Management approaches

Management approaches in Australia aim to respect and protect heritage values, but also balance this with the needs of the broader community and Indigenous communities.

Assessment Heritage identification and listing
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence

More work remains to be done in relation to the identification and listing or reservation of heritage at all levels of government and across Australia. Biological values are relatively well provided for, although this has occurred mainly within the context of biodiversity conservation. All other types of heritage have regional and thematic gaps in identification and listing, and significant imbalances in the forms of heritage listed. There is undue reliance at the state and territory level on heritage impact assessments to identify heritage, which creates further biases. A greater focus is required on addressing existing gaps through systematic identification programs, on translating this information into listings, and on reducing nomination backlogs where they occur.
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target 11.4

Assessment Heritage identification and listing for Indigenous heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is ineffective, meaning that management measures are failing to stop substantial declines in the state of the environment. The situation is deteriorating.
Limited confidence
2011
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.

Indigenous heritage is inadequately identified, documented and protected. There is a distrust within many Indigenous communities of registers, and hesitation in disclosing sites and knowledge of significance. Indigenous people experience a lack of free, prior and informed consent within the mechanisms in which heritage is identified and assessed.

Assessment Heritage identification and listing for natural heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence
2011
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was improving.

Natural heritage has been relatively well identified and reserved within protected areas, as part of developing the National Reserve System (NRS). Greater consideration of heritage as opposed to biodiversity conservation is desirable in expanding the NRS.

Assessment Heritage identification and listing for geoheritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

Although considerable geoheritage has been identified, this has not translated into listings, except in relation to National Heritage and World Heritage, and even at this level listings have been limited. There is also a need for greater systematic identification of geoheritage across Australia, including in protected areas.

Assessment Heritage identification and listing for historic heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence
2011
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was improving.

A large amount of historic heritage has been identified throughout Australia, but there are significant thematic and regional gaps that are not being addressed, and archaeological heritage and cultural landscapes are significantly under-represented in listings at all levels. Jurisdictions at all levels have significant numbers of unprocessed nominations.

Assessment Heritage identification and listing for World Heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is ineffective, meaning that management measures are failing to stop substantial declines in the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Limited effort is being made by government to identify World Heritage and to develop the Australian Tentative List. Systematic identification is required to replace the current ad hoc approach.

Assessment Heritage identification and listing for National Heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is improving.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Although some thematic assessments have been undertaken for National Heritage, there are numerous gaps in the National Heritage List that are not being addressed; the results of studies are not translating into assessments and listings; and there are a quantity of unassessed nominations. The recent focus on Indigenous heritage is starting to address what was a significant imbalance.

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was effective, meaning that management measures maintained or improved the state of the environment, but pressures remained as significant factors that degraded environment values. The situation was stable.

Although most protected areas have management plans in place, these are being poorly operationalised, particularly in relation to values monitoring, conservation and risk management. New approaches, particularly risk management planning and strategic planning, needed to deal with climate change–related pressures and, to a lesser extent, other pressures, are slow to happen. The situation is similar in relation to Indigenous and historic heritage, but with heritage management planning also limited. Efforts to conserve, rehabilitate and restore heritage are limited, and much more is required. Inadequate resourcing is a key constraining factor.
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals target 11.4

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation for Indigenous heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is ineffective, meaning that management measures are failing to stop substantial declines in the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.

Indigenous voices are beginning to be better included in established heritage organisations, and separate organisations are emerging. Co-design and a voice in decision-making are still lacking.

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation for natural heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was effective, meaning that management measures maintained or improved the state of the environment, but pressures remained as significant factors that degraded environment values. The situation was improving.

Good planning is generally in place for natural heritage through protected area management plans, which also establish good management processes. However, strategic planning, values monitoring and evaluation, and risk management planning are not keeping up with what is required to successfully manage new and increasing pressures on these properties. Management planning is falling behind, with significant numbers of protected area management plans in need of review.

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation for geoheritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

For geoheritage within protected areas, good planning is generally in place through management plans, which also establish good management processes. However, strategic planning, values monitoring and evaluation, and risk management planning are not keeping up with what is required to successfully manage new and increasing pressures on these properties. Management planning is falling behind, with significant numbers of protected area management plans in need of review.
Unprotected geoheritage is not being managed.

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation for historic heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.

Although recommended for historic heritage places, only a small percentage of historic heritage places, including listed heritage places, have prepared conservation management plans, and these are often outdated. Many fewer places have formal monitoring or risk management planning, and strategic management planning is rare. Very little historic heritage is receiving the conservation work required to maintain places in stable or good condition.

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation for World Heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is deteriorating.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Good planning and management processes are in place for World Heritage. However, strategic planning, values monitoring and evaluation, and adaptation planning are not keeping up with what is required to successfully manage new and increasing pressures on these properties. Although all properties have management plans, 50% require review.

Assessment Heritage planning and conservation for National Heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is improving.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Generally, good planning and management processes are in place for National Heritage. However, strategic planning, values monitoring and evaluation, and adaptation planning are not keeping up with what is required to successfully manage new and increasing pressures on these properties.

