House of Representatives Committees

Managing Australia's World Heritage


What is world heritage?

1.1 World heritage is a term applied to sites of outstanding universal cultural or natural significance which are included on the World Heritage List. As at December 1995 there were 469 properties on the World Heritage List, including 350 cultural sites, 102 natural sites and 17 mixed sites. Eleven world heritage properties are located in Australia. The full list of world heritage sites is provided in Appendix A.

1.2 The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention) was adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1972. It came into force on 17 December 1975, when 20 countries became parties to it. The adoption of the Convention was in line with evolving attitudes towards the importance of protecting cultural and national identity and with worldwide concern over environmental deterioration and conservation needs. [1] It was designed to enable nations to cooperate in the protection of cultural and natural sites of outstanding value to humanity. It is intended that properties on the World Heritage List will be conserved for future generations. The Convention is now the most strongly supported of international instruments with 146 countries, known as States Parties, signatory to it. In order to qualify for inclusion on the World Heritage List, a nominated area must meet specific criteria which are contained in the Convention.

1.3 There is a List of World Heritage in Danger which is provided in Appendix B. This list includes world heritage properties threatened by serious and specific dangers, such as development projects, the outbreak or threat of armed conflict, or natural disasters. Properties are deleted from the World Heritage List if those properties are seen to have lost the values for which they were listed. Not all countries are able to contribute to the upkeep of listed sites so the World Heritage Fund was established under the Convention. The Fund is financed by contributions from member nations, private organisations and individuals. It is used to meet the urgent conservation needs of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger and to respond to requests by member countries for international cooperation and support for the protection of their world heritage sites. Member nations can also request support from the Fund for studies, provision of experts, training of staff and the supply of equipment.

Administration of the World Heritage Convention

1.4 The World Heritage List is administered under the World Heritage Convention by the World Heritage Committee on behalf of UNESCO. The World Heritage Committee consists of 21 States Parties elected for six year terms during a general assembly of UNESCO. One third of the States Parties retire every two years. The World Heritage Committee publishes Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which outline the criteria for assessment and the processes required to implement the Convention. The main functions of the World Heritage Committee are to:

1.5 The day to day business of the World Heritage Committee is managed by the World Heritage Bureau. The Bureau of seven persons is elected by the World Heritage Committee at its annual meeting and holds office until the Committee's next meeting. UNESCO provides a secretariat, which is known as the World Heritage Centre and located in Paris. The Centre manages the day-to-day activity of the Convention and implements the decisions of the World Heritage Committee.

1.6 The Convention also provides for advisory services to the World Heritage Committee including:

These bodies provide advice on the implementation of the Convention, including evaluating sites proposed for listing, assisting in monitoring the state of conservation of listed sites, and providing technical assistance as required. The Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories (DEST) explained to the Committee that ICOMOS is a non-governmental membership organisation of professionals that, along with ICCROM, provides assistance in relation to cultural heritage areas. The IUCN is an inter-governmental organisation of institutions, governments, non-governmental groups and individuals that provides advice and assistance in relation to natural heritage.[2]

1.7 Each State Party has obligations under the Convention with regard to those properties situated on its territory. The way in which the Commonwealth, as Australia's State Party to the Convention, manages its world heritage listed properties and meets its obligations is the subject of this report.

The world heritage listing process

1.8 Countries which have ratified the Convention submit nominations for those places which they consider worthy of inclusion on the World Heritage List. These are submitted for assessment to the World Heritage Committee and then referred to the World Heritage Bureau. The Bureau is assisted by ICOMOS, ICCROM and IUCN in the assessment process. Recommendations from the Bureau are considered by the World Heritage Committee which decides whether or not a nominated property meets the world heritage criteria, as set out in Appendix C, and is worthy of inscription on the World Heritage List. Nominations may be accepted, rejected or deferred to a later date.

1.9 The Commonwealth Government is the State Party to the Convention for Australia, and is the only government which can submit nominations for Australian world heritage properties. By agreement between the Commonwealth, States and Territories, it is the States and Territories that prepare nominations for properties which are situated within their own boundaries, while the Commonwealth prepares nominations for properties situated in more than one State or Territory.

