Managing specific pressures

A range of pressures affect heritage (see Pressures). Effective management of pressures requires that pressures are understood, the impacts are assessed and minimised through reducing or controlling the pressures and, where pressures are not directly controllable, impacts are minimised through adaptation and risk management. It is important to recognise that pressures do not always act in isolation but may be interrelated and act in tandem or sequentially. It is therefore critical to also consider the potential cumulative impact of pressures.

Climate change

The current significant, and clearly worsening, impacts of climate change on heritage indicate that management of this pressure on heritage in Australia has been highly ineffective to date (see Climate change).

Management is lacking or deficient in several areas, including in limiting and reducing climate change. National and global actions are required to mitigate the substantial current and forecast impacts of climate change on heritage and other aspects of the environment (see the Climate chapter). Heritage plays a role in this, as protected areas can make a significant contribution to carbon fixing and maintaining ecosystem resilience, and the embodied energy of buildings and whole-of-life costs and benefits are a factor in in energy accounting (see Sustainability and embodied energy).

Management is also failing to understand the impacts and risks to heritage, and translate this knowledge into effective management. Data and expert opinion (McConnell 2021d, McConnell 2021c, McConnell 2021a, McConnell 2021b) show that almost nothing has been done to either assess the risks from climate change or to measure current impacts. There are a few exceptions, such as the assessment of vulnerability of Australia’s World Heritage properties (Lin et al. 2021a), the assessment of all Victoria Heritage Register places (in preparation), and an assessment of risk from sea level change to Indigenous and historic sites in the Hobart coastal zone (McConnell & Evans 2017). What is required are comprehensive regional assessments of risk and vulnerability to climate change for all types and levels of heritage, and routine monitoring of condition and impacts for all potentially vulnerable heritage places and protected areas.

Because climate change is an extensive, complex and rapidly developing issue, action in this area should be multidisciplinary and multistakeholder, and take a cooperative, open and shared approach. Managing climate change impacts also requires a high level of adaptive management (see Strategic planning and adaptive management).

Heritage, other than as part of biodiversity, has been largely absent from the dialogue and research of broader climate change initiatives. Scientists, heritage professionals and affected site managers appear to be interested in changing this, but inadequate resourcing for new initiatives and a lack of leadership appear to be the key factors in preventing action in this area.

Climate change management needs to consider that some loss will be inevitable. Therefore, the impacts of loss on the community, which have been found to affect people’s sense of place and connection to place, and to increase general anxiety about climate change, also need to be managed (e.g. Seekamp & Jo 2020).

There are some additional issues for heritage protection in relation to bushfires. While the protection of people, property and the environment, in that order, is the generally accepted priority (Binskin et al. 2020), protecting irreplaceable ecological communities of high conservation value requires higher prioritisation. This includes consideration of the relative priority of rare or threatened vegetation communities protected under international conventions versus infrastructure assets (Cronstedt et al. 2019), and research to improve the understanding of the efficacy of fuel management, particularly prescribed burning (Binskin et al. 2020).

Extractive industries

Extractive industries, namely mining and timber production, are a key pressure for heritage, and management of this pressure is regarded as poor (McConnell 2021a).

The destruction of the Juukan Gorge rockshelters in May 2020 (see case study: Juukan Gorge rockshelters – highlighting the poor protections for Indigenous heritage under current Australian Indigenous heritage legislation) and consequent investigations, including the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia inquiry, have revealed the large-scale impact of mining on Indigenous heritage (see the Indigenous chapter) (Allam & Wahlquist 2020a).

Juukan Gorge indicates that these impacts are happening because there is insufficient regulation, and the administration of heritage protection legislation appears to favour economic development over heritage protection. This is indicated in the high level of routine approval of permits. For example, mining companies in Western Australia applied for permission to destroy or disturb 463 cultural sites since 2010, and none of the applications were refused (Smith 2020).

The destruction of Juukan Gorge shows that emergency or alternative protective provisions, such as those contained in legislation such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Cth) are not working effectively. It also revealed that mining companies have used agreements made with Traditional Custodians under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to prevent complaints from being made (Allam & Wahlquist 2020b, Allam & Wahlquist 2020a, Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia 2020). Expert opinion and responses to the Juukan Gorge inquiry (e.g. Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia 2020) suggest that what has been unveiled by the Juukan Gorge incident is a widespread, long-term practice.

Protection for heritage in relation to mining is not guaranteed by reservation, as mining is able to occur in some protected area types, although not generally in national parks or World Heritage areas. The World Heritage operational guidelines (UNESCO WHC 2017) list mining and forestry as 2 potential causes for regarding a natural World Heritage property as being in danger.

Few data are available on how mining is affecting heritage values generally and how well this is being managed. It is generally understood that, although the direct impacts on historic and natural heritage are not as great or widespread (because there is less historic heritage in areas of mining potential), regulation and statutory planning are deficient. Direct impacts on geoheritage from mining and quarrying are poorly known, but it is likely that impacts are widespread, given that there is no statutory protection for geoheritage (except under the EPBC Act or where geoheritage occurs in certain protected areas).