Assessment Heritage governance
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

A more cohesive Australia-wide approach to heritage management is needed to achieve better shared, strategic, efficient and effective heritage conservation. The Australian Heritage Strategy can play an important role in this, but is lacking leadership in implementation, and could be strengthened by clearer objectives and actions. Leadership by government is generally inadequate. Although Australia is generally meeting its international obligations well, there are some areas where greater effort is considered necessary, particularly the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Greater community participation in decision-making, particularly by Indigenous people in relation to Indigenous heritage, is needed. More could be done to present and celebrate Australia’s heritage.
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target 11.4

Assessment Heritage governance for Indigenous heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is ineffective, meaning that management measures are failing to stop substantial declines in the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.
2011
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.

Indigenous organisations and alliances have enabled Indigenous people to be empowered in heritage management. However, there is limited resourcing, and there are barriers for Indigenous people to influence mainstream systems of governance.

Assessment Heritage governance for natural heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was effective, meaning that management measures maintained or improved the state of the environment, but pressures remained as significant factors that degraded environment values. The situation was stable.
2011
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was improving.

Despite the National Reserve System framework and strategy for its development, natural heritage management is continuing to suffer from a lack of cohesive management between the various levels of government and lacks holistic Australia-wide oversight. Leadership at all levels is inadequate. Limited action to address climate change is a key issue for natural heritage conservation.

Assessment Heritage governance for geoheritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

Geoheritage conservation lacks a cohesive national framework for management, as well as having inadequate statutory protection. There is a lack of leadership in relation to this, particularly at the national level where it is most needed.

Assessment Heritage governance for historic heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence
2016
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.
2011
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.

Historic heritage management is continuing to suffer from a lack of cohesive management between the various levels of government and lacks holistic Australia-wide oversight. However, the Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand has helped in this area to some extent. Leadership to improve historic heritage conservation at all levels is inadequate, and there is failure in many contexts to adequately defend historic heritage.

Assessment Heritage governance for World Heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

Government leadership is regarded as good at the international level, but poor at the national level, particularly in relation to managing major emerging pressures. The lack of a formal Indigenous advisory capacity is a particular issue. Australia is meeting international obligations well, but with some exceptions. Limited action to address climate change has emerged as a key issue for the conservation of natural World Heritage.

Assessment Heritage governance for National Heritage
2021
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is stable.
Very limited confidence

Government leadership in this area, although relatively good, could be improved. Management suffers from inadequate cohesion between the 2 levels of government. The Australian Heritage Council has performed well, but its work is significantly constrained by inadequate resourcing.


Respecting and protecting heritage values

Values-based management, a keystone for effective heritage conservation in Australia, promotes respect for heritage as a complex set of values, not as an object (e.g. Avrami et al. 2019). A values-based approach is important for understanding why heritage items and areas are being protected and how to manage them.

The values-based approach was developed in Australia, and is now appreciated and adopted widely overseas (Avrami et al. 2019). The approach is most developed in the Australia ICOMOS (2013) Burra Charter, which defines the significance of heritage with reference to a recognised set of values and establishes a process of management to protect these values. It is also the approach of the Australian Natural Heritage Charter: for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance (AHC 2002a).

Although the approach has widespread application in Australia, 3 areas of concern in relation to its application and use have been identified.

First, heritage values are not all being recognised and respected equally. Protected areas tend to prioritise the significance of natural values over cultural values, and the significance of biological values over geoheritage values. For example, the already listed Blue Mountains are awaiting renomination to the National Heritage List to allow cultural heritage values to be recognised. Also, the Indigenous cultural landscape values of the Tasmanian Wilderness have not yet been formally assessed, although the current management plan outlines key desired outcomes for managing Aboriginal cultural values and increasing the involvement of Aboriginal people in connecting with these values, and managing and interpreting them (DNRE 2016). At the state and territory level, it appears that there is more confidence in using the more ‘traditionally’ used values such as representativeness, rarity and historical importance, whereas social value and aesthetic value are not as well used.

Second, the social and economic benefits of a place are often conflated with the heritage values of the place. Although heritage can be of economic importance through tourism and other recreational use, this benefit is not a heritage value. The confusion of benefit and value puts real heritage values at risk, as the economic benefit can be used to drive overexploitation. Such confusion is becoming noticeable in statements of value in protected area planning documents and strategic documents, particularly where there is tourism and recreational use of protected areas and other heritage.

Lastly, values-based principles are often poorly applied in planning and management. For example, protected area management zoning is commonly related to use (e.g. visitor services zone recreational zone, remote use zone, no-take area), rather than values. Unless the use-based zones have been based on good values data, this approach puts heritage at risk. The values approach is routinely used at a small scale in heritage place conservation management plans and at a large scale for marine parks, and has been applied in industry. However, the approach does not appear to have translated widely into demonstrable values-based management zoning (McConnell 2012).

Heritage identification

In using a values-based approach, it is important to acknowledge the scope of heritage with considerable variation across Australia in what aspects of heritage are recognised in legislation and statutory instruments. Developing a more heritage-inclusive approach will be important in ensuring that all heritage is appropriately protected.