1.10 A list of properties which States Parties intend to nominate for inscription on the World Heritage List has been requested by the World Heritage Committee. Officers of DEST are in the process of preparing an indicative list, in consultation with the States and Territories. [3]

World heritage in Australia

1.11 In August 1974 Australia became the seventh country to ratify the Convention. It served on the World Heritage Committee from 1976-1983 and 1985-1989, and has recently been re-elected for a further six-year term. Australia also served on the World Heritage Bureau in 1980-81, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1984-85 and 1988-89. The first Australian properties were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981; they were the Great Barrier Reef, Willandra Lakes and Kakadu.

1.12 The Australian Constitution provides limited scope for the Commonwealth to legislate for the day to day management of world heritage areas. The external affairs power has been used by the Commonwealth as a basis for legislation that defines the steps it can take to fulfil some of its obligations under the Convention. The World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 provides for the protection and conservation of those properties in Australia that are of outstanding natural and cultural value. The Act is seen as a measure of last resort and has only been applied infrequently. The Act is discussed further in Chapter 3.

1.13 The Australian Government implements its national obligations under the Convention in cooperation with the State and Territory Governments, through the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE). The IGAE is not a binding legal document but is intended to set ground rules for the consideration of world heritage matters. Under the IGAE, the States and Territories recognise the Commonwealth's international obligations to protect world heritage properties, and the Commonwealth agrees to consult with the relevant State or Territory concerning possible nominations. In the IGAE, State and Territory Governments agree to consult with local communities or interest groups which may be affected by a nomination.

1.14 The World Heritage Unit in DEST was established in 1993 to administer world heritage matters for the Commonwealth and, in particular, to develop consistent management arrangements for Australia's world heritage properties. The major responsibilities of the Unit are to:

1.15 Both the IUCN and ICOMOS have Australian branches that comment on proposed nominations and involve themselves in public discussion about world heritage matters. Both actively promote consideration of world heritage issues. Australia ICOMOS, for example, held an expert workshop in April 1995 to consider new world heritage criteria relating to cultural landscapes. Similarly, the Australian Committee for the IUCN (ACIUCN) held a workshop in August 1995 to consider guidelines and principles for the management of Australia's world heritage areas. This workshop issued the 'Richmond Communique', which included principles and guidelines for the management of Australia's world heritage areas. Although neither of these bodies has a formal role to play in advising on the management of world heritage areas, the work they do in Australia on world heritage matters assists their international parent bodies to formulate advice to the World Heritage Committee. Their work also makes a useful contribution to the public consideration of such matters in Australia.

Details of Australian properties

1.16 Currently there are 11 Australian properties on the World Heritage List comprising:

1.17 The location of world heritage areas in Australia is shown in Figure 1.1 and further information about Australia's world heritage properties are contained in Table 1.1.

1.18 Australia's world heritage areas comprise a wide variety of land tenures including freehold, perpetual lease, pastoral lease, town reserve, State forest, national park, nature reserve, Aboriginal reserve and recreational reserve. Ownership rights of areas are not changed after world heritage listing takes place. The management arrangements vary from area to area. Most world heritage properties are managed by State Government agencies while others have joint Commonwealth/State management arrangements with the State Government carrying out on-ground management. Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks are owned by the Aboriginal community and leased to the Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA) which manages the properties. Management plans are prepared by either the Commonwealth or State agencies responsible for the properties. Management arrangements and management plans are discussed further in Chapter 4.

Australia's world heritage properties in the context of other protected areas

1.19 World heritage listing is just one among several ways in which protection is afforded to the environment throughout Australia. It is possible for the same place to be included on the World Heritage List, to be declared a National Park, to be registered in the National Estate, and/or to be listed by the National Trust. Each of these categories was established for a different reason and may be managed by a separate government authority or community organisation. Furthermore, the responsibility for protecting Australia's heritage rests with nine different governments (Commonwealth, State and Territory).

Figure 1.1—Australia's world heritage properties

The map featured in the version of the report presented to the House of Representatives
on 4 November 1996 is no longer available on the internet (January 2000)

Table 1.1—Details of Australia's world heritage properties

Name Area Date inscribed Criteria for which inscribed Managed by Tenure
Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh, Naracoorte) Qld 10 000 ha

SA 300 ha

1994 Natural (2) Qld Dept of Environment and Heritage (DEH), SA Dept of Environment and Natural Resources Qld National Park, SA Conservation Park
Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia NSW 307 225 ha

Qld 59 230 ha

NSW 1986, 1994

Qld 1994

Natural (3) NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service


Qld National Parks, Environment Parks, State forests, Rabbit Board paddock reserves, Prison purposes land

NSW National Parks, