Natural and cultural heritage: Managing for heritage values

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

9.4 Managing for heritage values

Although all states and territories now have historic heritage listing in their statutory planning systems, state and territory legislation is not uniform in including all aspects of heritage in one statute. There are also gaps in the coverage of certain types of heritage, such as historical archaeology and cultural landscapes. As noted above, a significant disadvantage of heritage lists and registers is that they will never be able to capture all heritage values and places.

There has been much legislative change since 2001 at all levels of government in Australia. At the national level, the changes to the EPBC Act have created a more coherent, three-tier heritage system. The changes fulfil a long-identified need for Australian Government agencies to identify and conserve their significant heritage places. The changes also mark a move away from a National Estate model (which provided some level of protection to places at a national, state or local level), but without the mechanisms and joint arrangements needed to implement the legislation. There are also still some inconsistent legislative provisions throughout the states and territories. As a result, many types of heritage places, especially natural heritage places, might be unprotected at the state, territory and local levels.

Opportunities to develop a cross-agency or whole-of-government approach to integrating heritage values and environmental management have recently been demonstrated. In Victoria, for example, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and Aboriginal Affairs Victoria have developed a Strategy for Aboriginal Managed Lands in Victoria with support from the state and Australian governments, to create a framework for Indigenous land and water management across Indigenous lands (SAMLIV 2003).

Most states and territories have reviewed or updated their historic heritage legislation since SoE2001. Legislation for natural heritage has changed less, although some states made changes to national park and protected areas legislation to transfer state forests to park reservations. The trend to separate legislation for nature conservation and for parks and reserve management continued, with the National Parks and Reserve Management Act 2002 in Tasmania.

Government responses to conserve cultural heritage (both Indigenous  and historic ) over the reporting period included:

  • the Australian Government’s Cultural Heritage Projects Programme; from 2000–01 to 2005, this programme disbursed $10.6 million, which included $1 million for Indigenous projects. In 2005, this programme was replaced by the National Heritage Investment Initiative, which will disburse $10.5 million over three years to provide financial incentives for conservation of places of national significance
  • the community-based programmes for Indigenous cultural heritage management, for which Victoria has allocated $2.1 million annually
  • the handing back to Indigenous ownership of two long-contested islands in Bass Strait by the Tasmanian government in March 2005
  • the doubling of funds to $2 million, by Western Australia, to heritage agencies for Indigenous places.

The level of investment in heritage conservation goes well beyond the funds delivered by government programmes and includes a substantial level of private investment and volunteer support.

Data in relation to levels of private investment were not readily available to report, although the Productivity Commission (2006b) has reported some information.

Responses to conserve natural heritage  over the reporting period included:

  • an increase in the area of protected land in Australia to 81 million hectares with over 7720 protected area reserves in 2004, an increase of more than 21 million hectares since 1997
  • the establishment in 2000 of a new category of Indigenous Protected Areas. At March 2005 there were 19 Indigenous Protected Areas, totalling 13.2 million hectares, ranging from Ngaanyatjarra (Western Australia) covering 9.8 million hectares to Chappell and Badger Islands (Tasmania) covering 1270 hectares. These lands now account for 18 per cent of Australia’s protected areas
  • an increase in Indigenous involvement  in natural resource management groups since SoE2001.

There has also been an increase in private conservation reserves (see Table 20 and Parker and Fitzhardinge 2006).

The establishment of the National Collections Council during the reporting period and the development of significance assessment methods for collections  are important response measures. Repatriation of Indigenous cultural property has continued during the reporting period—from overseas to Australia; and from national institutions to Traditional Owners—although there are a number of complexities associated with repatriations being successfully concluded (Truscott 2006).

Local government also plays an important role in the recognition and protection of heritage values and places, and in local environmental management. In Victoria, for example, it is estimated that more than 100 000 cultural heritage places (primarily historic) are protected through local planning schemes, compared to around 2000 on the state government register (Allen Consulting Group 2005a, 2005b). Local government can also act through statutory controls, advice and incentives, direct land and property management, community development, and environmental education.

The Productivity Commission has reported that heritage identification and protection at the local level vary considerably. The Inquiry into the Conservation of Australia’s Historic Heritage pointed to inconsistencies in approach, expertise and resources at the local level (Productivity Commission 2006). Submissions made by local councils and local government associations commented on the increasing responsibilities for heritage identification and management, and the frequent lack of adequate resources. On the other hand, there is also a growing trend for councils to actively use their heritage as a basis for social, economic and tourism benefits, particularly in rural Australia (Sullivan 2006).

Tourism supports public enjoyment and understanding of heritage, but it is also a pressure on heritage that must be managed carefully to retain vital heritage values and minimise impacts such as congestion, fluctuating demands on local infrastructure and resources, displacement of local services, and physical impacts on, and degradation of, properties and landscapes (Productivity Commission 2006). For local governments, especially in depressed areas, the economic value and tourism potential of authentically conserved places are well recognised (Sullivan 2006). The Environment Protection and Heritage Council has agreed to develop policy to better integrate heritage into tourism, and has produced papers that outline key opportunities and actions as input to the Australian Government’s tourism industry planning (NTHT 2003).

In recent years, many popular natural heritage areas have benefited from the installation of paths and boardwalks through fragile environments such as wetlands or Aboriginal middens. Conservation works have improved the condition of some historic heritage properties, such as the restoration of the original 1859 Cardwell Post Office in North Queensland and the reinstatement of verandahs on many buildings in Broken Hill and Mudgee. This work is being done through heritage trails programmes or programmes for the conservation of buildings in the main streets of country towns. Repairs to dry-stone walls are enhancing their condition in the landscape at Kiama and in the Melton Shire in Victoria. The condition of Indigenous heritage places has improved as a result of increased involvement of Indigenous people  in site management, but there are huge variations in resources, intergenerational involvement and available skills.

Improvements and revisions to Indigenous heritage legislation have allowed for a more integrated concept of heritage in some cases. Indigenous knowledge is increasingly accepted as a valid and necessary information input to biodiversity management, alongside scientific information (Brown and Creaser et al 2006).In Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, for example, legislative changes have improved the recognition of contemporary (social) significance and strengthened the roles of local and regional Indigenous bodies. Increasingly, Indigenous rights to continue practices and to manage their traditional areas are being recognised.

Indigenous land use agreements have gradually gained in popularity, increasing from six agreements in 2000 to 135 agreements in September 2004. Eighty of these were in Queensland, and 55 per cent included cultural heritage provisions. These voluntary agreements between one or more native title groups and other parties—such as miners, pastoralists and governments—about the management of an area of land or water include detailed arrangements about financial payments, employment and training, Indigenous involvement in environmental management, and cultural heritage provisions that exceed legislative requirements (O’Faircheallaigh 2004).

However, the survey of Indigenous organisations conducted for SoE2006 (Open Mind Research Group 2006) reported that community involvement, particularly with Indigenous Elders and outside agencies, is often insufficient to ensure the protection of heritage. Consultation with communities often does not happen at all, or happens too late. Funding is, in many cases, inadequate and uncertain for legal representation to fight inappropriate developments, for long-term planning of heritage maintenance and for cultural centres and computer databases. There are also widespread and complex problems created by overlapping native title claims and consequent lack of clarity about which group legitimately speaks for heritage in a particular area.

In 2002, the former Australian Heritage Commission produced a guide to assist planners and developers in consulting with Indigenous communities. Titled Ask First: A guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values, the guide has been widely distributed.