Intangible heritage, heritage landscapes and objects are 3 areas identified as requiring improved recognition and identification.

Although conceptually recognised in Australia, intangible heritage is very poorly recognised in the Australian heritage protection and management framework. Currently, it is recognised in only a single piece of heritage legislation, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic) (see Indigenous heritage legislation) It is, however, a core part of cultural heritage, providing for culturally significant knowledge and practices to be recognised and preserved. Its recognition is extremely important to Australian Indigenous people who have maintained their connection to Country, and many associated practices and knowledge that form their living, continued heritage.

Much of the significance of cultural heritage exists at the landscape scale, and many heritage values are best recognised at this level – for example, the Indigenous relationship to Country, the dynamic interplay between human activity and the natural environment. Such an approach provides benefits for cultural heritage conservation that far outweigh, and cannot be reproduced by, the benefits of conserving individual heritage items, even collectively (Brown & Vileikis 2020, McConnell & Brown 2020, Vines 2020). Statutory protection for heritage has traditionally focused on smaller, tangible place-based heritage places, with frequent provision for small heritage areas, generally as precincts for historic heritage. Other than at the national level, few jurisdictions recognise cultural landscapes. The concept of cultural landscape also needs to be expanded to include waterscapes, seascapes and skyscapes, all of which are important to fully recognising Indigenous heritage.

Objects and collections are viewed as heritage, but their treatment varies enormously across Australia. Object collections are generally the responsibility of collecting institutions such as museums, libraries or herbariums, and are largely managed under separate, arts-based legislation. Although on-site objects are generally protected as part of a place, and there is Commonwealth legislation to prevent movable cultural heritage from being exported overseas, there is poor recognition of, and protection for, the many heritage objects and collections that have been removed from their heritage sites.

All types of heritage have unidentified, and hence unprotected, heritage (see Environment), although the full extent of unidentified heritage is unknown.

The understanding of Indigenous heritage that can be protected under legislation is patchy to poor in all jurisdictions, as a result of the limited systematic regional or thematic assessment that has been undertaken, and the lack of systematic identification of other types of Indigenous heritage, given their minimal statutory protection. Historic heritage across Australia has numerous regional and thematic gaps, which vary across jurisdictions. The situation is similar for underwater cultural heritage, although the thematic gaps are less diverse (see McConnell 2021d). Although there are major regional and thematic gaps in the identification of geoheritage, given the limited systematic survey or ability to protect geoheritage through listing, a large number and range of geoheritage places have been identified, primarily through the work of the Geological Society of Australia. Karst geoheritage values, in particular, have been relatively well identified across Australia, due to the high level of interest in karst landscapes and their management (see Geoheritage). Natural heritage is considered to be the best identified and protected type of heritage, given the extensive national protected area system.

There are very few systematic programs to identify heritage. Community nominations and development-related environmental impact assessments are heavily relied on to identify new heritage. Neither of these approaches, which generally generate limited identifications and ad hoc nominations to registers, can replace systematic heritage identification projects undertaken by heritage experts. This issue was raised in both the 2011 and 2016 state of the environment reports, which concluded that ‘inadequacies in understanding the heritage resource extend across the full spectrum of places, at all levels of jurisdiction and government in relation to heritage’ (SoE 2011 Committee 2011, Mackay 2016a). No progress on this issue can be reported in 2021 (McConnell 2021d).

As the Register of the National Estate contains a large number of places that were identified as heritage, but not transferred to other heritage lists when the register ceased to operate, reviewing these non-transferred places for potential inclusion on other heritage registers would make a significant, achievable contribution to addressing these deficiencies in identification and listing. Mackay (2016a:79) noted that there had not been a comprehensive analysis of statutory listings in Australia, including the Register of the National Estate, and noted that it would be a timely and valuable exercise. Such an analysis has still not occurred.

Management planning

Good planning is essential to generating good heritage outcomes. The role of plans is to provide clear, evidence-based management direction for heritage protection. Good heritage planning is based on policy derived from a good understanding of the heritage, the obligations for management and other factors affecting heritage (AHC 2002a, Australia ICOMOS 2013).

In Australia, heritage place-based planning is achieved through protected area management plans and cultural heritage conservation management plans, or equivalent. Management plans are a statutory requirement for protected areas at the national, and state and territory levels, and for heritage places at the national level. Standard practice is for individual protected areas or places to have their own management plan. Management plans generally contain a statement of the values, and a brief list of the objectives and actions for the conservation of these values.

Management plans in some jurisdictions have known deficiencies. Some plans lack a comprehensive understanding and articulation of the heritage values of protected areas, with limited consideration of risk and risk management, and emerging major issues. Instead, they focus on core concerns such as protection from disasters or specific uses such as tourism and recreation, and only provide limited guidance on proactive values conservation (McConnell 2021a, McConnell 2021b).

In national park management plans, actions are not linked to specific timelines for implementation, performance measures, targets or benchmarks. Although all parks currently have a management plan in place, most have had a period of 2–6 years without a management plan while the next 10-year management plan is prepared (The Auditor-General 2019).

