Natural and cultural heritage

Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006

9. Natural and cultural heritage

In this Section

Australia’s heritage—the landscape layered with places and associated objects—tells the story of who we are, our histories and our relationship to the environment. Heritage includes places with natural, Indigenous and historic values. It also includes objects, collections and intangible aspects such as community values, customs, languages, beliefs, traditions and festivals. Heritage forms part of Australia’s cultural identity.

Generally, much of Australia’s heritage is well protected. Some heritage places and values are under threat through a range of pressures, including environmental decline, shifts in land use, or social change (for example, demographic changes in inner city areas, rural towns and coastal areas), or a lack of understanding, skills or resources. The condition of many aspects of Australia’s heritage is unknown. Knowledge and management of Indigenous cultural heritage are particularly limited, but there are some promising emerging approaches to integrating Indigenous cultural values and community participation into natural resource management programmes.

Since SoE2001, there have been significant legislative changes  by the Australian, state and territory governments to improve systems for natural and cultural heritage identification and management. Most states and territories have revised their statutory or policy frameworks for historic heritage places since 2001. In addition, new national heritage legislation came into effect in 2004, establishing a National Heritage List and improving protection for the heritage values of Commonwealth-owned and managed properties. The changes to the EPBC Act to include heritage as part of the environment at the national level represent a shift in the scope and operation of heritage legislation.

Despite the high levels of activity in terms of statutory arrangements, and increasing levels of community interest in heritage, resourcing of heritage conservation and management has not increased to the same extent. Australian Government funding for heritage is now largely confined to places of national significance, and levels of state and territory funding are largely unchanged. Of particular concern is the ongoing, and large, discrepancy between natural  and cultural  heritage in the areas of resourcing and national policy (see ‘Biodiversity’).