Overview of state and trends of heritage


What has changed since 2011?

  • One new Australian site (Ningaloo Coast) was added to the World Heritage List. Two sites (Kakadu and Tasmanian Wilderness) were extended, and cultural values were recognised for another (Wet Tropics of Queensland).
  • Twelve new places were added to Australia’s National Heritage List.
  • The extent of natural heritage protected in the National Reserve System and National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas has increased.
  • Some state and territory heritage registers have improved.
  • In some places, there have been impacts on natural, Indigenous and/or historic heritage values, including destruction of significant sites.

State and trends

Australia’s extraordinary and diverse natural and cultural heritage generally remains in good condition, despite some deterioration and emerging challenges.

Since SoE 2011, the state, condition and circumstances of Australia’s heritage have both improved and declined. 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.

A joint monitoring mission by the World Heritage Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature visited the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area in 2012 amid concerns of increasing impacts from ongoing environmental pressures. In 2015, and following announcement of the Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan (Australian Government & Queensland Government 2015), the World Heritage Committee decided not to list the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area as ‘in danger’. It requested a state of conservation report in 2019, and an update on progress with implementation of the Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan to be submitted in December 2016.

Australia’s heritage registers list natural and cultural places at national, state and local levels, but in an inconsistent manner, and with disparate levels of resourcing and regulation.

Despite the Australian Government’s inclusion of ‘national heritage’ as one of the 4 pillars of its Plan for a cleaner environment (DoE 2016b), progress with populating the National Heritage List has remained steady since 2011, and is constrained by both resourcing and statutory processes.

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. However, only 12 new places were added to the National Heritage List during this period (Figure OVW4). The Australian Heritage Council and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy are preparing a policy framework to guide the future direction of the National Heritage List (DoEE 2016b).

There has been a substantial increase in the dedication of Indigenous Protected Areas, which provide protection for significant sites and landscapes, but processes for survey, assessment and listing of Indigenous heritage places around Australia remain inconsistent.

Australia’s National Reserve System and National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas provide protection for many sites with heritage values. However, many bioregions—geographically distinct areas that have a similar climate, geology, land form, vegetation and animal community—are not effectively represented in the reserve system. More details on the comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness of Australia’s reserve system can be found under ‘Land’ and in the thematic reports.

Nationally consistent information is not available about the condition of listed heritage places, but processes have been started to improve monitoring of the state of listed places. There have been no systematic national assessments to determine whether historic heritage places not on the National Heritage List remain in good condition and retain their identified values. Historic heritage places that are vacant, not in use or in poor condition remain under threat. No nationally coordinated data exist about the condition and integrity of Indigenous places.

Jackson WJ, Argent RM, Bax NJ, Bui E, Clark GF, Coleman S, Cresswell ID, Emmerson KM, Evans K, Hibberd MF, Johnston EL, Keywood MD, Klekociuk A, Mackay R, Metcalfe D, Murphy H, Rankin A, Smith DC, Wienecke B (2016). Overview: Overview of state and trends of heritage. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/overview/heritage/topic/overview-state-and-trends-heritage, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65510c633b