Concerningly, not all cultural heritage places have management plans, particularly at the state and territory and local levels, and their preparation is often only triggered by new development or conservation proposals. Where reserve management plans and other statutorily required management plans exist, around 60% nationally are at least 10 years old (McConnell 2021d).

Strategic planning and adaptive management

Strategic planning and adaptive management are important to effectively protect heritage and manage risk (Worboys et al. 2015).

The data and opinion provided for this chapter (McConnell 2021d, McConnell 2021a, McConnell 2021b) suggest that strategic planning is lacking at a range of levels, including limited forward planning, and understanding of broadscale impacts and risks. This is primarily an issue for protected area management. Of particular concern is the limited strategic planning in relation to meeting climate change risk and managing tourism in protected areas.

The Samuel Review noted that (Samuel 2020:2):

The EPBC Act lacks comprehensive plans to manage cumulative impacts, key threats and to set priorities … Ultimately, governments should shift their focus from individual project approvals to a focus on clear outcomes, integrated into national and regional plans for protecting and restoring the environment and plans for sustainable development … The EPBC Act needs to enable more effective planning and governments must commit to and resource the development and implementation of plans.

Coupled with the need for strategic planning is the need for adaptive management to provide a flexible, systematic approach to improving management by learning from experience and modifying subsequent behaviour.

Adaptation planning, or risk management planning, is a key tool for managing pressures. Where there are specific major pressures, such as climate change, that put the protected environment at identifiable risk, the appropriate management response is generally set out in risk management (or adaptation) plans. This planning requires reliable information on pressures, vulnerability, risks, baseline condition of the environment and responses to pressures. This information is used to refine or develop new management approaches. Adaptation plans may be site-specific for certain types of heritage, or strategic broader-scale plans.

Currently, the level of information being collected is insufficient for effective adaptive management (McConnell 2021d, McConnell 2021a, McConnell 2021b). Minimal reliable information is available on rates of damage and destruction of heritage, and the causes for any type of heritage. This makes it impossible to identify trends and early warning signs, and allows heritage destruction to go largely unnoticed. Having publicly accessible listings of threatened and damaged heritage could lead to greater direct heritage protection. Improved national standardisation in what data are collected and how they are reported will better support comparative analysis and strategic approaches (Binskin et al. 2020).

Independent review and evaluation of organisational performance is also an important aspect of adaptive management. It assists in identifying deficiencies in management to enable improvements, and promotes management effectiveness, accountability, openness and transparency.

Review in relation to heritage and protected area management is extremely limited at all levels, with few existing formal requirements for performance review or audit (as opposed to routine reporting, such as standard annual reports) (McConnell 2021d). Few examples exist across all jurisdictions. The exceptions are the requirement for the Australian Government to undertake an independent 5-yearly national state of the environment report under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), and in Victoria where the Aboriginal Heritage Council (as an independent body) is required to report every 5 years on the state of Victoria’s Aboriginal cultural heritage and the National Parks Advisory Council (as an independent body) is required to review the management of terrestrial protected areas in Victoria as part of its annual reporting. The Auditor-General (2019) found that the management of national parks in relation to the audit criteria was inadequate, which highlights that regular performance review is required to improve management and governance.

Maintenance, restoration and repair

An important aspect of protecting heritage values is the maintenance, restoration or repair of natural and cultural heritage. It is important that such activities are conducted on an ongoing basis and when needed, as deterioration becomes worse and less reversible over time, and financially more costly to repair.

The maintenance, restoration and repair of Indigenous heritage is challenged by (HCOANZ 2020):

  • restricted access to Country, which makes it difficult for Indigenous communities to monitor their heritage
  • insufficient resourcing
  • deficits in identification processes
  • a lack of uniform approach across jurisdictions.

Inadequate resourcing remains an issue in relation to Indigenous languages. The Australian Government allocated $22.8 million in 2021 (DITRDC 2021) to the preservation of Indigenous languages. However, this is insufficient to cover more than 150 languages desperately in need of support and maintenance, after languages were included in the Closing the Gap objectives.

In relation to Australia’s natural heritage maintenance, significant work on invasive species control and environmental rehabilitation (e.g. animal recovery projects, revegetation projects) are being undertaken in protected areas, particularly in World Heritage properties and National Heritage places. In many cases, these projects use considerable volunteer time (McConnell 2021d).

Although there are no easily accessible data on maintenance of historic heritage, general consensus among heritage professionals is that such work is falling well short of what is required, and existing grants and incentives fall short of meeting the need (McConnell 2021c, McConnell 2021a).

Australia also has legacy restoration matters, for both natural and cultural heritage, that require attention. Examples include:

  • the preservation or restoration of cultural heritage sites of major significance that have naturally degraded, but are at a point where deterioration is beginning to accelerate and the heritage will be rapidly lost without some conservation action
  • the preservation or restoration of natural environment significantly affected by industry, such as mining legacy deforestation, waterway disruption, pollution and acid mine drainage
  • significant heritage species, sites and landscapes that have been impacted by various uses or developments but are recoverable (e.g. case study: Lake Pedder – opportunities for restoration).

