In the 2011 state of the environment report (SoE Committee 2011), the 'Heritage' chapter analysed information gathered from a wide range of information sources, including empirical datasets, commissioned field surveys and facilitated workshop discussions. Along with other SoE 2011 chapters, the 'Heritage chapter' presented information using a ‘drivers–pressures–state–response’ framework, augmented by discussions of resilience, future risks and outlook. The chapter sought to focus on issues that were relevant to environmental decision-makers and managers. Report card–style assessments were provided for condition, pressures and management effectiveness, and the chapter was comprehensively referenced.
SoE 2016 was compiled within a tighter timeframe and with fewer resources than SoE 2011. The reduction in available resources may itself be an indicator of changing priorities about the importance of data gathering and monitoring as part of the suite of tools available for effective heritage conservation. In view of these constrained circumstances, the approach that has been taken is to review and update the previous 2011 assessments, using readily available data, rather than undertaking new primary data collection. Where appropriate, this report incorporates and reproduces information and text from 2011, revised as necessary.
Heritage occurs across the full spectrum of domains and themes of the Australian environment. Other SoE 2016 reports, particularly Antarctic environment, Biodiversity and Coasts, address particular heritage places, contexts and issues. In general, although relevant cross-referencing has been provided, examples and content are not repeated across the SoE 2016 reports.
Assessing the condition of Australia’s heritage places continues to be hampered by an incomplete and unrepresentative set of formally identified heritage places, and by the absence of a comprehensive body of reliable national data. As was the case in 2011, available information relates more to inputs, such as the number of protected places or funding levels, rather than outcomes, such as the actual physical condition and integrity of listed places.
Some conclusions have been drawn through surveys, surrogate data and indicators. The SoE reports for 2001, 2006 and 2011 all relied on a set of natural and cultural heritage indicators, originally prepared in 1998 as the basis for summary assessment (Pearson et al. 1998). The same approach has been used here, augmented by selected case studies and additional information provided by the natural, Indigenous and historic heritage agencies and officials. However, this approach cannot thoroughly address some of the complexities and subtleties in the heritage system, including complex cultural landscapes, regional perspectives or unlisted sites. The approach reflects resource limitations, uses data that are available, and offers relevant observations, including perspectives on what has changed since 2011. It would be appropriate for these indicators to be reviewed and reconsidered in future phases of SoE reporting.
The assessments in this report particularly rely on the outcomes from workshops held with relevant stakeholder groups, including the Australian Heritage Council, Heritage Officials of Australia, the Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, the Indigenous Advisory Committee of the department, representatives from the Australian chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Australia ICOMOS), and the Australian Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Although these workshops cannot replace empirical evidence, the results do provide assessments based on consensus, in which there can be some degree of confidence.