In Australia, heritage is defined by both statutory and nonstatutory listing processes, which result in inventories and areas of reserved lands. There is an inherent tension in the philosophical difference between identifying a series of individual sites as heritage (a 'dots on the map' approach) and listing whole cultural landscapes or reserving areas that may incorporate individual significant places, but that may also have layered multiple values. Nowhere is this tension more apparent than in the difference between a single Indigenous site and the broader Indigenous perspective of country.

World Heritage

Australia has 19 World Heritage sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in accordance with the 1972 World Heritage Convention, to which Australia is a State Party. These places (some of which incorporate more than one land or sea area) are shown in Figure 9.1. Four of these places—the Sydney Opera House, Purnululu, the Australian Convict Sites and the Ningaloo Coast— were inscribed on the World Heritage List between 2006 and 2011, and the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia was renamed. Australian state and territory governments have been preparing a tentative list for future World Heritage nominations.

National heritage

The National Heritage List

The National Heritage List includes natural, historic and Indigenous places throughout Australia (Figure 9.2).

The National Heritage List now contains 95 places, most of which were added between 2005 and 2008 (Figure 9.3). The most recent addition was the west Kimberley, added on 31 August 2011. Following amendments to the EPBC Act in 2007, the national heritage listing program is now confined to places on a 'priority assessment list' determined by the minister. In practice, this means that the majority of National Heritage List nominations received since 2007 have lapsed without being assessed. Although some exceedingly important places have been added to the list, the resources available for documentation and assessment, and the rate at which places are being added to the National Heritage List, are declining. Community enthusiasm for the national heritage listing process has also declined as a result of the frustrating experience of seemingly comprehensive and credible nominations not being assessed. Further reductions to the resources available for national heritage listing announced in the 2011–12 Budget will continue this trend (see Section 4.3.1).

The Commonwealth Heritage List

The EPBC Act provides that heritage places under Commonwealth ownership should be included on the Commonwealth Heritage List and should have plans of management. There are currently 338 places on the Commonwealth Heritage List, of which only 10 were added between 2005–06 and 2010–11 (Figure 9.4). This small number of recent additions reflects the intensive initial listing phase after the list was established, as well as more recent declines in identification of Commonwealth heritage places by Australian Government agencies.

The Register of the National Estate

The Register of the National Estate was established under the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 as a list of important natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places. Following amendments to the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003, no new places can be added to or removed from the register. The register will cease to be a statutory register after February 2012 but will be maintained on a nonstatutory basis as a publicly available archive; until then, the minister is required to continue considering the register when making some decisions under the EPBC Act. This transition period was intended to allow governments across all jurisdictions to transfer places from the Register of the National Estate to appropriate heritage registers.13 However, this process has not been resourced and has not occurred.

The pending demise of the statutory role of the Register of the National Estate will leave many 'listed' places without any statutory status. The discontinuation of active management of the register through assessment, addition and removal leaves a significant gap in the national perspective of Australia's heritage.

State heritage

Australian states and territories also maintain statutory heritage registers. In 2008, the former Environment Protection Heritage Council (the meeting of Australian, state and territory ministers responsible for heritage) agreed that a consistent set of criteria would be developed and used to assess places for inclusion in these registers. However, only the Australian and Victorian governments have adopted and commenced using consistent heritage assessment criteria. Further, the coverage and thresholds vary greatly. Some registers (such as the Australian Capital Territory Heritage Register) include natural, Indigenous and historic places, whereas others include only historic places. In most jurisdictions, the threshold for listing is significance at the state level, although the Tasmanian Heritage Register includes a vast array of locally significant places (see Box 9.20). There are also disparities in the listing programs between states; for example, in 2009–10, relatively high numbers of state listings occurred in both Queensland and Tasmania (Figure 9.5). These proportions may reflect specific assessment projects (see Box 9.6) or different resource allocations.

At the state and territory level, it is possible to examine the different values for which individual places have been listed. Figure 9.6 presents an overview of state and territory statutory registers according to assessment criteria. Care should be exercised in interpreting this chart (as places may be listed for more than one value and different criteria frequencies may apply to natural, Indigenous and historic places), but the data do suggest a skew towards criterion D (places that demonstrate principal characteristics) and criterion G (places that have strong or special association with community or cultural groups), and away from criterion F (places that demonstrate creative or technical achievement) and criterion C (places with significant research value). This pattern may reflect the underlying nature of the heritage resource or a particular focus in the current assessment and listing process. Ongoing collection of similar information and separate analysis of natural, Indigenous and historic places may provide useful insight into bias or gaps in current heritage listing programs.