Case Study Lake Pedder – opportunities for restoration

Based on information provided by Dr Kevin Kiernan, Tasmania

Sources: Lake Pedder Committee of Enquiry & Burton (1975), DASETT (1989), Timms (1992), Australian Government (1995), Tyler et al. (1996), Sharples (2001), Angus (2008), Cica (2011), Sims (2012), Kiernan (2019)

The natural Lake Pedder in south-western Tasmania was a highly scenic and globally geomorphologically unique glacigenic lake with rare biological values. It was the focal point of the Lake Pedder National Park declared in 1955 (Australian Government 1995, Tyler et al. 1996, Kiernan 2019). The lake – particularly famed for its beach, the most extensive freshwater beach system in Australia (Timms 1992) – was much visited by bushwalkers and others who arrived by plane. It became the subject of highly celebrated artworks by landscape painters, as well as stimulating development of a distinctive genre of Australian wilderness photography (Angus 2008, Cica 2011).

Lake Pedder was flooded in 1972 as part of the Gordon River hydro-electricity scheme, causing the greatest loss of wilderness (see Types and condition of natural heritage) of any single Tasmanian project to date. The history of the flooding of Lake Pedder reveals deficiencies in the then conservation legislation and its implementation. The lower house of the Tasmanian Parliament approved the proposal in 1967 but, after growing protests, was challenged in 1972 on the basis that the approval contravened the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970 (Tas). Controversial retrospective legislation (the Gordon River Doubts Removal Bill) was passed to enable the flooding of the national park. This occurred despite an Australian Government open offer of funding for an alternative to flooding Lake Pedder based on the report of the Australian Government 1973 Committee of Inquiry into the flooding of Lake Pedder (Lake Pedder Committee of Enquiry & Burton 1975, Sims 2012).

Both the proposal and the process generated an unprecedented level of environmental controversy and stimulated the formation of the first ‘green’ political party established anywhere in the world. The Pedder controversy was also foundational to increased Australian Government involvement in environmental matters, including enactment of new legislative initiatives such as establishment of the National Estate system, Australia becoming a party to the World Heritage system, and Australian Government funding of heritage conservation initiatives.

Today, the Lake Pedder area lies at the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, one of the key attributes of which is the Outstanding Universal Value of its glacial geoheritage (DASETT 1989, Hannan et al. 1993). The World Heritage Committee included the flooded area within the World Heritage Area in the expressed hope that restoration of the original landscape would one day be possible (UNESCO WHC 2021a). The restoration of Lake Pedder was also supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature meeting in Buenos Aires in 1994. Further scientific studies in the early to mid-1990s confirmed that the landforms remain intact beneath the reservoir, allowing restoration of the original lake (Sharples 2002), and an Australian parliamentary inquiry in 1995 concluded that restoration of the original lake was indeed technically feasible (Australian Government 1995).

The removal of dams for environmental rehabilitation is becoming relatively commonplace globally. This, and the current United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, provide an opportunity to closely examine restoration of Lake Pedder, an action that would restore a key geomorphic attribute of Outstanding Universal Value and restore wilderness value, an attribute that underpins the maintenance of the integrity of the values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Such an action would clearly demonstrate Australia’s commitment to heritage restoration.

Figure 30 The original Lake Pedder, before the 1973 inundation

Photo: Kevin Kiernan


Providing for community needs and expectations

Globally, natural and cultural heritage is regarded as an inheritance to be appreciated and shared. Fundamental to heritage protection is a sharing and accommodation of knowledge, perspectives, values, respect and responsibilities, to accommodate the multiple actors and the co-existence of multiple values (Mackay 2016a, Brown & Vileikis 2020).

Recognising Indigenous rights

The most pressing community need in relation to heritage is meeting the rights and interests of Indigenous people. These rights and interests relate to decision-making powers for heritage, and access to Country and heritage places to enable the observation of customary practices. There is an increasing call by Australian Indigenous people for reform to empower them ‘to take a rightful place’ in their own country (The Uluru Statement 2017, Samuel 2020) (see Indigenous heritage).

In relation to Indigenous heritage needs, acknowledgement and reparation for past injustices are critical. Improved repatriation of objects and human remains (including from overseas) to Country, and a rebalancing of the telling of Australia’s history to accurately reflect the history of Indigenous Australians are occurring slowly, but need much more work.

Contributing to heritage protection

Community interest in better environmental management, including for heritage, can be seen in the scale of volunteer work contributed to protected area and heritage place management (McConnell 2021d). It can also be seen in the high level of advocacy across Australia for improved environmental and heritage outcomes, the many environmental nongovernment organisations, and the many challenges to approved developments, and perceived poor planning and strategic proposals, as submissions, as letters to the media and on social media.

Given the community interest in environmental and heritage protection, a more inclusive, shared approach to heritage management is warranted. Such an approach should include greater genuine participation of the community in decisions about heritage, and greater access to more equitable and non-adversarial processes in relation to development assessment and approval. Failing to support community interests can reduce the community’s interest in contributing to environmental and heritage protection.

Wellbeing and amenity

The importance of heritage to human wellbeing was recognised in 1972 in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which states:

… in a society where living conditions are changing at an accelerated pace, it is essential for man’s equilibrium and development to preserve for him a fitting setting in which to live, where he will remain in contact with nature and the evidences of civilization bequeathed by past generations.

