At a glance
Australia’s heritage registers list natural and cultural places at national, state and local levels, but in an inconsistent manner, and with disparate levels of resourcing and regulation. As announced during the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature World Parks Congress, more than 17 per cent of Australian land is now within conservation reserves and Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), meeting one element of the threshold nominated in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The number of IPAs, in particular, has increased during the past 5 years, although not all IPAs have the same protected status, and the allowable uses and the statutory controls for some may not ensure protection of natural and cultural heritage values. Australia has one of the largest marine reserve networks in the world—more than 36 per cent of Australian waters are protected, exceeding the CBD Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which is to include at least 10 per cent of marine waters in marine protected areas. However, such summary targets do not reflect the fine grain of significant ecosystems and habitats. Thirty-two of Australia’s 89 terrestrial bioregions have less than 10 per cent of their area within reserved land. A greater percentage than the Aichi target is needed, comprising both protected and privately held lands, selected and managed to retain large-scale landscapes and promote ecosystem connectivity.
The role of Indigenous people in managing Indigenous heritage has expanded, as has recognition of the importance of intangible Indigenous heritage. Landscape-based approaches to assessing and managing Indigenous heritage are more prevalent, but individual assessment and development decisions continue to cause incremental destruction. Indigenous cultural practices can also be adversely affected by other environmental factors, such as land degradation and weed infestation.
Australia’s reserved lands and marine reserves continue to face threats from invasive species, fire, erosion, use and impacts on threatened species. In addition, resources allocated for conservation of reserved lands have decreased relative to their extent. (Available information on reserved lands has been gathered from diverse sources and may not be truly representative.)
Attention has been focused on the integrity and representativeness of historic heritage registers. Nationally consistent information is not available about the condition of listed heritage places, but processes have been instigated to facilitate improved monitoring of the state of listed places. There have been no systematic national assessments to determine whether historic heritage places, apart from those on the National Heritage List, remain in good condition and retain their identified values. Historic heritage places that are vacant, not in use or in poor condition remain under threat.
The condition and integrity of Australia’s reserved and listed heritage remain generally good, but there are examples of destruction, degradation and deterioration. The nation’s natural and cultural resources are not yet adequately identified. Resources allocated for conservation and management of heritage have declined, both in real terms and relative to the extent of places being conserved and managed.
Unlike other aspects of the Australian environment, heritage places are already a discrete subset, defined by having natural or cultural ‘value’. Therefore, the appropriate benchmark for measuring the state of Australia’s heritage places is not a particular former condition (i.e. at the time of listing), but whether the place retains its heritage values. Retaining heritage values creates the opportunity to transmit value to other generations—an aim that aligns closely with the notion of heritage as ‘inheritance’.
Heritage places and their values transcend jurisdictional boundaries and site types. However, identification and assessment can be described according to the different jurisdictions under which heritage places receive listing and statutory protection (i.e. world, national, state or local), and according to the nature of heritage places (i.e. natural, Indigenous or historic). The following assessments and commentary present information for both frameworks.
Where relevant, the commentary and assessments in this section consider the natural and cultural heritage indicators, which were first prepared for SoE 1998 and then referenced in SoE reports for 2001, 2006 and 2011 (Pearson et al. 1998). However, the methodology and resources for SoE 2016 have not extended to physical surveys, or independent research and documentation, so greater reliance has been placed on opinions expressed at workshops, anecdotal commentary and case studies.