Inputs: Financial Resources


In the absence of comprehensive programs for monitoring the state of Australia’s heritage, inputs provide a surrogate basis for evaluating some aspects of management effectiveness. Relevant inputs include financial and human resources, and investment in applied research. Although some of the individual heritage initiatives and programs that have been allocated resources are impressive and self-evidently valuable (see Box HER32), measuring input data alone cannot provide an accurate or comprehensive understanding of the results and outcomes achieved by such investments.

Financial resources

Sound management practices in the heritage system are ultimately determined by available resources, especially funding. It is appropriate that resources are allocated by government, because heritage is a public good, but it is also important that other sectors of the community also value heritage and contribute to conservation.

The issues of who pays for heritage conservation and who is responsible (the owner, community or government) is contentious. Many heritage places are privately owned, and their cultural benefits are shared by their owners and the community, so it is reasonable that the owners contribute some resources and the government contributes others, either directly with funding or indirectly through services and incentives. However, public funding for heritage in Australia continues to decline.

As noted in SoE 2011, the Productivity Commission made an important distinction between the respective roles and responsibilities of government and private-sector owners of heritage places:

Governments are the custodians of the vast majority of the most significant or ‘iconic’ heritage places. They also own a very large number of less significant places.

There is significant scope for governments to improve how they identify and fund the conservation of government-owned places.


For many private owners, the current use and enjoyment of their property are consistent with, indeed require, maintaining its heritage attributes.

… the wider cultural benefits of the place are provided to their community with little added costs, apart from the extra administrative cost involved with government identification, assessment and listing. (Productivity Commission 2006)

Since 2011, more than $39.8 million of heritage grant funding, contributing to 1129 projects, has been allocated by the Australian Government through programs including Grants to Voluntary Environment, Sustainability and Heritage Organisations; the Indigenous Heritage Programme; Community Heritage and Icons Grants; Celebrating Community Heritage; and Protecting National Historic Sites. There has been a relatively greater proportion of funding allocated to projects at National Heritage places. Very substantial additional funding has also been made available to address environmental and conservation issues for the Great Barrier Reef, through the Reef Trust (DoEE 2015) and the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan (Australian Government & Queensland Government 2015), with more than $300 million allocated to date (see Box HER24).

Heritage places have benefited from mainstream environment initiatives throughout the past 5 years, including the 20 Million Trees and Green Army programs. Natural World Heritage properties have received ongoing funding support through Natural Heritage Trust funds. Individual sites have received significant one-off grants. For example, a grant of $1.5 million was provided in 2014–15 to conserve and stabilise the penitentiary building at the Port Arthur Historic Site, and additional funding enabled the appointment of an executive officer in support of the Australian World Heritage Convict Sites. A grant of $20 million was also made in 2012 in support of the World Heritage–listed Royal Exhibition Building and Gardens in Victoria.

However, a number of heritage programs have now concluded (Bringing Heritage Online, Recovering from Natural Disasters, Sharing Community Heritage Stories and Commemorating Eminent Australians), and the Indigenous Heritage Programme has been transferred to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In some cases, specific programs with a finite term have been replaced by new projects with different purposes or target recipients.

These changes have seen the Australian Government’s expenditure on core heritage programs decrease from $12.3 million in 2011–12 to $5.8 million in 2015–16 (Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., July 2016; Figures HER18 and HER19). Excluding Great Barrier Reef funding, both the amount of grant funding and the number of projects supported have substantially declined during the past 5 years. Grant funding provided by the Australian Government for heritage places has significantly declined, with the total funding from dedicated heritage grants reduced by 53 per cent since 2011. The period has also seen large-scale changes to the Australian Government’s grant programs arising from the consequences of the High Court decision on the Chaplains Case (HCA 2012, Ryall 2015), which restricted federal funding in state jurisdictions. Heritage grant programs were accordingly refocused, and now support World Heritage properties and places on the National Heritage List.

At the state and territory level, the funding pattern is erratic, but there have been some substantial grant programs. For example, the Victorian Living Heritage Program will provide $30 million over 4 years (DELWP 2016a), and Western Australia has increased grant funding for private owners by 25 per cent and established a $4 million Heritage Revolving Fund (Heritage Council & State Heritage Office 2014).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 9 considers funding provided to heritage and other agencies for natural heritage places

Notwithstanding the additions to the National Reserve System during the past 5 years (even after excluding new IPAs), funding for management of national parks seems to have remained relatively stable (Figure HER20). Substantial new reserves and additions to existing reserves have been dedicated without proportional increases in management agency resourcing. For example, available data indicate that the operating budgets for Australian parks management agencies may have increased slightly during 2012–15, but that current levels are not markedly different from 2011, even after allowing for gaps in the information (Figure HER21). Australian parks appear to lack adequate resources to address major emerging pressures, and conservation programs are constrained by available resources. These limitations affect the values of cultural places within reserved lands, as well as natural values.

