Economic growth


Heritage places are susceptible to loss of values through inappropriate changes arising from economic growth, including impact of production activities and damage from waste disposal. For example, intensification and extension of agriculture are occurring in response to food security concerns and development pressures (Australian Government 2015b), which can affect natural and Indigenous heritage. Pressures can be exacerbated or reduced by factors such as the adequacy of statutory protection and the allocation of financial resources. Heritage places can also be affected by inconsistent approaches from decision-makers, particularly where there are major pressures for approval of new developments in urban and semi-urban areas.

Resource extraction

Resource extraction industries place pressure on heritage places directly and indirectly. There has been significant expansion of Australia’s export mining and energy sectors during recent years (e.g. Trading Economics 2016). Mining and gas exploration may result in actual removal of features of heritage value, adverse change to geological substructures, erosion or changes to groundwater. Logging and timber harvesting can affect both individual places, and intact natural and cultural landscapes. Balanced against these impacts are the economic benefits that flow from job creation—for example, the mining industry in north-western Australia provides employment for approximately 3000 Indigenous people, albeit predominantly in low-skilled jobs. There is also the benefit of additional cultural knowledge that arises from impact assessment surveys carried out, where legislative arrangements aim to identify and protect heritage values as part of the resource extraction process.

Resource extraction activities may also cause indirect pressures, such as disconnection from Indigenous and historic associative cultural landscapes, loss of access to heritage places for the people to whom they are important, visual scarring or loss of habitat corridors. Hunting and fishing can affect individual species or give rise to conflict between different land users, but may also be a significant and appropriate part of Indigenous heritage or local tradition.


Many heritage places are also valuable economic assets, and this underlying value can be both an asset and an incentive, as well as a threat to conservation. Development at all scales exerts direct pressure on heritage places, but particularly in areas where urban density is increasing, usually in response to population pressures. 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 and the wider landscape within which they exist. There is also growing interest in domestic ‘renovation’ projects, which may be stimulated by reality television.

In Australia, consideration of heritage impact (and other environmental factors) is often reactive in response to compliance with statutory processes for a development that has already been announced. Heritage is therefore perceived as a ‘problem’ and is contested—development approval processes often characterise heritage as a barrier, rather than an opportunity. Such contests are evident in recourse to stop-work orders. Alternative approaches, such as the strategic assessment process of the EPBC Act and proactive strategic planning based on proactive assessment (as is occurring, for example, in the Greater Melbourne area and the City of Sydney), offer a means to address these pressures and the strategic protection of heritage places.

The determination process for proposed development does not always strike a balance between values, and there is a tendency to prefer perceived ‘economic’ benefits to the value of nature and/or culture. Local heritage places are at risk of destruction to make way for new development projects, as well as from 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 influence decision-making and be given more weight than culture, with consequent adverse effects for the heritage value of the place.


Australian tourism is constantly growing and has exceeded 200 million visitors per year for the past 4 years. Tourism can be an opportunity and a threat for Australia’s heritage.

Heritage conservation includes presentation, interpretation and celebration. Encouraging people to visit important places to learn stories and enjoy experiences connects them with their own heritage and the heritage of other people.

Although most tourist visits are to urban areas, the visitor numbers to rural areas, and to natural and cultural heritage places, are substantial and growing. In remote Indigenous communities and IPAs, community-led tourism enterprises can be a source of employment, cultural revival and intergenerational transmission of culture. Sustainable tourism can provide important resources that facilitate heritage conservation. Well-managed tourism can raise awareness and appreciation of heritage values, as well as provide resources that can facilitate heritage conservation. However, poorly managed or unmanaged tourism also presents significant threats.

Growth in visitation may place additional pressure on the resource itself. Tourism pressures can cause physical damage (from construction of visitor facilities, increased erosion, vandalism or simply excessive use) or loss of amenity (noise, visual intrusion, pollution). For Indigenous heritage places, tourism can affect traditional access or involve culturally inappropriate visitor behaviour that affects intangible values. This is particularly the case with respect to gender-specific culturally significant sites.

Beechworth Station, Victoria, on the ‘Murray to Mountains’ rail trail. Experiencing heritage in a hands-on way, such as cycling along this converted historic railway line, connects people and places

Beechworth Station, Victoria, on the ‘Murray to Mountains’ rail trail. Experiencing heritage in a hands-on way, such as cycling along this converted historic railway line, connects people and places

Photo by Richard Mackay

Beechworth Station, Victoria, on the ‘Murray to Mountains’ rail trail. Experiencing heritage in a hands-on way, such as cycling along this converted historic railway line, connects people and places


Globally, sustainability continues to be an emerging issue for heritage conservation. In this context, sustainable use includes retaining, conserving and passing on heritage places so that their values are transmitted to future generations. This approach is consistent with international understanding of sustainability that aims to meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations (UN 1987).

Increasing population and development in Australia necessitate more innovative approaches that maximise resource use, minimise waste and pollution, and generally reduce dependence on nonrenewable resources. Until recently, measures of sustainability in Australia have been predominantly focused on the use of renewable resources, rather than considering matters such as embodied energy. SoE 2011 noted that ratings systems such as Green Star were initially focused on building new sustainable buildings, rather than retaining and adapting old buildings, because the embodied energy in the existing building was not included in sustainability and energy calculations. Less tangible attributes, such as natural and cultural inheritance values, were also not measured (SoE Committee 2011). However, recently, both embodied energy and broader inheritance values have been increasingly recognised. For example, the Green Building Council has developed and applied the Green Star—Communities rating tool, which recognises projects that conserve, interpret and celebrate historic buildings through culture, heritage and identity measures. It also includes more broad-ranging opportunities to address Indigenous places through the Reconciliation Action Plan framework, which has been developed in conjunction with Reconciliation Australia (GBCA 2015).

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Economic growth. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0