This section examines the condition and integrity of Australian heritage places according to both jurisdiction and type. For previous SoE reports, the condition and integrity were sampled and surveyed, allowing comparable application of the same natural and cultural heritage indicators. The resources available for SoE 2016 have not enabled such surveys, so the assessments are not directly comparable. Indeed, a general lack of condition audits and monitoring for listed heritage places presents a continuing challenge for conservation and management, and places a growing number of heritage places at risk. (This issue is further addressed in Effectiveness of heritage management.)
Condition and Integrity: Listing Jurisdictions
Condition and Integrity: Listing Jurisdictions
The Australian Heritage Strategy recognises that:
The Australian Government, jointly with the states and territories, uses the best scientific, technical and community advice available to maintain and protect Australia’s World Heritage properties. (Australian Government 2015a:14)
Objective 1 of the strategy commits to continued support for Australia’s iconic World Heritage properties through a range of statutory processes and other initiatives, including significant investment such as $37 million from 2013 to 2018 under the World Heritage Grants program (see Inputs).
The most recent periodic report on Australian World Heritage properties was provided to the World Heritage Committee in 2011. This report (Australian Heritage Council 2010), which was noted in SoE 2011, found that the 3 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).
Recently, concerns have been expressed about the condition and integrity of a number of Australian World Heritage properties (Figgis et al. 2012). Of these, the most prominent has been the World Heritage Committee’s consideration of inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In July 2015, the 39th Session of the World Heritage Committee noted, with concern, that the Great Barrier Reef outlook report for 2014 (GBRMPA 2014) concluded that the overall outlook for the property is poor, and that climate change, poor water quality and impacts from coastal development are major threats to the property’s health. The committee expressed regret that key habitats, species and ecosystem processes in the central and southern inshore areas have continued to deteriorate (World Heritage Committee 2015).
Welcoming the efforts of the Australian Government and other parties to establish the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan (Australian Government & Queensland Government 2015) and its overarching vision for the future conservation of the property, the World Heritage Committee did not inscribe the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In doing so, the committee also noted:
- the proposed 80 per cent reduction in pollution run-off in to the property by 2025
- a ban on disposal of capital dredging material within the property
- additional investment to accelerate progress in water quality improvements
- protection of greenfield areas by restrictions on major new port development in and adjoining the property
- associated research and monitoring initiatives.
The report IUCN World Heritage outlook 2014 (Osipova et al. 2014), prepared by the IUCN as the relevant advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, provides a global desktop evaluation of the current state and trends of the values of natural World Heritage properties. The assessments in this report indicate whether a natural World Heritage site is likely to conserve its values over time, based on a desk-based assessment of:
- the current state and trend of values
- the threats affecting those values
- the effectiveness of protection and management.
In 2015, a monitoring mission comprising IUCN and ICOMOS representatives visited the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, following a request by the World Heritage Committee. The mission report (Jaeger & Sand 2015) found that the area continues to be in an overall good state of conservation, but recommended changes to proposed management arrangements, including in relation to proposals for timber harvesting, tourism activities and community consultation. The mission also recommended that a cultural heritage survey be undertaken in consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. The Australian and Tasmanian governments accepted all 20 mission recommendations in March 2016 (Hunt & Groom 2016).
Du Cane Hut, 2014, on the much-visited Overland Track, exemplifies how historic heritage conservation and low-impact experiences can co-exist in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
National heritage and Commonwealth heritage
National heritage is identified and managed by the Australian Government under the EPBC Act, which established the National Heritage List and Commonwealth Heritage List. The second review report on these lists, covering 1 January 2008 to 30 June 2013, was published in 2013 (DoE 2013). In accordance with requirements specified in the EPBC Act, this report focuses on the processes followed and compliance with processes, rather than assessing the condition and integrity of listed places. However, this report does highlight that, relative to the total number of listed heritage places, the number of compliance incidents is relatively small. For the period covered, there were 61 compliance incidents reported to, and investigated by, the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy. Significant compliance outcomes included (DoE 2013):
- cessation of a cattle-grazing trial in the Australian Alps national parks and reserves
- an enforceable undertaking arising from quarrying activity in the Dampier Archipelago
- a conservation agreement relating to cassowary habitat in the Wet Tropics of Queensland
- multiple actions, including notices and orders related to environmental issues, approvals and infringements within or affecting the Great Barrier Reef.
