Key findings

Australia’s rich heritage tells the story of our nation and people

  • Much of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage is globally significant. The breadth and antiquity of much of our heritage make Australia unique on the world stage. Australia’s Indigenous heritage is living and is the foundation of the oldest living cultures in the world. Indigenous heritage consists of the whole body of cultural practices, resources and knowledge systems developed, nurtured and refined by Indigenous peoples. Our heritage will be a richer one when we learn new ways of telling all our stories, and the complexity they hold, together.

Our heritage is not adequately protected

  • There are gaps in the protection of Australia’s heritage. To ensure that Australian heritage is fully protected, resources to identify and research all types of heritage, encompassing all parts of our history, are needed. We also need resources to allow their timely listing and protection. Improved statutory recognition of the broad scope of heritage (i.e. intangible heritage, cultural landscapes and other landscapes, serial sites and objects) would provide more comprehensive heritage protection.
  • Review of the national framework for heritage and associated structural reform is required for better heritage protection. Australia has a complex arrangement for heritage protection involving all 3 levels of government, 33 pieces of heritage legislation and 12 pieces of protected area legislation, as well as a raft of international obligations. This heritage framework has developed organically, leading to gaps and overlaps in responsibility, and gaps in leadership and effective partnerships. There is minimal provision (except at the national level) for performance evaluation to support positive adaptive management of organisations and processes. The framework does, however, have the capacity to allow for some checks and balances to support monitoring and evaluation.
  • Development is a key threat to heritage. It continues to have significant, negative impacts on both natural and cultural heritage. Stronger legislative heritage protection provisions, greater industry regulation in relation to heritage (proven to be effective where applied), and stronger and more robust feasibility, assessment and approvals processes are all needed to resolve these negative effects. Coordinated, collaborative and strategic approaches can engender genuinely sustainable approaches.
  • Australia’s natural heritage includes habitats and ecosystems, and endangered and iconic species, largely protected by their inclusion in protected areas. Climate change is significantly impacting this heritage, and urgent local and global action is required to address this. There is also a need for active management of the other key identified pressures – invasive species; land clearance and modification due to farming, extractive industries and other land-use changes; and increased recreational use in protected areas.
  • Australia’s diverse and widespread historic heritage is at a high level of risk from development, particularly from urban renewal and urban expansion. The ongoing failure of the statutory planning system to adequately protect heritage, especially historic heritage, and weakening of existing protections in some jurisdictions are impacting heritage conservation.

Indigenous heritage and geoheritage need particular attention

  • Destruction of Indigenous heritage is occurring at an unacceptable rate and the reported experience of Indigenous Australians is that they are denied their right to speak for, make decisions about, protect, access and manage their heritage. There is a pressing need for a rights-based approach to Indigenous heritage management, something that is currently lacking at all levels of government across Australia. Uniform and high-standard heritage legislation is urgently needed to protect Indigenous heritage. Together with a primary role in decision-making, Indigenous Australians must have expanded access to Country so that they may continue to interact with and care for heritage sites in line with their customary obligations.
  • As one of Earth’s most stable land masses, Australia has a rich geoheritage with many sites and types of heritage found nowhere else. There is a lack of statutory protection for geoheritage at all levels of government, except through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which provides protection for geoheritage as part of natural heritage. A nationally cohesive legislative framework for geoheritage protection, based on geoconservation principles, is required.

Adaptive planning and management can help to manage pressures on heritage

  • The current level of resourcing for heritage in Australia is not allowing standard heritage protection requirements to be met effectively at any level of government. Current funding does not allow the urgent and necessary management actions and approaches required to address the various pressures on heritage. Significantly greater financial resourcing is needed to identify and assess heritage, manage statutory obligations, monitor heritage condition and management effectiveness, ensure strategic planning and adaptation management, conduct heritage conservation and restoration works, and assist private owners in heritage conservation.
  • Climate change is causing new, more severe, more widespread, long-term and cumulative impacts on a wide range of natural and cultural heritage. These impacts are both direct and indirect. There is an urgent need for heritage risk assessments, risk preparedness and adaptation management plans, and national strategic mitigation and management approaches to mitigate existing and likely future impacts. More broadly, widespread general action to ameliorate climate change is needed to help protect our heritage.