Identification: Listing Jurisdictions


In Australia, heritage is defined by both statutory and nonstatutory listing processes, which result in inventories and areas of reserved lands. There is an inherent tension in the philosophical difference between identifying a series of individual sites as heritage (a ‘dots on the map’ approach) and listing whole cultural landscapes or reserving areas that may incorporate individual significant places, but that may also have multiple layered values. Nowhere is this tension more apparent than in the difference between a single Indigenous site and the broader Indigenous perspective of Country.

World Heritage

The World Heritage List (of the World Heritage Convention [WHC]) comprises places that are of ‘outstanding universal value’ to humanity in both the natural and cultural environments. Australia has 19 World Heritage properties (Figure HER2). Some of these are serial listings or properties that encompass more than 1 land or sea area. The Ningaloo Coast was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2011. Since then, resources have been allocated to consolidating and extending some existing World Heritage areas. The Koongarra area, of approximately 1200 hectares, was added to the Kakadu World Heritage Area by the World Heritage Committee in 2011 (World Heritage Committee 2011). An extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area of approximately 12 per cent was approved by the World Heritage Committee in 2013 (World Heritage Committee 2013).

Australia has not reviewed its World Heritage Tentative List for some years, but the Australian Heritage Strategy includes a commitment to updating the list in consultation with the states and territories, the Australia Chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Australia ICOMOS), the Australian Committee for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and traditional owners (Australian Government 2015a, Outcome 1). A meeting of Australian environment ministers in December 2015 agreed to explore potential nominations for Cape York in Queensland, subject to community and traditional owner views, and the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in Victoria. The ministers also agreed to retain the current extensions to the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia and Fraser Island (Great Sandy Region) World Heritage Areas on the Tentative List, and that there would be further research and consultation with community and key stakeholder groups regarding other potential additions to the list (DoE 2015).

The IUCN has evaluated the World Heritage List and identified natural areas that are irreplaceable (Abdulla et al. 2013, Bertzky et al. 2013). The IUCN global analysis identifies the Wet Tropics of Queensland as one of the 10 most irreplaceable protected areas in the world for all species, including threatened species. Kakadu, Shark Bay and the Wet Tropics are among the 78 most irreplaceable protected areas (sites or clusters) for the conservation of the world’s amphibian, bird and mammal species. Macquarie Island, Purnululu, Uluṟu–Kata Tjuṯa and Willandra Lakes feature in irreplaceability analysis of the 61 nonbiodiversity natural and mixed sites on the World Heritage List. The Australian Fossil Mammal Sites property (Riversleigh/Naracoorte) is noted as unique, having been unusually recognised under World Heritage criterion ix based on fossil (rather than living) biodiversity values. The Australian East Coast Temperate and Subtropical Rainforest Parks (now within the larger Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area) was the first Australian example of a serial nomination. (A serial nomination consists of 2 or more unconnected areas that are related because they belong to the same historico-cultural group; the same type of property that is characteristic of the geographical zone; or the same geological, geomorphological formation, the same biogeographic province, or the same ecosystem type. It is the series, and not necessarily each of its components taken individually, that is of outstanding universal value.)

Australia includes a very high number of biodiversity sites. The Forests of Eastern Australia are a biodiversity hotspot, with a particularly high percentage of area coverage (Bertzky et al. 2013). Australia has more marine World Heritage sites than any other country, and more than 50 per cent of Australia’s nearshore marine provinces (as defined by the Marine Ecoregions of the World) include 1 or more World Heritage properties ( Abdulla et al. 2013).

The IUCN global analysis also reaches conclusions regarding gaps in the World Heritage estate. Some of the large priority ecoregions with less than 1 per cent coverage on the World Heritage List are in Western Australia. One of the 46 priority ecoregions with no World Heritage properties inscribed for biodiversity values (World Heritage criteria ix and/or x; UNESCO WHC 2016) is the Great Sandy–Tanami–Central Ranges Desert, much of which lies within an existing IPA. Several globally important areas for the conservation of plants without corresponding properties listed for biodiversity are in the south-east, centre and north-west of Australia. One large important area for the conservation of endemic birds is in the south-west of Australia (Bertzsky et al. 2013). The South-west Australian Shelf and the South-east Australian Shelf are identified as 2 of the 28 ‘gap provinces’: nearshore and continental biogeographic areas without marine World Heritage sites (Abdulla et al. 2013). Therefore, scope exists for further expansion of Australia’s Tentative List, recognising that the Australian Government is committed to appropriate consultative processes and seeking ‘prior informed consent’, and that Australia is committed to relevant World Heritage Committee policies and processes regarding the number and frequency of new nominations.