Local heritage

The vast majority of heritage listing in Australia occurs at the local level by local government agencies. The diversity in council areas across the nation and differences in planning statutes and approaches make it difficult to aggregate comparable data. Some local heritage lists include places of state, national or world heritage value; others do not. Most local lists are exclusively comprised of historic places. Local heritage places are included on the Tasmanian Heritage Register, but not on other state heritage registers. Victorian data relate to individual properties (a number of which may be incorporated in a single listing), whereas other state and territory data relate to listed places. A general picture of what is locally listed in Australia is provided in Figures 9.7 and 9.8.

The raw listing data illustrate several points. Not surprisingly, heritage listing is most intensive in coastal areas, and concentrated in and around urban centres. Very high densities in Victoria reflect the approach of measuring individual properties rather than heritage items. Blank areas are generally those for which reliable information has not been sourced, rather than an indication that nothing is listed. However, some parts of the nation seem severely under-represented.

Figure 9.8 presents the local listing data from Figure 9.7 adjusted to show heritage listing at the local level per hundred people. This adjustment provides an indicative relative measure that takes different population densities into account. The picture that emerges differs in some interesting respects from the raw information. The apparent density of listings in coastal and urban areas is reduced; the national spread of listings is more even and arguably does reflect the relative intensity of historical land use. It also emerges that particular rural areas in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and northern parts of Western Australia may be under-represented.

Natural heritage

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 1 considers the process of listing, area and distribution of identified natural heritage places

Appropriate statutory protection of Australia's natural heritage requires a combination of individually listed places and an adequate, representative set of reserved lands. The National Heritage List includes 54 places that were predominantly included for natural heritage values. At the state and local level, information on places included in heritage lists for natural values is inconsistent between jurisdictions. Australia's National Reserve System includes Australian and state national parks, other lands reserved for conservation purposes, Indigenous protected areas, areas managed by conservation organisations and ecosystems protected by farmers on their private working properties—together comprising more than 9300 protected areas covering nearly 13% of Australia. The National Reserve System is being actively developed to reserve lands across 85 bioregions, each of which is a large, geographically distinct area of similar climate, geology, landform, vegetation and animal communities. These bioregions are presented in a bioregional map: the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) (Figure 9.9). The aim of the National Reserve System is to protect a comprehensive range of ecosystem and other important environmental values within each of the 85 bioregions. Priority is given to increasing the area that is protected in under-represented bioregions (less than 10% protected).15

All 85 bioregions are represented in Australian reserved lands; 51 regions already exceed the current 10% target, but 34 regions are not yet adequately represented (Figure 9.10). However, the size and resilience of reserved lands are also a relevant consideration: approximately half of the natural heritage areas in Australia that occur in public reserved lands are in pockets of less than 100 hectares. By contrast, 82% of the total area of public reserved lands occurs in blocks of more than 100 000 hectares.b

Although the National Reserve System is recognised as the major current instrument for protection of intact ecosystems (see also Chapter 8: Biodiversity),17 issues arise in relation to what constitutes a comprehensive, adequate and representative system.c Protected lands need to support biodiversity conservation under current and future climatic conditions. The Convention on Biological Diversityd suggests a target of 17% of each kind of terrestrial ecosystem by area. Recent assessment by WWF-Australia,18 takes a more fine-grained approach to individual ecosystems, based on consideration of vegetation communities as an indicator of ecosystems, and concludes that at present only approximately one-third of the required areas are reserved (Figure 9.11, see also Chapter 8: Biodiversity).

Areas of natural heritage occur in both publicly and privately owned and managed lands, and their heritage values may transcend ownership boundaries. Australia's natural heritage would benefit from a whole-of-landscape approach that addresses management regimes across land tenure and considers individual places, different land holdings and subregions within the National Reserve System as part of a broadly interconnected system. The need for linking landscape conservation across tenures is now widely recognised,19-20 and there have been welcome initiatives, including the nomination of large-scale conservation areas, which, in conjunction with the National Reserve System, should help to maintain natural Australian landscapes and ecosystem processes.20 Cross-tenure identification of values—coupled with management that is focused on the resource and its values, rather than its ownership—would be consistent with global trends in natural heritage management.e

Box 9.5 Victorian Indigenous heritage—listing and management of Aboriginal places

In Victoria, objects and places with Indigenous heritage value are protected through the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, which began in May 2007 and is administered by Aboriginal Affairs, Victoria. (Some post-contact places with Indigenous values may also be protected and managed under the Heritage Act 1995.)

