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 is under-resourced and at risk from both natural and human factors. Although some events, such as the removal of statutory protection, large-scale resource extraction from reserved lands and unmanaged fires, would have catastrophic impact, these are generally unlikely. However, major risks do arise from the effects of climate change, such as damage from extreme weather events, managed fires, loss of habitat and increases in invasive species. Indigenous cultural heritage is particularly at risk from loss of traditional knowledge and incremental destruction of Indigenous places. Development consent is often granted in the knowledge of site-specific heritage impact, but in the absence of adequate knowledge about the total extent of the Indigenous heritage resource. Resourcing is also a major risk factor, including limited funding, lack of incentives, neglect arising from rural population decline and the impending loss of specialist heritage trade skills. Development and resource extraction projects directly threaten the nation's heritage at both a landscape and individual site scale; the impacts are exacerbated by inadequate survey and assessment, duplicate and inconsistent statutory processes, and a perception of heritage as expendable. Lack of national leadership increases the overall risk to Australia's heritage.
Australia's heritage is a complex network of interrelated places with both tangible and intangible values. This complexity creates a mosaic of different risks. Some types of place and some values are well represented in reserved lands and statutory lists; they are generally more resilient to major pressures. Other places may be unique and irreplaceable. Sometimes it is the setting or context of the place or the fundamental associated knowledge (as well as the place itself) that may be at risk. The risk of irreversible harm occurring to a heritage place is therefore a function of the nature of the place itself and its particular heritage values.
Risks to Australia's heritage are assessed here in terms of incidents, rather than effects. The pressures identified in Section 3 may lead to incidents, but not all pressures do so. Some risks arise from a combination of more than one pressure. In a management context, while the relationship between pressures, resilience and risk is relevant, questions of likelihood (taking into account management actions taken to address those pressures, and the resilience of the particular heritage resource), impact on values and consequent priority are arguably more important. The evaluation therefore considers risks according to severity rather than according to the underlying pressure or the nature of the heritage resource.
For the purposes of this evaluation, catastrophic risks are regarded as those with the potential to destroy a class or collection of places on a large scale. Risks that would adversely affect the heritage values of a number of places, or destroy individual places of great significance are considered major, whereas more localised risks—typically specific to individual heritage places—are characterised as moderate (in a national context). Only those risks that apply to unidentified places of local significance could be viewed as minor. No risk to Australia's heritage is insignificant.
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