Inputs: Human 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.

Human resources

Human resource inputs for heritage include the knowledge and skills of staff employed in reserves and cultural sites; heritage advisers and regulators; and private-sector owners, managers and volunteers.

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 17 considers the number and distribution of professional heritage-related courses, enrolments and graduates

SoE 2011 observed that there was a net increase in the number of professional heritage-related courses between 2006 and 2011. However, available courses were concentrated in eastern Australia and major cities. It was also noted that practice standards in heritage professional and trades practice rely on skilled practitioners, and that there was a progressive skills erosion. This challenge has been a matter for continuing focus by the Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand, who jointly funded another Heritage trade skills report in conjunction with the Construction & Property Services Industry Skills Council.

The Heritage trade skills report (Performance Growth 2012) is particularly directed at building conservation trade skills, rather than the full spectrum of heritage skills. It concludes, among other things, that there is declining demand for work requiring specialist heritage trades, and that more than two-thirds of respondents have difficulty in recruiting or contracting people with sufficient and appropriate skills to work on heritage projects. The report makes a number of recommendations that are directed towards improving traditional skills in existing trade-based training, developing further competency areas, and sharing information about practitioners and programs. However, it does not address the underlying issues arising from the lessening demand for such services and the ageing population of skilled practitioners, as identified in a previous report, also commissioned by the Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand (Godden Mackay Logan 2010).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 18 considers membership of selected peak professional heritage associations

Comprehensive, reliable longitudinal data are not available for peak professional associations across the heritage sector. Surrogate partial data from the sector (such as membership of Australia ICOMOS) suggest a substantial increase in membership of professional heritage associations of around 20 per cent between 2011 and 2016 (Figure HER28).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 19 considers the number of volunteers trained by heritage organisations and institutions

Volunteers make a major contribution to the conservation of Australia’s heritage. Whether they are local Landcare groups, rural firefighters, active Indigenous elders or historic property guides, heritage volunteers are integral to some of the best initiatives and outcomes achieved in the Australian heritage sector. The private owners of heritage places are also included within the heritage ‘volunteer’ community.

Comprehensive, reliable data are not available for the heritage volunteer sector. Surrogate data suggest that volunteer participation is declining. For example, information provided by the National Trusts of Australia has gaps and some variation between states, but shows a major decrease between 2010–11 and 2012–13, a general increase since and a decline overall (Figure HER29). Although National Trust membership can be regarded as indicative only, the figures suggest that, despite some periods of growth, volunteerism in the heritage sector may be declining.

However, volunteers continue to make many positive and important contributions to heritage conservation (see Box HER34).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 20 considers the number of people working in Indigenous organisations, number of Indigenous enrolments in university heritage courses, and number of Indigenous people employed by agencies involved in Indigenous programs and management of Indigenous heritage

There is no nationally coordinated network for standard setting and information sharing between Indigenous heritage management and regulatory agencies. Therefore, insufficient data are available to provide an accurate assessment of this indicator.

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 21 considers the number of local government heritage advisers

Local heritage advisers, who usually work within local government agencies, provide an exceptionally valuable contribution to historic heritage conservation (see Box HER35) and one of the few incentives available to private owners of listed heritage places. Unfortunately, insufficient data are available to provide an accurate assessment this indicator.

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 22 considers the number of professional heritage employees in government agencies

Australian Government funding for heritage has changed in quantum and application during 2011–16 (Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., June 2016). As at 30 June 2016, the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy had a heritage workforce of approximately 44 personnel dedicated to core heritage activities of managing World Heritage, National Heritage and Commonwealth Heritage policy, supporting the Australian Heritage Council, and fulfilling its statutory obligations that arise under the EPBC Act, Historic Shipwrecks Act, ATSIHP Act and Australian Heritage Council Act. In 2011, this workforce numbered approximately 101. During the period 2011–16, the department has altered resource allocation to heritage tasks and broadened its approach to heritage conservation issues. The department now draws on capabilities from across the department, the department’s agencies and the wider Australian Government sector.

Many activities previously addressed by staff within the Heritage Division or Branch are now managed centrally within the department—for example, heritage grants, the maintenance of specialist databases and mapping services, communications, and web content development. Other activities—such as the effort to conserve the Great Barrier Reef—are coordinated by biodiversity conservation personnel (including a dedicated Reef Branch) in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and other Australian Government departments, while drawing on the expertise of staff from across the department.

The reduction in resources previously allocated to the Heritage Division has necessitated change in the way the Australian Government addresses its heritage responsibilities, and reduced its capacity to provide support to community, academic and expert groups such as the Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee. The release of the Australian Heritage Strategy can enable the Australian Government to continue in a national heritage leadership role by providing a framework to coordinate the efforts of different heritage stakeholders.