Natural and historic heritage can be adversely affected by indirect impacts of mining – for example, downstream mining impacts, and dealing with legacy issues such re-landscaping, revegetation and treatment of toxic wastes (Mineral Policy Institute 2021). The cessation of uranium mining at Kakadu in 2021 after 4 decades of operation has created a significant challenge to rehabilitate to an acceptable level without further impacts in Kakadu National Park (DAWE 2021g).

Many of the same statutory protection issues that apply to the mining industry also apply to the timber industry. Improved protection of heritage across these 2 industries is required. Key reforms would include introducing:

  • stronger heritage protection standards
  • guidelines and processes tailored to the industry
  • increased ability to explore and use feasible alternatives to achieve heritage protection
  • impact evaluations that consider the whole-of-life operation and post-operation legacies of extractive industries to avoid downstream and indirect heritage issues.

Tourism and recreation

Tourism is a key pressure on heritage, although much of the impact is focused in key accessible areas and at significant heritage places (see Tourism and recreation). Better management of this industry is needed to achieve a genuinely sustainable approach for heritage. Although visitor impacts at Australian heritage sites have been recognised and discussed since the 1970s (e.g. Flood 1979, Sullivan 1983), the regulatory framework for managing tourism at heritage places appears still to be weak. In particular, there appear to be no effective mechanisms to deliver or measure heritage sustainability, which is regarded as a key principle for heritage tourism (Crofts et al. 2015, Leung et al. 2018).

Difficulty in achieving sustainable heritage tourism is compounded by the considerable economic benefit that tourism brings (Worboys et al. 2015). Although there has been considerable growth, with a widespread focus on benefits, the costs of this to heritage generally receive limited consideration.

In some jurisdictions, government has facilitated increased tourism by decreasing regulation and promoting specific tourism opportunities. This is not particularly evident at cultural heritage places but is evident in protected areas; for example, management plans for protected areas are being increasingly refocused to manage recreation and tourism, rather than the values the areas were reserved to protect. It is also evident in new developments, such as the hut-based multiday walks in protected areas being proposed, encouraged and developed in some states.

The current trend of tourism promotion and facilitation in protected areas is exemplified by the Tasmanian Government’s ‘expression of interest’ process, established in 2014 to develop ‘sensitive and appropriate tourism experiences and associated infrastructure in Tasmania’s national parks, reserves and Crown land’, which lacks effective heritage sustainability criteria. Furthermore, changes to the 2016 Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan include some revisions to allow a greater range of uses without adequate consideration of the impact on the heritage values (Gogarty & McCormack 2018). These changes led the World Heritage Committee to request that a Tourism Management Plan be developed for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (UNESCO WHC 2018).

Because of the strong economic focus driving current approaches to tourism, establishing a nationally agreed framework to sustainably manage tourism in Australian protected areas, World Heritage properties and other significant heritage places would benefit heritage management. Essential to such a framework is the principle that (Leung et al. 2018:2):

For tourism … to be sustainable, it must, first and foremost, contribute to the conservation of nature (heritage values) over the long term, not just briefly or sporadically, and ensure that conservation is not compromised by inappropriate or poorly managed visitor use.

The development of a tourism management framework requires heritage values–based sustainability criteria, evidence-based decision-making and approvals processes, and the capacity for independent arbitration and review. It could facilitate the better use of existing guidance on heritage tourism, including principles for sustainable tourism (e.g. Leung et al. 2018), charters (e.g. ICOMOS 1999 International Cultural Tourism Charter) and expert reviews (e.g. Borges et al. 2011).

Urban development

Urban development places pressure on heritage, and management effectiveness is generally poor and declining (see Urban development).

Without more comprehensive data, it is difficult to identify the exact cause of this impact, but anecdotal information indicates that various factors are involved, including inadequate understanding of the heritage values of areas being affected, and inadequate protections for heritage (see Respecting and protecting heritage values). This situation is exacerbated in some states and territories by ‘major development’ legislation that overrides the standard statutory planning. These deficiencies stem mainly from statutory planning inadequacies (see Statutory planning) and inadequacies in state and territory heritage legislation. Also, there appears to be a tendency for economic development to dominate over heritage conservation and the protection of social values (also noted in the 2011 and 2016 state of the environment reports) (SoE 2011 Committee 2011, Mackay 2016a).

Achieving better heritage outcomes in relation to urban development requires comprehensive assessments of heritage values and greater heritage listing or inclusion in overlays. These can be accomplished thorough cost–benefit assessments and improved heritage protections, particularly within the statutory planning framework and in local planning instruments.

A related issue for built historic heritage generally – but particularly in urban areas where this heritage is most abundant – is the inadequate consideration given to the heritage benefits and conservation needs in relation to the built environment and energy evaluations, to sustainability more generally, and to safety and access requirements.