Nevertheless, some specific public-sector funding programs—such as the National Landcare Programme, Caring for our Country and the Green Army initiative—have contributed to natural heritage place management. For example, of the 1145 projects approved under the Green Army program to date, 181 projects have heritage as the primary investment priority. Substantial funding for applied science has been made available through the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) and the subsequent National Environmental Science Programme (NESP). Many NERP and NESP projects have involved work directly within World Heritage properties, national parks or other lands reserved for conservation purposes (DoEE 2017k).

The Australian Government continues to provide direct support for the care, control and management of Australian World Heritage properties, but there has been an overall decrease in the funding level during the past 5 years. This decrease is particularly pronounced for those properties that are not directly managed by the Commonwealth (i.e. if management funding for the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and Uluṟu–Kata Tjuṯa National Park is excluded; Figure HER22). These figures also exclude the recent additional Australian Government investment in the Great Barrier Reef (see Box HER24).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 10 considers funding provided to heritage and other agencies for historic heritage places

Funding for assessing and managing historic places is difficult to measure on a national basis because there are inconsistent approaches in the allocation and reporting of budget resources. The number of historic place National Heritage List assessments has declined, but some of the assessments that have been completed are for larger and more complex places. At the state and territory level, information is inconsistent and the data contain anomalies. For example, the New South Wales data include Indigenous heritage, which cannot be disaggregated from historic heritage (Figure HER23). Overall, and allowing for gaps in available data, there appears to have been a modest increase in funding for state and territory historic heritage management at the agency level (Figure HER24).

Since 2011, there has been considerable variation in allocation of grant funding for heritage conservation projects at the state and territory level. The reliability of the numbers and trends is affected by both gaps in the data and some large one-off programs or projects (Figures HER25 and HER26). The seeming decline of grants and incentives for heritage property owners is concerning, but some other forms of resourcing, such as tourism, regional development and programs such as the Green Army, are also contributing to heritage conservation. Access to free professional advice at the local level remains an important incentive that can assist private owners of heritage places (see Natural and cultural heritage indicator 21).

Many Australian historic sites in public ownership lack adequate resources to address major conservation priorities. Private owners of historic sites do not receive incentives that are proportional to the public value of the places they own and manage. Particular challenges are faced by owners and managers of heritage places in remote locations. However, other sources of funding can also contribute to heritage conservation outcomes. For example, the Western Australian Mining Rehabilitation Fund provides a financial resource for abandoned mines, which can be used to conserve features with heritage value (WA DMP 2016).

Australian Government grant funding has been made available for historic heritage conservation and management through national programs. For example, the Sharing Community Heritage Stories program provided more than $5 million between 2011 and 2013, and the Community Heritage and Icons Grant program has provided more than $600,000 to 35 projects between 2014 and 2016. Under the Protecting National Historic Sites program, more than $18 million has been provided to 98 projects between 2011 and 2016 (Figures HER18 and HER19).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 11 considers funding provided to heritage and other agencies for Indigenous heritage places

Incomplete data are available about the operating budgets of state and territory agencies involved in Indigenous heritage management. The available information indicates a substantial increase in resourcing (Figure HER27). However, the figures for New South Wales may influence the result, because historic and Indigenous heritage resources have been amalgamated since 2013–14 and cannot be disaggregated. The absence of comparable data for 2 jurisdictions makes comprehensive comparison difficult, and highlights one aspect of the lack of national leadership and coordination in Indigenous heritage management.

Resources for listing and protecting Indigenous heritage places proactively are limited, and are often only allocated when potential adverse impacts may arise as the result of development proposals. Insufficient attention is paid to intangible values and effective means of protection other than through listing or reservation. There are no nationally consistent standards or guidelines for documenting and assessing Indigenous heritage places across different jurisdictions, although this gap is addressed in the Australian Heritage Strategy (Australian Government 2015a, Outcome 9).

Australia’s listed Indigenous sites do not receive adequate resources to address major conservation priorities. It has not been possible to gather information on grant funding programs from state and territory agencies (this information was requested, but not provided). The Australian Government allocated more than $8 million to 68 projects under the Indigenous Heritage Programme between 2011 and 2014, before responsibility for Indigenous heritage resourcing was moved from the Department of the Environment and Energy to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., September 2016). For some Indigenous communities, challenges arise from constraints in grant program rules, especially restrictions on use of funding for project staffing and coordination, which especially affects Indigenous heritage places (DoEE 2017f). Caring for our Country and Green Army projects have been undertaken on Indigenous land. There are also other programs, such as Aboriginals Benefit Account grant funding, which is available under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 for projects that benefit Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory (DPMC 2016b; Box HER33).

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