf and is not used, the likelihood of a successful conservation outcome is increased if a management plan is being implemented. As management plans for natural areas are, on the whole, developed for land with stable, single ownership (and this is usually in public ownership), it is likely that only reserved land will have management plans. Hence, at least 38% of natural places listed in the Register of the National Estate, and 53% of land area, would be most unlikely to have management plans developed for them.
While there are at least 47 categories of protected areas currently in use, national parks are perhaps the most prominent in the public's mind, and might be expected to exhibit a high standard of management. Table 22 shows that, across Australia, only 37% of national parks actually have finalised management plans. If this analysis is indicative of all reserved land, then the figures above suggest that as little as 23% of Register of the National Estate natural areas might have management plans.
|Jurisdiction||Number of national parks||Number of finalised plans|
Source: Environment Australia.
The content of these management plans needs to be analysed in more detail to ensure that there are adequate surveys for cultural values, and an understanding of the park ecosystem and the impact of tourism on the heritage values of the park.
The existence of a management plan does not guarantee that sufficient funds are available to implement it in its entirety. However, newly acquired areas are protected from major threatening processes, such as land clearing and over-grazing, and are managed within an overarching legislative framework in relation to State or Territory responsibilities for the protection of flora and fauna, particularly threatened flora and fauna. There also may be regional plans for the management of protected areas, or specifically for the management of rare and threatened flora and fauna. For example, in Western Australia there are regional plans for the management of Declared Rare Flora species, wherever they may be found (see the Biodiversity Theme Report for a discussion of management plans).
It has already been noted that the acquisition of land for nature conservation can protect Indigenous places. But this depends on the existence of an integrated management system which aims to protect both natural and cultural values through a plan of management principles and practices. Because this is not a high priority in most jurisdictions, Indigenous places in reserved areas may therefore be inadvertently damaged or neglected.
Many areas added to the reserve system as a result of the Regional Forest Agreement process are still protected under the forest management planning process, as they are yet to be formally gazetted as protected areas. These include many places listed in the Register of the National Estate. The process of developing management plans will commence only after they are gazetted.
Despite multiple agency management plans mentioning the significance of a heritage place and the need for its conservation, even in gazetted reserves, this does not ensure that there is follow-up action, as the Dalrymple Track case study shows (see 'The Dalrymple Track' box below).
The Dalrymple Track, in Lumholtz National Park in north-east Queensland, was the State's first major civil engineering work. It includes an historically significant stone bridge, the remains of a large timber bridge, some stone paving, stone-pitched walls, several formed creek crossings, and a grave of an unknown traveller. Parts of the track also have significance as Aboriginal pathways which were later used by settlers.
Dalrymple Gap, showing the original telegraph line in 1878.
Source: John Oxley Library
The significance of the Dalrymple Track and its stone bridge, approximately 200 metres from the Gap on the seaward side of the Cardwell Range, has been recognised locally. This led to the identification of the bridge as a significant heritage item in the 1975 National Estate study of Queensland's Far Northern Region, its subsequent listing in the Register of the National Estate, its classification by the National Trust of Queensland in 1976 following a detailed inspection, and its listing under the Queensland Heritage Act 1992.
Dalrymple Track historic bridge's upstream portal showing concrete repairs on its inner brick walls and erosion of the bricks at the bottom, in Lumholtz National Park, Qld
Source: Jane Lennon (1994)
In 1994 a conservation study recommended urgent repair works to the stone bridge, restoration of dislodged stone-pitched steps and edgings along the track, track maintenance, and the stabilisation of the timber bridge ruins. But after six years, none of this work had been done.
Dalrymple Track over the grass-covered historic bridge in Lumholtz National Park, Qld.
Source: Jane Lennon (1994)
The delay is attributed to the legal status of the road, which begins and ends in different Shires with opposing views regarding the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service proposal to close the road and incorporate it into the adjoining Lumholtz National Park, created in 1992. The access at both ends of the track is in State Forest. The significance of the Track has been acknowledged in the draft Lumholtz National Park management plan, and in the Wet Tropics Management Authority's Strategic Directions Report (1992) and its subsequent Wet Tropics Nature Based Tourism Strategy (2000) and Draft Wet Tropics Walking Strategy (2000).
Notwithstanding this tenure impasse, the bridge is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and all parties should agree to urgent protection works on the bridge while the tenure is sorted out. As the bridge is only 2 km from Damper Creek car park, the logistics of the repairs are not insurmountable, and action is scheduled before the 2001 wet season.
Source: Lennon (2000).
The extent of historic heritage legislation across all jurisdictions in Australia has been discussed in the first section of this report. Some of the legislation covers Indigenous and natural heritage items as well, but most of the legislation discussed here is targeted primarily at historic heritage places. The degree to which legislation is used could be seen as a measure of the effectiveness of government in its commitment to heritage protection.
