The vision of the Australian Heritage Strategy is that:
Our natural, historic and Indigenous heritage places are valued by Australians, protected for future generations and cared for by the community. (Australian Government 2015a:3)
This vision is to be achieved through a structured program of high-level objectives, framed by national leadership, strong partnerships and engaged communities. The approach and vision of the Australian Heritage Strategy are clear, as is the intent to rely on partnerships with government, professional and community groups at all levels.
Australia’s heritage includes a diverse array of places, with a wide spectrum of natural and cultural heritage values. Different places and values vary in their resilience and response to current and future pressures, giving rise to a range of potential outlooks. Some factors, such as the legacy of former land clearance, species extinction or destruction of historic sites, are now beyond the scope of management responses. Other factors can be managed. The future condition and integrity of Australia’s heritage will therefore depend on how governments, heritage place owners and communities adaptively manage heritage places with limited resources, in response to continuing pressures and emerging threats, using both traditional and scientific knowledge.
The Australian Government has been proactive in heritage management in the past 5 years. In addition to the preparation of the Australian Heritage Strategy, the Australian Government has played an active role in World Heritage, partly through actions to address international concern about the Great Barrier Reef, but also by continuing to support the improved implementation of the World Heritage operational guidelines and a commitment to review the Australian World Heritage Tentative List. There have been significant allocations of project and program funding for World Heritage and National Heritage properties. Against this must be balanced the declining core staff resources, an overall reduction in grant funding and the relatively narrow focus of some programs, such as Protecting National Historic Sites. Although there have been some large and complex places included on the National Heritage List, the resources available for new assessments continue to decline overall across national, state and territory jurisdictions. There are opportunities for future focus on World Heritage and National Heritage sites through programs such as the National Environmental Science Programme. Several Australian Government agencies are yet to establish compliant and appropriate management arrangements for Commonwealth Heritage places. Greater resources and better data will be needed in the future if there is to be any improvement in the calibre and reliability of national assessments provided through the SoE reporting process.
The Australian Heritage Strategy presents an improved trajectory for Australian heritage, structured around programs and promises ‘to explore’ opportunities. The future will depend on sustained national leadership and the success of the Australian Government in involving other partners. The likely trend for Australia’s heritage will depend on whether policy-makers and legislators, stakeholders and the broader community become engaged and invest in implementing the strategy.