At the state and territory level, the available information has gaps, but, for those national parks agencies that have supplied data, staffing levels have remained relatively static, with only minor variation (Figure HER30). However, staff numbers have declined in proportion to the significantly increased extent of reserved national park lands under management (Figures HER8, HER9 and HER12). State and territory heritage office staff numbers have also generally declined (Figure HER31).

The limited and incomplete data available for state and territory Indigenous heritage agencies suggest that staff numbers have been generally steady between 2011–12 and 2015–16 (Figure HER32), but drawing definite conclusions is difficult, given the absence of a national forum of Indigenous heritage managers and regulators. The overall picture may be skewed by New South Wales, where there have been significant changes to institutional arrangements, and it is therefore impossible to distinguish between historic heritage and Indigenous heritage staff in recent years.

Applied research

Well-resourced research is critical to the effective management of Australian heritage, in a manner that responds to threats and retains values. In particular, research relates to landscape-scale heritage places that are subject to significant pressures from climate change, but the principle applies broadly to both natural and cultural heritage places, large and small.

The Australian Government has invested significantly in applied research during recent years (see Box HER36), through a range of programs that contribute to heritage outcomes, such as the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, which is focused on reducing the impact of invasive species (Invasive Animals CRC 2016). Between 2011 and 2015, the NERP was funded at a level of $20 million per year, supporting 136 projects aimed at key environmental issues (DoEE 2016b; see Box HER37). Of all NERP projects, 42 per cent contributed to heritage place conservation and management; 27 per cent (37 projects) supported projects involving World Heritage properties and National Heritage places, with 59 per cent of these (22 projects) relating to the Great Barrier Reef, 27 per cent (10 projects) relating to the Wet Tropics of Queensland, 8 per cent (3 projects) relating to Kakadu National Park, and individual projects in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the Wet Tropics (DoEE 2017k; Science Partnerships Section, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., July 2016).

The more recent NESP (DoEE n.d.[i]) is continuing this process of assisting decision-makers to understand, manage and conserve Australia’s environment through support for biodiversity and climate science. Between 2014–15 and 2020–21, the current NESP is providing $2.5 million to address emerging research priorities and $142.5 million to the following 6 research hubs:

  • clean air and urban landscapes
  • earth systems and climate change
  • marine biodiversity
  • northern Australia environmental resources
  • threatened species recovery
  • tropical water quality.

Approximately half of the current NESP has been allocated. It is not straightforward to identify the ‘heritage’ component of NESP separately, as many projects have heritage components or involve listed heritage places. However, analysis of current NESP projects indicates that approximately 27 per cent of current NESP projects (36 projects and ~$8.2 million funding) support heritage places, and a further 16 per cent (20 projects and ~$59.7 million) contribute to heritage places, but the full nature and extent of the heritage contribution cannot be more accurately determined (Science Partnerships Section, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., July 2016). Of the 36 projects with a known heritage focus, the overwhelming majority (33 projects with ~$7.5 million funding) are in the Great Barrier Reef, and the other 3 (8 per cent with ~$640,000 funding) are in Kakadu National Park (DoEE 2017k; Science Partnerships Section, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, pers. comm., July 2016).

NESP has an Indigenous engagement strategy to facilitate involvement with, and guidance from, Indigenous people in developing and delivering research projects. Some NESP projects have a cultural dimension, where they involve cultural landscapes such as Kakadu National Park or the Wet Tropics. This is integrated throughout NESP, rather than being via a separate research hub for Indigenous cultural heritage.

NESP is a substantive and important program, which includes and applies to a range of significant heritage places and issues. The focus on the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park will contribute to effective conservation, but there are also opportunities to afford priority for future NESP and other environmental research programs to other World Heritage properties and National Heritage places, and to establish a separate hub for applied heritage research. The Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee has made representations to the Australian Government about these matters, suggesting that NESP resources should be directed towards establishing a national World Heritage priority research agenda.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) also supports research that contributes to heritage conservation. In 2011–16, there have been at least 2 substantial ARC heritage projects in Australia, funded to a total value of $704,000. The first project, which involves collaboration between the University of Queensland and the University of Southern Queensland, is investigating the difference between the intention and actual delivery of outcomes for Indigenous people in the World Heritage system. The project seeks to develop innovative methods that integrate western and Indigenous knowledge, in an evidence-based model that integrates UNESCO’s universal approach with the particular interests of Indigenous communities (Project ID: DP140100360). The second project, which is based in the Australian National University and led by Yolngu Elder and researcher Joseph Gumbula, seeks to develop a cloud-based database engine and networked applications for streaming digitised heritage resources in ways that are appropriate for Indigenous people, particularly those in remote communities (Project ID: IN13010001).

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