Heritage: 2011–16 in context


The SoE 2011 'Heritage' chapter concluded that the outlook for Australia’s heritage was dependent on government leadership in 2 key areas:

  • undertaking thorough assessments that lead to comprehensive natural and cultural inventories and truly representative areas of protected land
  • changing management paradigms and resource allocation in response to emerging threats—responding strategically, based on integrated use of traditional and scientific knowledge. (SoE Committee 2011:787)

Since 2011, improvements and declines have been seen in the state, condition and circumstances of Australia’s heritage. Anecdotal evidence and limited surveys suggest that the values for which heritage places are reserved and listed remain generally intact. However, there have been significant impacts on natural heritage values (such as coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and fires in the Tasmanian Wilderness), and substantial impacts on both Indigenous and historic heritage, including destruction of significant sites through resource extraction or development.

The most significant national heritage initiative in 2011–16 has been the preparation and launch of the Australian Heritage Strategy (Australian Government 2015a). The strategy provides a nationally driven strategic direction for heritage management across all levels of government and the community for the next 10 years (see Box HER5).

More than 17 per cent of Australian land and more than 36 per cent of Australia’s marine area is now protected within reserves, and National Reserve System targets for specific bioregions are being actively pursued. However, the resources actually allocated for heritage assessment have either remained steady or diminished during 2011–16. There have been no Australian nominations to the World Heritage List, although the Australian Government is currently looking to revise and update Australia’s ‘Tentative List’ for World Heritage nomination. Relatively few new places have been added to the National Heritage List, although the additions that have occurred include both important Indigenous places and places that are relatively large and complex, such as the West Kimberley and the City of Broken Hill. There has been a marked increase in the number of Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs). Progress has been made in state and local jurisdictions, but there is a long way to go before heritage registers could be regarded as comprehensive, or protected lands as truly representative.

Australian Government grant funding for heritage conservation has diminished, although there have been effective targeted programs, such as the Community Heritage and Icons Grants, and the Protecting National Historic Sites program. State and territory funding has varied during the past 5 years, but inconsistencies in available data mean that the overall pattern is not clear. However, there appears to have been growth in private-sector and community-group contributions to heritage conservation. Nationally funded projects within the National Environmental Research Program and its successor, the National Environmental Science Programme, have also contributed towards the conservation and management of several heritage places and reserved lands. These projects, and the Indigenous Ranger—Working on Country program, in conjunction with expanded traditional land and sea management in IPAs, have fostered the integrated use of traditional and scientific knowledge for conservation management purposes, and involved Indigenous people in active management of their heritage. They have also recognised the inseparable nature of natural and cultural heritage for Indigenous communities. Ongoing funding allocations for such programs, and for related training programs, will be important to secure and continue these achievements into the future.

There has been an increasing focus on the sustainable use and development of heritage, and the intergenerational value of embodied energy (the energy used to produce the building, including all materials), including the more recent notion that cultural inheritance values are also part of a sustainable future. There are new industry standards for sustainability (Australian Government 2015a), and there have been changes to some state legislation that will deliver heritage outcomes—for example, provisions to provide building upgrade finance that reflects the embodied energy of heritage places, legislation facilitating adaptive re-use (e.g. the Planning and Development Infrastructure Act 2006 [SA]) and legislation that provides a more inclusive basis for involvement of Indigenous people in decisions that affect their heritage (e.g. the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2006 and the South Australian Aboriginal Heritage (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016). Although there has been increasing international focus on the global response to climate change, and some local place-based approaches, there is, as yet, no substantive policy response that will contribute to long-term conservation of the nation’s heritage in the face of climate change.


Photo by Richard Mackay

Menindee Lakes, New South Wales

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Heritage: 2011–16 in context. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/heritage/topic/2016/heritage-2011-16-context, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0