This section examines the condition and integrity of Australian heritage places according to both jurisdiction and nature.
In 2011, the Australian Government, in consultation with state governments produced a periodic report on our World Heritage sites. An obligation of the World Heritage Convention, the report assesses whether the World Heritage values of our 19 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List are being maintained. Australia's report synthesised information and views provided by World Heritage property managers, Australian and state government agencies, consultative committees, Australian representatives from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and the Australian Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Australia's periodic report is generally very positive, acknowledging Australia's expertise in World Heritage management, available human and financial resources, and the legislative protection of the EPBC Act. Nonetheless, the report found that the three most significant factors affecting World Heritage properties in Australia are:
- invasive and alien species or hyperabundant species
- climate change and severe weather events
- social or cultural impacts on heritage (including changes in traditional ways of life, as well as impacts of tourism).
Management needs identified in the report include further work on indicators and monitoring, and improved education, information and awareness building.22
In 2008, an Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee was appointed to provide a forum for liaison between the individual World Heritage area advisory committees and advice to the government on cross-cutting issues. The committee has met face to face on three occasions, and has provided advice and recommendations to Australian Government and state officials and to the Environment Protection and Heritage Ministerial Council (now abolished), but its activities are constrained by limited Australian Government staff support and other resources.
National heritage is identified and managed by the Australian Government under the EPBC Act, in accordance with amendments made in 2003, which created the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List. The first review report on these lists, covering the period from 1 January 2004 to 30 June 2008, was published in 2008.23 In accordance with requirements specified in the EPBC Act, this report is highly focused on the processes followed and compliance with them, rather than providing an independent assessment of the condition and integrity of listed places.
Studies of natural, Indigenous and historic heritage completed for this SoE report suggest that identified places with national heritage values (including all of Australia's World Heritage places) are in good condition and retain a high degree of integrity. This finding reflects that the overwhelming majority of these places are in public ownership, were often subject to conservation planning as part of the listing process, and in many cases are specifically managed for conservation purposes.
However, there have been a number of instances of adverse impact on condition or heritage value, including, for example, the poisoning of the Tree of Knowledge in the central western Queensland town of Barcaldine, and damage to Indigenous rock art on the Burrup Peninsula. Incremental damage is also wrought by the continuing presence of threats, including site-specific issues such as rabbits and rodents on Macquarie Island, and more general challenges posed by climate change, population growth and economic development. Although, in theory, the Australian Government should be alerted to the prospect of adverse impacts on the condition and integrity of nationally significant places, the reality is that available resources confine government activities to generally reactive processes and place limits on the national assessment and listing process.
For the Commonwealth Heritage List, the EPBC Act requires Australian Government agencies to prepare heritage strategies and management plans directed towards retaining Commonwealth heritage values. Although a number of such plans and strategies are in place, reliable data—based on monitoring of the condition of Commonwealth heritage places—are not available, so the outcome of this management cannot be meaningfully assessed.
At the state level, efforts and resources continue to focus on listing and impact assessment processes, rather than on monitoring and evaluating condition and integrity. There is also considerable variation in scope and approach to state SoE reporting. However, it is possible to glean some general understanding from individual state and territory SoE reports::
- The Australian Capital Territory regards its heritage as in good condition, but notes the need for adequate protection when changes are made to the responsibilities of the National Capital Authority, to ensure compliance with Australian Capital Territory heritage legislation.24
- New South Wales notes that knowledge is increasing and information gathering is continuing, as are efforts to improve the protection of natural and cultural heritage assets and values through a range of related tools, including regulation, nonstatutory agreements and partnerships. There has been a significant increase in land protected for Aboriginal cultural values and continuing reliance on heritage listing as a major mechanism for managing heritage across the state.25
- In Queensland, development pressures continue to degrade both natural and cultural heritage, in combination with more recent impacts of drought, fire, flood and major weather events. The majority of places identified as being endangered by the Australian Council of National Trusts in the early 2000s remain under threat, or are even damaged and destroyed. Initiatives such as Rediscovering Queensland (see Box 9.6) seek to address the challenges of managing and protecting heritage values posed by lack of knowledge and information about the condition of natural and cultural heritage places.26
- In South Australia, measures of the state of heritage are strongly focused on the listing process, rather than monitoring condition and integrity. Available information shows a significant increase in the number of listed places and increased protection for Indigenous sites and objects, and shipwrecks, but decreasing documentation of geological heritage.27
- Tasmania is in the process of major reviews for both Indigenous and historic heritage management, and state-level reporting acknowledges the need to develop clear indicators that can be used to measure condition, trends and changes. A range of environmental indicators have been suggested: knowledge of heritage places and objects, visual condition and integrity of heritage areas and objects, availability and distribution of skills, and community awareness and involvement.28 (See Box 9.7.)
- In Victoria, heritage is covered through a separate 'state of heritage' report, which generally concludes that the state of heritage is good, with some significant deterioration in condition and integrity at particular places.29
- The correlation between good condition and high integrity is obvious, with public heritage places having noticeably the highest integrity. The places with poorest condition also have the lowest integrity, with privately owned places faring worse. Just over a third of rural places have good condition and condition deteriorates significantly as distance from Melbourne increases. Marshall et al29.
- In Western Australia, reporting on the state of heritage acknowledges that government arrangements are fragmented, impeding adequate protection and management. There is no single list of heritage places, nor an adequate program for monitoring and reporting, which affects heritage management decisions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the condition of a number of heritage places is declining, but there is no empirical data to support this observation.30