However, interpreting the extent to which legislation is used can be extremely complicated. In some jurisdictions, for example, the government or its heritage agency might be trying to find other ways of achieving conservation outcomes without resorting to legislated powers. For example, in New South Wales the government decided in the 1980s and early 1990s to try to resolve issues involving heritage places through the planning process or by voluntary agreements with the owners, rather than resorting to issuing orders under the Heritage Act 1977. In this situation the use of the Act declined, while more planning outcomes were achieved for conservation. Changes to the legislation in New South Wales have reflected this change in emphasis. In other cases, legislation has not been used because the governments involved have not been committed to conservation, and the results have reflected that lack of commitment.
Because there is more than one interpretation of the frequency of the use of an Act, it is difficult to correlate trends in the use of legislated powers with actual conservation outcomes, and indeed with commitment of government to heritage conservation objectives. It would be better to measure actual impacts on a State or Territory's heritage places, but as this report has conclusively shown, such monitoring has not yet been done. Appendix 6 shows the frequency of use of some of the primary historic heritage Acts, as reported by the agency responsible for their administration.
While Appendix 6 appears to provide a full picture, it is quite likely that activity under a number of Acts has only been partially reported. For example, a number of States have noted that they have not maintained accurate figures on the use of some legislated powers, and in other cases the agency has worked with owners and developers to achieve outcomes without having to resort to using the Act. But even allowing for this, there would appear to be a substantial amount of legislation that has never been used, although the significance of this is difficult to interpret. It may simply be that the existence of the legal requirement or penalty has been sufficient to ensure compliance. It may equally be that legislation is neither complied with nor policed, and breaches of the heritage provisions are occurring, are not being reported, and are not being prosecuted. One way of determining the effectiveness of legislation might be to extend the historic places survey, or carry out a separate survey, in a number of locations to see if legislative provisions have been adhered to, and if the outcome results in healthy heritage places.
The way legislation is now designed, most of the heritage issues are dealt with as planning matters. Heritage legislation is usually not brought into play until the planning processes, including appeals, have been worked through without resolving the issue, or a maverick action is taken by an owner. Hence, in the most populous State, New South Wales, there were 17 prosecutions during the reporting period. In Western Australia, where the heritage/planning system interaction is much more recent, 15 'stop work' orders were issued during the reporting period, while Queensland issued five.
Overall, the heritage legislation, in conjunction with the planning legislation, appears to be working adequately as an administrative mechanism in nearly all State and Territory jurisdictions. What is not being monitored (or at least reported) is the extent to which the planning system, to which many heritage decisions have been transferred, is actually working at the local level. No data was available for this report to make that judgement.
There is also insufficient information to assess whether the successful administration of the legislation results in an increase in the health of heritage places. It may be the case where a place is listed, and the process associated with that listing, ensures that its significance is taken into account when development approval is sought. However, there are major gaps. For example, significant houses in their settings are being lost because there is no overview of the presence of these places, and they are dealt with on an individual basis when development is considered. While the house may be retained, the setting rarely is. Intact interiors are being lost because they are not considered in local heritage surveys. Significant heritage landscapes are being slowly whittled away as individual developments are considered and there is no mechanism to protect the area as a whole or the mechanism in place does not achieve this.
Table 75 in the Human Settlements Theme Report illustrates the extent of local government heritage protection in Victoria and New South Wales.
The issue of heritage listings being done at the last minute, often following the proposal to develop a place, continues to create negative attitudes towards listing. Regional/Local Government Area/thematic surveys are essential if we are to address this. In addition, they provide contextual information for making decisions and help owners understand the significance of their property.
The protection of heritage places by government through acquisition, improved management regimes and use of legislation has been mixed:
- It is generally acknowledged that, while the current Natural Heritage Trust program is a significant and substantial contribution towards improving the adequacy and representativeness of the reserve system, and protects some natural and Indigenous heritage places in the process, the current program is not sufficient to achieve the comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system across all environmental regions that is the agreed objective. The States and Territories have been slow to commit funding to the program.
- Governments have not been consistently committed to following through on initiatives. An example is the RFA process, where the National Estate listing of about 3000 places with demonstrated heritage value has been put on hold, and with the proposed closure of the Register of the National Estate they are likely never to be registered. While it can be argued that the places are protected anyway under the EPBC Act, the benefits of public recognition of the values and accessible information through the register may be lost.
- As there is no national program to monitor the physical condition of Australia's heritage places and objects, one result is that it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of government funding initiatives in terms of real conservation outcomes. Even in the case of purchases of reserve areas funded by the Natural Heritage Trust, governments can only report on dollars spent and hectares acquired, and not on actual improvement or deterioration in the condition of heritage values.
- Overall, the historic heritage legislation, in conjunction with the planning legislation, appears to be working adequately as an administrative mechanism in nearly all State and Territory jurisdictions. However, the extent to which the local planning system incorporates heritage conservation is not known.