Australia is a complex, layered set of natural and cultural landscapes in which unique geodiversity and biodiversity provide the palette for an ancient Indigenous culture, and more recent European exploration and postcolonial settlement history. Australia’s heritage comprises natural, Indigenous and historic places with intergenerational value that we have inherited and will pass on to future generations. Heritage includes places that are listed and protected at the global, national, state and territory, or local level; it also includes many places that have not been formally identified or listed, but nevertheless contribute to the nation’s natural and cultural inheritance.
Australia’s extraordinary and diverse natural and cultural heritage generally remains in good condition, despite some deterioration and emerging challenges since 2011. The National Reserve System continues to improve through the addition of substantial Indigenous Protected Areas, and more than 17 per cent of Australian land and more than 36 per cent of Australia’s marine area are now protected within reserves. Australia’s Indigenous heritage remains inadequately documented and protected, and incremental destruction continues, although there is increasing recognition of the importance of Indigenous involvement in heritage management.
Many Australian historic heritage places remain in good condition. However, despite some focus on improving the calibre of historic heritage lists and registers, they too remain inconsistent and incomplete. Although substantial resources have been allocated to heritage through Australian Government, state, territory and local heritage programs, overall, since 2011, the public-sector resources allocated for heritage conservation and management have remained steady or declined. The resources and data available for assessing the state, condition and effectiveness of management of natural and cultural heritage have also declined, particularly in proportion to the amount of reserved lands and number of listed places. Cultural heritage, both Indigenous and historic, could be better supported by planning and assessment systems, and continues to be threatened by development, often because heritage is identified during impact assessment processes, rather than proactively.
The national leadership shown by preparation of the Australian Heritage Strategy has reduced the overall risk to Australia’s heritage. The strategy positions the Australian Government to lead major change and foster innovative approaches in partnership with the states, territories, private owners, and community groups. These partnerships, coupled with recognition and management of the threats posed by climate change and development, will be crucial to achieving the strategy’s objectives. The continued involvement of Indigenous people in sustainable land and sea management will also be important to the protection of Indigenous heritage, as are ongoing improvements in knowledge and practices that support Indigenous cultural traditions and connections to Country. Ultimately, the success of the Australian Heritage Strategy and the outlook for Australia’s heritage will depend on the commitment of additional resources and strategic responses to continuing pressures and emerging threats.