A number of Australian World Heritage properties that are listed for natural values may also meet the relevant World Heritage criteria for cultural values. Cultural values were added to the Wet Tropics of Queensland National Heritage values in 2012. Purnululu National Park was nominated as a mixed property, and the advisory bodies found that ‘outstanding universal value’ was demonstrated for both natural and cultural values (ICOMOS 2003, IUCN 2003). Australia originally nominated the Greater Blue Mountains to the World Heritage List for both natural and cultural values, but this property is only included on the National Heritage List for natural values, although it is currently on the National Heritage listing priority assessment list (see Natural heritage). The Australian Heritage Strategy commits to reviewing existing World Heritage places listed for natural values to identify whether the areas may also contain internationally significant cultural heritage (Australian Government 2015a; Outcome 1). Such renomination for properties such as the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Purnululu, the Greater Blue Mountains and possibly the Ningaloo Coast might afford recognition to cultural values. This would make a meaningful difference by triggering the EPBC Act provisions for matters of national environmental significance1 and increasing eligibility for funding programs.


National Heritage List

The National Heritage List includes natural, historic and Indigenous places throughout Australia and in the Australian Antarctic Territory (Figure HER3). As at 30 June 2016, the list contained 106 places, most of which were added between 2005 and 2008 (Figure HER4); 12 new places were added to the National Heritage List between 1 July 2011 and 30 June 2016 (Table HER1). The initial phase of including places on the National Heritage List included the addition of all the existing World Heritage properties, without further assessment or consideration of additional criteria.

Table HER1 Places added to the National Heritage List, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Place name

Register date

The West Kimberley

31 August 2011

HMS Sirius Shipwreck

25 October 2011

Jordan River levee site

23 December 2011

Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape

8 February 2013


9 August 2013

Moree Baths and Swimming Pool

6 September 2013

Murtoa No 1 Grain Store

1 October 2014

Koonalda Cave

15 October 2014

City of Broken Hill

20 January 2015

The Burke, Wills, King and Yandruwandha National Heritage Place

22 January 2016

Fitzgerald River National Park

6 May 2016

Lesueur National Park

6 May 2016

Source: National Heritage List, Australian Heritage Database (2016), Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy

Despite the Australian Government’s inclusion of national heritage as one of the 4 pillars of its Plan for a Cleaner Environment (DoE 2016), progress with populating the National Heritage List has remained steady during 2011–16, and is constrained by both resourcing and statutory processes. Amendments to the EPBC Act in 2007 provide that items are assessed for inclusion on the National Heritage List only if they are placed on the ‘priority assessment list’ determined by the minister, following their initial nomination by the community or government and advice from the Australian Heritage Council. The minister may determine themes to be given priority during assessments, and there is a specified period each year during which nominations for that year will be received.

Because of resource limitations, the Australian Heritage Council can only assess a finite number of nominations. This restricted approach has been taken to cope with the volume of nominations received, and as a response to limited public understanding of the relevant threshold, which requires a place to be of ‘outstanding value to the nation’. A nomination, even of a place that may meet the threshold and is strongly supported by the community, is not automatically included in the priority assessment list. When making choices, the Australian Heritage Council seeks to select places that would make a strong contribution to the overarching nature of the list. Owing to this process, valid and meritorious nominations may never be assessed, because nominations that are excluded from the priority assessment list for 2 consecutive years do not proceed (although these places may be renominated and reconsidered subsequently).

Between 1 July 2011 and 30 June 2016, 63 places were nominated to the National Heritage List, and 24 National Heritage List assessment reports were completed and provided to the minister. The 63 places were represented by 72 different nominations, all but 2 of which were made by non–Australian Government agencies or individuals. During the same period, 13 places were added to the priority assessment list, 3 at the instigation of the minister (Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., July 2016). As at 1 July 2016, 26 places are on the priority assessment list (4 natural, 5 Indigenous and 17 historic). More recent additions to the National Heritage List have generally been larger, and include more complex places that require complex assessment, but also extensive community and stakeholder consultation (see Box HER15). Although the Australian Heritage Council may only assess a place for its heritage values, the minister considers a broader range of matters, such as socio-economic benefits, public support and legal implications.

