Economic growth


Economic growth involves changes, usually to create some type of product, which in turn leads to consumption and waste generation. Heritage places are susceptible to loss of values through inappropriate change, impact from production activities and damage from waste disposal. These pressures can be exacerbated or reduced by factors such as the adequacy of statutory protection and the allocation of financial resources.

Resource extraction

Resource extraction industries place pressure on heritage places directly and indirectly. Mining, gas exploration or logging may result in actual removal of features of heritage value, adverse change to geological substructures, erosion or changes to groundwater. These activities may also cause indirect pressures, such as loss of access to the heritage place for the people to whom it is important, visual scarring or loss of habitat corridors. Hunting and fishing can affect individual species or create conflict in land use, but may also be a significant and appropriate part of Indigenous heritage. Resource extraction pressures apply to both listed and unlisted heritage places.


Many heritage places are also valuable assets, and this underlying value can be a threat to conservation. Development at all scales exerts direct pressure on heritage places. Development may involve construction of new buildings or infrastructure, or changes to existing structures. New developments may affect land, require removal of existing ecosystems or cultural sites, or introduce uses that are incompatible with heritage values. Development projects such as mining, forestry and substantial infrastructure may result in total destruction or removal of heritage resources. Pressures also arise where developments have an adverse effect on the heritage setting, or restrict access or use.

The pressures of development are compounded by two factors. Firstly, a major problem with the process used to approve new development in Australia is that consideration of heritage impact (and other environmental factors) is often reactive—the linear nature of the development consent process sees the project announced (based on a financial feasibility study) and only then is a heritage survey completed. At this point, heritage is perceived as 'the problem', even though the heritage was always there and always a relevant constraint.

The second factor is a prejudice against nature and culture in favour of perceived economic benefits. In addition to these major risks, local heritage places suffer risks from destruction to make way for new development projects and the associated impacts of new development in the vicinity. In the case of Indigenous heritage, where native title and ownership rights are tightly connected with important traditional cultural practices, the underlying land value can act as a barrier to decisions based on culture rather than economics, with consequent adverse effects for the heritage value of the place (Box 9.10).

Box 9.10 Indigenous heritage in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, Queensland

Indigenous heritage faces multiple risks, such as loss of cultural and traditional knowledge, economic pressure, development and inadequate statutory frameworks. The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area provides an example. This is one of the largest rainforest areas in Australia, covering 8940 square kilometres of public and privately owned lands along the north-east coast of Queensland, including the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests on Earth. The area is well known as a biodiversity hot spot and is home to 18 individual Aboriginal traditional owner groups with connections to land, collectively referred to as Rainforest Aboriginal people.

To Rainforest Aboriginal people, the Wet Tropics is a series of complex, living cultural landscapes, where natural features are interwoven with spirituality, economic use (including food, medicines and tools), and social and moral organisation. Rainforest Aboriginal people have customary obligations for managing their country under Aboriginal law. They are tied to their country through story places, birthing places, naming places (it is cultural practice to be named after significant sites), animals and plants. This connection to country is valued above all else.

There have been no formal or consent determinations of native title in the Wet Tropics, although there are 16 active native title claims. The area is managed by the Wet Tropics Management Authority in partnership with government agencies, land managers, land owners, Rainforest Aboriginal people, the tourism industry, conservation and community groups, and the broader community. However, the customary responsibility of Rainforest Aboriginal people to maintain and manage the Wet Tropics is a contentious issue. Nine individual Rainforest Aboriginal traditional owner groups are strongly represented by the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, a land and sea management group. These groups enjoy fairly unrestricted access to, and use of, the rainforests, although they feel that acknowledgement of native title would give them more power to make decisions about access, use, maintenance and management of their country.

Rainforest Aboriginal people are particularly concerned about the lack of acknowledgement of shared values in the Wet Tropics, and have been pushing for many years to have the area listed on the World Heritage List and National Heritage List for its cultural values, as well as natural values. Recognition of cultural values would provide better protection of Rainforest Aboriginal cultures and ensure equal emphasis on managing the region for all its values.

Listing the Wet Tropics for its cultural value on the World Heritage List would send a clear message to the world that Aboriginal people are a really significant culture to the whole world. Traditional owner

Although access to, and use of, the rainforests by Rainforest Aboriginal people is largely unrestricted, it is increasingly affected by large-scale development. Rainforest Aboriginal people feel that economic interests always seem to outrank cultural interests, and little significance is given to the social impacts of development. For example, a proposed upgrade of the Bruce Highway will go through a culturally significant marine area and restrict access to a place used by generations of Rainforest Aboriginal people to hunt, and teach children to hunt, turtle and dugong.

How do you quantify that impact? How do you measure that? What's the dollar figure on that? The social impact is immense. If we can't go there anymore, if we can't teach our children to hunt there anymore, then part of our culture is gone. Traditional owner

Source: Schnierer et al.12


Heritage conservation is widely recognised as including presentation, interpretation and celebration.45-46 Encouraging people to visit important places to learn stories and enjoy experiences connects them with their heritage. However, visitation and tourism have a downside—the additional pressure on the resource itself. Tourism pressures can cause physical damage (from construction of visitor facilities, increased erosion, vandalism or simply excessive use), loss of amenity (noise, visual intrusion, pollution) or loss of intangible value (disconnection of local people or inappropriate visitor behaviour).

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