In Australia, heritage is identified, assessed and listed through multilayered and overlapping statutory and bureaucratic processes that broadly parallel our multitiered systems of government. Heritage listing has a range of purposes and functions, including recognising and celebrating values, protecting heritage under the law, and informing management decisions and resource allocation. Heritage can be listed in a number of ways and by various authorities:
- World Heritage List—World Heritage sites are places that are important to and belong to everyone, irrespective of where they are. They have outstanding universal value that transcends the value they hold for a particular nation. These qualities are expressed in the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention). Australia's obligations under this convention are met through provisions in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
- National Heritage List—The National Heritage List, established under the EPBC Act, includes natural, historic and Indigenous places that are of outstanding national heritage value to Australia (see Box 9.1).
- Commonwealth Heritage List—The Commonwealth Heritage List, established under the EPBC Act, comprises natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places that are either entirely within a Commonwealth area, or are owned or leased by the Australian Government or an Australian Government authority.
- The Register of the National Estate—The Register of the National Estate is a list of important natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places throughout Australia, originally established under the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975. The Australian Heritage Commission entered more than 13 000 places in the Register of the National Estate. In 2004, responsibility for maintaining the register shifted to the Australian Heritage Council, under the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003. The register will only continue as a statutory register until February 2012.
- The Australian National Shipwrecks Database—The Australian National Shipwrecks Database was launched in December 2009 and includes all known shipwrecks in Australian waters. Australia protects shipwrecks and their associated relics that are more than 75 years old through the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. This Act applies to Australian waters that extend from the low tide mark to the end of the continental shelf and is administered by the Australian Government, in collaboration with the state and territory governments.
- State heritage registers—At the state and territory level, the process for listing heritage places is varied. All jurisdictions have dedicated national parks and reserves. Some jurisdictions establish additional registers of Indigenous sites, whereas others protect Indigenous heritage through blanket statutory control. Each state or territory also has a statutory list of historic places, but the criteria and threshold for listing vary and these registers are generally acknowledged as incomplete.
- Local heritage—Heritage identification at the local level varies between many thousands of heritage or contributory items in dense urban areas, to a complete absence of any statutory listing or controls for some local government areas. There are many locally managed reserves, generally dedicated for reasons of natural heritage or amenity, but some of these also contain significant Indigenous places. Mostly, however, Indigenous heritage is neither identified nor protected at a local level, and comprehensive national data for local heritage listings are not available.
- Nonstatutory lists—Heritage lists are also maintained by nongovernment organisations such as the National Trust of Australia, the Institution of Engineers and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. While these lists have no direct statutory force, they are sometimes used to inform decision-making processes such as development consent or statutory listing.