The Aboriginal Heritage Act established the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register, which includes records of all known Aboriginal places in Victoria, as well as known private collections of Aboriginal objects. The register was established in the 1970s under the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972. As at June 2011, there were 32 599 registrations, with approximately 1000 new registrations being added each year. It is estimated that the existing records represent a survey of approximately 3% of the state's land area.

The Aboriginal Heritage Act includes a range of protective mechanisms. A key aspect of these provisions is the positive value placed on the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage. Activities that may harm Aboriginal heritage can only be carried out in accordance with an approved cultural heritage management plan or a cultural heritage permit. A cultural heritage management plan is a written report containing the results of an assessment and recommendations for measures to be taken before, during and after an activity, to manage and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage. Cultural heritage management plans are prepared for projects subject to an 'environmental effects statement' process, if required by the minister responsible for the Act or under regulations that make them mandatory for listed high-impact activities.

A cultural heritage permit cannot be used if a cultural heritage management plan is mandated, so there has been a move away from permits since 2007. In this period, permits have been issued for excavating land (19 permits); carrying out an activity that will, or is likely to, harm Aboriginal cultural heritage (139); buying or selling an Aboriginal object (40); undertaking scientific research (7); and removing an Aboriginal object from Victoria (2). There has been one successful prosecution (for selling an Aboriginal object without a permit), and four stop orders were issued.

Between May 2007 and June 2011, approximately 4000 Aboriginal places were registered in Victoria, 1190 cultural heritage management plans were approved and 207 permits were issued.

Other initiatives taken to assist with conservation of the state's Indigenous heritage include establishment of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Registry Information System, which provides real-time online access to the register for approved users, and a nationally accredited Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management course offered by La Trobe University.

Source: Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, 30 June 2011

Indigenous heritage

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 2 considers the process of listing, area and distribution of identified Indigenous heritage places

Survey, assessment and listing of Indigenous heritage places are inconsistent around Australia. Some Indigenous places are included separately on the National Heritage List, but many more are included within large areas of reserved lands—the Uluru–Kata Tjuta, Kakadu and Willandra Lakes World Heritage areas being prominent among these. In addition, almost all national parks include significant Indigenous heritage places (which are thereby afforded some statutory protection). At the state level, some jurisdictions proactively prepare registers or statutory lists of Indigenous sites (Box 9.5), whereas others rely on 'blanket' protective provisions in legislation. The result is that there is no readily available national perspective on the nature and extent of the Indigenous resource—neither what is being listed nor what is potentially being destroyedf. Survey and assessment programs for Indigenous heritage are often resourced and undertaken in response to threats from development projects. Overall, it is likely that the representation of Indigenous places within reserved lands and on major statutory heritage lists is inadequate. This is especially the case for the National Heritage List.

Historic heritage

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 3 considers the process of listing, area and distribution of identified historic heritage places

Australian historic place statutory registers are well established in all jurisdictions, but have been populated in an ad hoc manner, initially with a strong architectural focus and then in response to specific development threats. More recent practice in historic heritage listing has included a wider range of site types, such as historical archaeological sites, cultural landscapes and cultural routes, with increasing numbers of systematic survey and assessment programs, according to either geographic areas or historic theme. There has also been far greater direct involvement of local communities and incorporation of heritage lists within planning statutes (Box 9.6). Where applied, these approaches will lead towards more comprehensive and representative heritage lists and a more flexible system that can change in response to evolving community perceptions and needs.

Box 9.6 Rediscovering Queensland—how major improvement can be achieved by focusing resources on systematic survey and assessment

In 2005, the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency commissioned an overall methodology and historical context study as preparation for a statewide survey of heritage resources. The methodology was based on facilitating early and ongoing community engagement in identifying heritage. Techniques developed included exemplar communication and community consultation strategies, an electronic fieldwork recording system, and an analysis process to feed outcomes into local and state heritage protection mechanisms and celebrations.21 In 2006, regional studies began in far north Queensland. By providing resources and directly engaging local people in the process of heritage identification, the Queensland Government has encouraged communities to take greater responsibility for identifying, conserving and managing their heritage places.

A proactive approach to identifying places of heritage significance has given the community, local government and owners certainty around heritage issues and has provided an opportunity for constructive engagement about the management of heritage places with local government, owners and the community. Fiona Gardiner, Director Heritage, Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland

b Workshop discussion with the heads of national, state and territory parks agencies, 27 August 2010

c ACIUCN SoE 2011 workshop, 23 May 2011. Workshop notes are available on the SoE website,

e ACIUCN SoE 2011 workshop, 23 May 2011. Workshop notes are available on the SoE website,

f Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Indigenous Advisory Committee, SoE 2011 workshop, 10 November 2010. Workshop notes are available on the SoE website,

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Identification. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0