Heritage helps to create a special sense of place, which can lead to attachment to place. Both tangible and intangible heritage are integral parts of engendering a sense of place identity, and of belonging and cohesion (UNESCO WHC 2016). Heritage is essential for contemporary and future wellbeing; if we do not better care for heritage, human health will be negatively impacted (Taçon & Baker 2019).

The importance of heritage in contributing to attachment and wellbeing is generally not well recognised or understood in Australia (Taçon & Baker 2019). Where it is recognised, it is primarily in relation to Indigenous heritage and protected areas.

Indigenous people’s wellbeing is tied to the wellbeing of Country. With all aspects of Indigenous heritage and cultures embedded in Country, it is widely understood that, if Country is sick, people are sick (see the Indigenous chapter)

In relation to protected areas, the positive impacts that connecting with nature have on our health and wellbeing, particularly for children, are relatively well recognised (Camp et al. 2020). For example, the Healthy Parks Healthy People approach used in some park and protected area management has as a key principle that the wellbeing of all societies depends on healthy ecosystems, and that contact with nature is essential for improving emotional, physical and spiritual health and wellbeing (Parks Victoria 2014). The Canberra Nature Park explicitly recognises the role that the natural environment has in contributing to wellbeing, including Indigenous wellbeing (EPSDD 2021). In natural areas, where recreation can improve wellbeing, the impact on the natural values from unmanaged use can, however, undo many of the benefits of these areas (Hennings & Soll 2017).

However, general community valuing of place, based on heritage, is less well understood in Australia, and is rarely assessed. Some jurisdictions that recognise local character have explicitly recognised the contribution of heritage to local character – for example, the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment guidelines for assessing local character (DPE 2019).

As well as heritage and access to heritage promoting wellbeing, human wellbeing is harmed when heritage is damaged or destroyed (Taçon & Baker 2019). Significant damage to heritage can lead to solastalgia (i.e. feelings of individual or community grief, loss and anger caused by negatively perceived environmental change).

Australia’s Indigenous people and communities experience significant solastalgia due to the continued losses caused by the ongoing circumstance of colonisation, and because of their deeply embedded, symbiotic relationship to Country.

Historically, Indigenous peoples are likely to experience both nostalgia and solastalgia as they live through the destruction of their cultural traditions and their lands. Where a collective memory of an ancient culture such as that of Indigenous Australians still exists, there is no idealisation of a golden past … but a genuine grieving for the ongoing loss of ‘country’ and all that entails. The strength of attachment to country is difficult for people in European cultures to fathom. (Albrecht et al. 2007)

Although the human costs of environmental change and impacts to heritage are rarely captured in environmental or social impact assessment (Roche & Judd 2016), they are evident. To improve wellbeing, assessing these costs and developing a greater understanding of how and where they occur will be required, to enhance the ability of heritage to foster and sustain attachment to place and provide local amenity.

Presenting and celebrating heritage

Some level of visitor interpretation occurs at most protected areas and heritage places in Australia. Presentation and interpretation range from static information boards or web-accessible information to guided tours or cultural demonstrations. Interpretation at heritage places should enhance understanding of heritage and be culturally appropriate. The co-existence of different cultural values needs to be recognised and respected, with stories told truthfully. A good example can be found at the Kamay Botany Bay botanical collection sites, which is a site listed for its National Heritage significance.

Where heritage places are used for education, presentation and celebration, the way in which they are used needs to be compatible with the heritage values of the place. The importance of this is demonstrated in the closure of the visitor climb on Uluṟu in 2019 to respect Aṉangu Tjukurpa (Aṉangu law and culture) and in the outcry in 2018 when the projection of a horse-racing advertisement on the sails of the Sydney Opera House was authorised by the New South Wales Government (McGowan 2018).

In recent years, there have been advances in including Indigenous content in school curriculums across Australia. However, there is still much work to be done to combat misinformation and the lack of truth telling that has dominated education about Indigenous history (Harrison 2013, AEUVB 2021).

It is important that Indigenous heritage is not understood and presented as residing in the past. This fails to recognise that heritage is integral to all aspects of living Indigenous cultures, and that heritage for Indigenous communities intertwines the past, the present and the future (see Indigenous heritage). Heritage is maintained and practised by Indigenous communities to honour ancestors and creator beings who also reside in the present, to strengthen and maintain contemporary Indigenous values, and to ensure that cultural heritage can be transmitted into the future (Keeler & Couzens 2010).

Celebrating heritage is an important way to connect with heritage. Although culture is generally well celebrated, and natural and cultural heritage may be used as a context for celebrations, heritage itself is not broadly celebrated. The celebration and promotion of heritage usually rely on the community, heritage professionals and nongovernment organisations who run small, occasional, mainly local events. The 2 most successful national celebrations are the Australian Heritage Festival, coordinated by the National Trusts of Australia, which occurs annually in Heritage Week, during which other, generally cultural heritage celebratory events are often held, and NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week (see the Indigenous chapter).