Studies of natural, Indigenous and historic heritage completed for SoE 2011 suggested that identified places with National Heritage values were generally in good condition and retained 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 are specifically managed for conservation purposes in many cases.
National Heritage place monitoring survey
Results from the initial National Heritage place monitoring survey (WHAM 2017) indicate that the condition of the listed National Heritage values of most places has remained stable or improved since the time of listing. Very few National Heritage places reported a deterioration in the condition of listed values, and these arose from factors such as external environmental pressures. Most survey respondents indicated that National Heritage listing has made some difference to the management of a National Heritage place and the condition of its listed values, with more than half considering listing to have made a significant or moderate difference.
The Australian Heritage Strategy, released in December 2015, includes an action for the Australian Heritage Council and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy to provide guidance for regular, long-term monitoring, evaluation and reporting of World Heritage and National Heritage value conditions. The Australian Heritage Council has instigated a condition-monitoring project for places on the National Heritage List, which will involve proactive consultation with site managers.
Phase 1 of this task involved the department surveying National Heritage place managers in early 2016. The National Heritage place monitoring survey was designed to provide data for several purposes, including SoE reporting. Place managers self-reported current condition and trends since that place’s National Heritage listing (WHAM 2017).
The collated data from the survey provide a major source of comparable information on the state, pressures and trends for National Heritage places. Survey questions were not specific to natural, Indigenous or historic heritage, and the places in the respondent group reflected the general proportions and geographic distribution of these values on the National Heritage List.
For the 104 places on the National Heritage List at the time of the survey, the department received 52 responses. According to survey respondents, the condition of most places had either remained stable or improved somewhat or significantly, and National Heritage listing had made some difference to the condition and management of the place. This was less relevant for those National Heritage places that are also World Heritage listed. Overall, 92 per cent of respondents experienced high to very high pressures on values in some areas, given current management and resourcing. Of these, the main pressures were elemental or external (e.g. exposure, unplanned fire, pest species and pathogens), followed by resourcing, climate change, issues of authenticity, and visitation and use. Pressures on integrity were reported by 60 per cent of respondents. Only 37 per cent indicated that development pressures posed a high to very risk to values (WHAM 2017).
The next phase in this work involves developing a longer-term monitoring methodology.
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. A number of such plans and strategies are in place, and guidance has been provided (DoE 2013), but up-to-date information on management plans and strategies is still being compiled by the department (Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., August 2016). Reliable data—based on monitoring of the actual condition of the Commonwealth Heritage places—are not available, so the outcome of this management cannot be meaningfully assessed.
State and territory heritage
At the state and territory level, efforts and resources continue to focus on listing and impact assessment processes, rather than on monitoring and evaluating condition and integrity. There is considerable variation in scope and approach to state and territory level SoE reporting, and approaches to recording condition are inconsistent. There is a general trend towards disposal of redundant state-owned heritage assets and a perception that idle, unused heritage properties are at greatest risk of degradation through lack of maintenance. In some jurisdictions, there is interest in community-based, volunteer monitoring of the condition of state-listed heritage items (DoEE 2017a). Summaries of state and territory results are as follows:
- The Australian Capital Territory completed an SoE report in 2015, with a chapter on heritage that adopts the methodology and grading system from the Australian SoE 2011. However, in the absence of monitoring and assessment of the condition of heritage in the territory, the report relies on changes in heritage listings. The territory has developed an integrated biosecurity strategy. Policies have been prepared for cultural heritage reporting, repatriation of Aboriginal artefacts, Indigenous consultation and requirements for archaeological investigations. A backlog in nominations awaiting assessment has decreased. Significant amendments were introduced to the Heritage Act 2004 in late 2014.
- New South Wales completed 28 Aboriginal joint-management agreements encompassing 2.2 million hectares (or 28.5 per cent of the reserve system), and notes that knowledge is increasing and information gathering is continuing, as are efforts to improve the protection of natural and cultural heritage assets. In 2013, the New South Wales Government released a model for proposed Aboriginal heritage legislation, which aims to improve the identification of important objects, provide more effective protection for cultural assets, and better integrate cultural heritage in planning processes. The Heritage Near Me incentives program is a $28.5 million program comprising heritage activation grants, local heritage grants and heritage green energy grants. It began in April 2015 and aims to transform the way heritage is protected, shared and celebrated.