The Australian Heritage Council and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy are seeking to put a policy framework in place that will guide the future direction of the National Heritage List. However, even allowing for more complex and resource-consuming recent assessments, the resources available for documentation and assessment, and the rate at which places are being added to the National Heritage List do not yet reflect the importance of the National Heritage List as ‘Australia’s list of natural, historic and Indigenous places of outstanding significance to the nation’ (DoEE n.d.[d]).

The Australian Heritage Strategy recognises the need to re-assess and refine the purpose and roles of the National Heritage List as a basis for determining how it should develop in future:

Does the list include Australia’s most important heritage assets, the places that reflect our identity as a nation, that tell our story and which we want to protect and value into the future? Does the list inspire, educate and delight us as Australians and paint a picture for visitors to Australia as to who we are?   (Australian Government 2015a:22)

Commonwealth Heritage List

The EPBC Act provides that a Commonwealth-controlled property must have ‘significant heritage value’ to be included in the Commonwealth Heritage List. At 30 June 2016, there were 396 places on the Commonwealth Heritage List, of which 63 were added between 2010–11 and 2015–16 (Figure HER5); 43 post offices were added to the list in a single batch on 8 November 2011, all of which had been included on the former Register of the National Estate and were subsequently assessed as having Commonwealth Heritage values. During the same period, 5 places were removed from the Commonwealth Heritage List because they passed from Commonwealth ownership, and a further 2 places were removed from the Commonwealth Heritage List because subsequent information revealed that they were ineligible for inclusion.

The Commonwealth Heritage List remains a work in progress—partly because it will always evolve, but also because there are Australian Government agencies that are yet to assess the Commonwealth Heritage value of places in their ownership or control. There is a need to continue the process of ensuring that only eligible places are listed, but also to encourage new nominations from Australian Government agencies that are responsible for unlisted properties of ‘significant heritage value’. The Australian Heritage Strategy observes that Commonwealth Heritage listing acknowledges and celebrates the heritage assets that the Australian Government controls, but also carries management and reporting obligations for the responsible Australian Government agency. The strategy commits to streamlining list and management processes for places on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Register of the National Estate

The Register of the National Estate was established under the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 as a list of important natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places. Following amendments to the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003, no new places were added to or removed from the register. The register ceased to be a statutory register in February 2012, but remains available as an archive. The demise of the statutory role of the Register of the National Estate left some previously ‘registered’ places without any statutory status.

State and territory

Australian states and territories maintain statutory heritage registers. These vary in their coverage and thresholds because of differences in jurisdictional legislation. Some registers include natural, Indigenous and historic places, whereas others include only historic places. In most jurisdictions, the threshold for listing is significance at the state level.

Through regular liaison between senior heritage officials, there has been a gradual move towards standardised approaches, in accordance with the 1997 Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment. For example, following a decision by the former Environment Protection and Heritage Council (the meeting of Australian, state and territory ministers responsible for heritage), consistent heritage assessment criteria have been introduced in some jurisdictions.

During recent years, the focus for state and territory heritage register management has been on review and improvement of the quality of listing information (see Box HER16), as well as addressing anomalies, but there has been a net increase of 484 state and territory heritage listings during the past 5 years (Figure HER6). However, the overall pattern in state and territory heritage listing processes is not consistent (Figure HER7): 150 places were added to state and territory heritage registers in 2011–12, but only 62 in 2015–16. New listing programs have been instigated; these typically focus on particular themes, or were undertaken to address identified gaps. There has been some delisting of state-listed places—for example, 27 items (mainly comprising railway heritage) were removed from the NSW State Heritage Register in 2013–14 (Figure HER7). The deregistration of these items followed a review by NSW RailCorp of its own heritage and conservation register, and the recommendation of the NSW Heritage Council. The removed items were part of a very large group of listings made under transitional arrangements when the NSW State Heritage Register was first established. The review found that they did not meet the threshold for state listing (Heritage Division of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, pers. comm., August 2016).


Most heritage listings in Australia occur at the local level by local government agencies. The diversity in council areas across the nation, and differences in planning statutes and approaches, make it difficult to aggregate comparable data. Some local heritage lists include places of state, national or World Heritage value; others do not. Most local lists exclusively comprise historic places. In some jurisdictions, there is an overlap or duplication of local and state or territory listings. A general picture of what is locally listed in Australia was provided in SoE 2011, but nationally aggregated, comparable information is not readily available. The general pattern is that heritage listing is most intensive in coastal areas, and concentrated in and around urban centres.

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