Despite efforts to present and celebrate Australia’s heritage and educate the community about heritage, there is continuing lack of awareness of heritage in many parts of the community. The strongly regulatory approach of Australia’s heritage legislation discourages a more positive, educational and shared experiential approach to heritage. Broadening heritage management in Australia to promote greater understanding and celebration of heritage to increase awareness is therefore desirable. Collaboration and partnership approaches to foster resource and information sharing, and to support volunteer effort and knowledge transfer can make important contributions (Wain 2020).

Indigenous management approaches

The involvement of Indigenous people in sustainable land and sea decision-making and management is paramount to the protection of Indigenous heritage, as are ongoing improvements in knowledge and practices that support Indigenous cultural traditions and connections to Country (see the Indigenous chapter). Indigenous management is not just about protecting Indigenous heritage sites. Involvement of Indigenous people in broader natural and geoheritage protection and management is critical to sound environmental practices and the way forward for Australian heritage. The holistic practice of caring for Country is about Indigenous people making decisions about their heritage for their cultural, social and economic benefit.

Most respondents to the expert survey undertaken for this report found that the highest priority for management of Indigenous heritage was increased Indigenous participation in governance, closely followed by improved heritage legislation to better protect Indigenous heritage (Figure 31).

Figure 31 Priority management actions identified for improving the protection of Australia’s Indigenous heritage

Indigenous engagement and management

Greater and more culturally appropriate engagement of Indigenous people in the management of Indigenous heritage has been identified as a management issue in state of the environment reporting since 1996. The main ways Indigenous people become involved in the formal management of their heritage is through employment, consultation and Indigenous advisory committees. Indigenous people are involved in agreement-making through processes of the heritage and native title legislative framework, as well as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) and planning laws. Recognised Indigenous representative bodies are empowered under these frameworks to represent Traditional Owners, and to make decisions and agreements about their heritage. These are the Registered Aboriginal Parties in Victoria and Queensland, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and land councils in the Northern Territory, and Aboriginal owners in New South Wales. Indigenous people and organisations provide cultural heritage management plans and surveys in response to applications from project developers.

However, these processes are reactive, and there are limitations in that the decision rests with a minister. Indigenous people are calling for free, prior and informed consent and control over their cultural heritage, including:

  • management of cultural landscapes
  • rights to hunting, genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge
  • water and land management practices in relation to harvesting and agriculture.

Greater and more culturally appropriate engagement of Indigenous people in the management of Indigenous heritage has been identified as a management issue in state of the environment reports since 1996.

Some state and territories have an established statutory structure for Indigenous involvement. This includes the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority established under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council, and the South Australian process (DPC 1988), where heritage processes include a formal consultation process with Indigenous people. Recent reports and inquiries such as the Samuel Review and the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia in the Australian Senate into the operation of, and approvals granted under, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) have foreshadowed the need for change to state and territory legislation to recognise the right of free, prior and informed consent, as per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

State and territory heritage departments are developing programs, and engagement and consultation policies to engage with Indigenous people. For local government, some councils are engaging Indigenous people, developing Reconciliation Action Plans, employing Indigenous engagement officers and bringing together advisory groups. However, a key concern for Indigenous people is that these are not rights-based approaches that enable them to make decisions about their heritage.

Indigenous engagement is critical for the management of significant places. Indigenous people are involved in developing management plans for many places with Indigenous heritage significance on the National and Commonwealth lists. Some national parks are co-managed by Indigenous people, including Uluṟu–Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Kakadu National Park and Booderee National Park (see the Indigenous chapter). The Budj Bim cultural landscape is managed by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation. Recent long-term funding has been provided for ranger programs at the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape (see case study: Budj Bim Cultural Landscape inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019).

Indigenous heritage is holistic, and cultural practice is being revitalised in Indigenous communities. There are growing numbers of Indigenous people working in management of Indigenous heritage, fire management, cultural tourism, carbon abatement and other areas of natural resource management. For example, in Victoria, Indigenous corporations are undertaking heritage work, and ranger programs allow access to Country and opportunities for Indigenous people to manage their own sites. However, these programs are limited and often involve only short-term funding (see the Indigenous chapter).

New business- and community-based ways of continued Indigenous connection to heritage and Country are being developed. Ecotourism is an area of growth that provides for Indigenous connection to Country. For example, Gooniyandi people run cultural tours in the Mimbi Caves of the Kimberley region in Western Australia. The tours offer a cultural experience based on visiting the caves, which are rich in Indigenous rock art. Other experiences include sharing of Dreamtime stories and knowledge of local bush medicines, sampling bush tucker (including damper made with native seed) and a visit (for women only) to the highly significant birthing cave site (Aboriginal Carbon Foundation et al. 2020:69).

There are growing alliances between Indigenous corporations and national parks, and environmental organisations such as Bush Heritage Australia. Partnerships such as this can allow the proactive management and adequate protection of sites, including through enforcement of legal rights.

Indigenous agency

Indigenous agency refers to Indigenous-led organisations with growing capacity to identify, promote, resource and deliver Indigenous priorities, goals and aspirations. These organisations include peak national Indigenous organisations; regional and state community-controlled organisations such as land councils, and land and sea management agencies; Indigenous Protected Areas; and housing, health and community organisations. These organisations make up a strong and dynamic network of Indigenous agencies at the national, state, regional and local levels. Examples include organisations representing specific areas, such as Indigenous Desert Alliance, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations. Other examples include land councils, registered Aboriginal parties recognised under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic), Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs) and the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.

In some states and territories, land councils have statutory roles to manage heritage. For instance, in the Northern Territory, land councils play a statutory role in assisting with the protection of sacred sites, cultural landscapes and cultural heritage sites – for example, by employing land and sea rangers. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) provides that it is an offence to enter on a sacred site in the Northern Territory without appropriate permission.

In Victoria, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 recognises Registered Aboriginal Parties as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

With native title claims and determinations under native title, the role of PBCs is growing, and PBCs can play a major role in heritage management. More than 70% of PBCs nominated their main successes as fulfilling native title obligations, looking after and strengthening Country, and improving governance (see the Indigenous chapter).

The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance (the Alliance) was established in 2020 by Aboriginal leaders following a national crisis meeting in response to Rio Tinto’s destruction of the 46,000+ year-old sacred heritage site at Juukan Gorge. The Alliance has representatives from every major Aboriginal land council and native title body in Australia, other key Indigenous land and heritage organisations such as PBCs, and Indigenous advocates for Indigenous heritage protection. The establishment of this new Indigenous entity presents a united force in Indigenous heritage concerns, in what has historically been a fractured landscape in terms of the many and varied legislative structures across the country. The Alliance acts as an advocacy network allowing Traditional Owners to alert one another when their sacred heritage is under threat, and to unite in taking national action (NNTC 2021). The Alliance has vowed to pursue national reform to prevent the further destruction of cultural heritage.

In recent decades, there has been an increase in engagement of Indigenous communities in environmental management, in part due to the return of land to Traditional Custodians from the late 1970s onwards. The establishment of self-determined land and sea management agencies and ranger groups has been a significant development (see the Indigenous chapter). Indigenous ranger initiatives have contributed towards a steady increase in capacity building among rangers. These organisations are focusing on building sustainable business models and strengthening governance. There are also programs that develop professional skills for heritage management, such as the Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management in Victoria (DPC 2019).

Many Indigenous individuals, communities and alliances are increasingly mobilising to directly voice opposition and concerns with existing management. Recent examples can be seen in the activism by Barkandji peoples in relation to the devastation of their Baaka/Barka – Darling River, as well as Indigenous water alliances such as the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council. The Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network is building a movement led by young Indigenous people to address all aspects of climate change. The First Nations Bush Foods & Botanical Alliance Australia, established in 2019, represents Indigenous communities and works to effect changes in law, respect and recognition of intellectual property, and the development of protocols, education and awareness.

Indigenous data management and keeping places

A growing area of Indigenous heritage management is the establishment of Indigenous-managed databases or keeping places for collection of heritage materials and Indigenous knowledge. This includes Indigenous knowledge of landscapes and seascapes, maps, languages, arts, photographs, films and cultural practices.

The use of databases has increased since 2016, with databases such as Ara Iritja, ESS Solutions, The Keeping Place, Mukurtu, Miromaa, HealthyCountry AI and Keeping Culture. The Indigenous Data Network focuses on the protection of Indigenous data, much of which is focused on heritage. Data-sharing agreements are being developed to govern the use of knowledge, and the importance of Indigenous data governance is becoming recognised (see the Indigenous chapter).

Recent research has highlighted the need to have an up-to-date national map of sites of significance to Indigenous people, which is integral to preserving and celebrating this aspect of Indigenous heritage (Wagner 2019):

Sharing Indigenous cultural heritage with the wider community has become more difficult because there is less information to help explain the stories and significance of Indigenous places, which is what builds connections in our society. The lack of a comprehensive national register backed by an adequate database also places us in a difficult position with the international community. For example, we are currently unable to measure our national management practices against international benchmarks or the effects of climate change on our Indigenous heritage places. We urgently need a national database of places of Indigenous and historical and cultural significance to address these issues.

Protection and repatriation of objects, ancestors and knowledge are also key to strengthening culture and Indigenous heritage. ‘Keeping places’ provide a community-focused and controlled approach to safeguarding heritage to allow continued cultural practice and transmission. Examples of such initiatives include the Mulka Project, which was set up to sustain and protect Yolŋu cultural knowledge in north-east Arnhem Land under the leadership of community Elders (Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre 2017). The Mulka production house’s recording studio, digital learning centre and cultural archive are managed by Yolŋu law and governance, and are a prime example of self-determined Indigenous heritage management.

Local keeping places are needed. The Aboriginal Culture Heritage & Arts Association Inc is working with Museums & Galleries of NSW to provide Indigenous keeping places and museums to hold knowledge and objects. The role of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in enabling the repatriation of cultural knowledge and keeping places continues to be important for language and other heritage. The Australian Government Department of Communications and the Arts, and the Australia Council for the Arts have also assisted in building keeping places, promoting cultural protocols and supporting cultural activities, including arts practice, festivals and events.