- In the Northern Territory, resources available for heritage programs have decreased, but grant funding has continued for conservation projects. An Indigenous Land Use Agreement was reached between Territory Iron, the Northern Land Council and senior traditional owners in 2006 in the Frances Creek area.
- In Queensland, development pressures continue to affect natural and cultural heritage, in combination with impacts of drought, fire, flood and major weather events. Substantial efforts have been directed at fish habitat areas and turtle conservation. Additional resources have been allocated to employ Indigenous rangers, particularly in Cape York. A revised heritage strategy has been prepared to provide a framework for managing Queensland’s heritage (see Box HER28). This strategy defines how the Queensland Government and Queensland Heritage Council will manage and coordinate heritage issues in a sustainable manner that reflects the contribution of heritage to community sustainability, ethos and identity. A new web-based ‘living heritage information system’ has been implemented to provide better public access to heritage information.
- In South Australia, available information shows an increase in the number of listed places, and increased protection for Indigenous sites and objects, and shipwrecks. There has been substantial investment in community access to heritage places, including the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, improved visitor facilities at the Naracoorte Caves World Heritage property and better access to national parks near Adelaide. There has been an increase in direct engagement with Indigenous people in land and park management, as well as improvements to statutory provisions, following a review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 in March 2016.
- In Tasmania, emphasis has been on reviewing entries on the Tasmanian Heritage Register to ensure that they meet at least one criterion in the legislation (see Box HER16), and developing works guidelines that set clear expectations for heritage property owners, developers and local government. These guidelines offer a consistent framework for assessing and determining development applications. Amendments to the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995 will provide greater clarity, consistency and certainty about the listing processes. The Parks and Wildlife Service and the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania entered an agreement to achieve environmentally, socially and economically sustainable tourism in the reserve estate. Sustainable access arrangements were implemented for the Arthur–Pieman Conservation Area, and the first stage of the Three Capes Track was completed on the Tasman Peninsula. Major conservation programs were undertaken at Low Head, and public and volunteer resources were deployed in response to the impacts of recent severe fire seasons.
- In Victoria, the Living Heritage Program audited 150 at-risk places on the Victorian Heritage Register that were identified as being in poor condition. The audit, completed in December 2015, involved an assessment of the condition of each place, and the identification of essential maintenance and repair requirements. More than 140 heritage places were found to need urgent works, with an even split between rural and urban locations. The audit also noted the positive impact of past heritage grant programs, with some places previously assessed as in poor condition now actively being used and in good condition. The Living Heritage audit also led to a new heritage grants program—the Living Heritage Grants Program (Victorian Government, pers. comm., June 2016). Changes to Aboriginal heritage legislation provide for registration of Aboriginal intangible heritage, and increased compliance monitoring and enforcement powers for traditional owners. The Heritage Act 1995 was reviewed to provide improved protection for postcontact heritage.
- In Western Australia, the State Register of Heritage Places has an active portfolio, with around 900 planning referrals received each year for projects on state-registered places. This process provides information on the condition of properties across a large portion of the register each year. There are numerous examples of places receiving significant investment and being very successfully adapted for contemporary use. The State Heritage Office was established in July 2014 as a standalone agency to support the Heritage Council and minister, to deliver heritage services. In 2011, the State Cultural Heritage Policy was adopted, formalising the responsibilities of government agencies and local authorities to recognise, promote and protect cultural heritage. A $5 million Goldfields Earthquake Restoration Fund was established, and several conservation projects were funded for historic heritage places. Proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) aim to increase protection and involve traditional owners, but may also reduce some protective provisions (see Box HER29).
At the local level, comprehensive national data about the condition and integrity of Australia’s heritage are not available. Several key factors influence local heritage:
- The identification process, which is inconsistent and incomplete on a national basis, leads to inadequate information for good decision-making and an unknown level of impact to significant—but unlisted—places.
- Processes for impact assessment and considerations of development consent are almost invariably framed in terms of one-off adverse effects on local heritage, without long-term consideration of cumulative adverse effects and progressive, incremental destruction.
- The establishment of heritage policies and guidelines can improve the condition and integrity of local heritage items.
- Local incentive programs, including access to information, grants and award schemes, can improve the condition and values of local heritage places.
- Community stewardship programs, such as Landcare, Hands on Heritage and Working on Country, also play a significant role in heritage conservation at the local level.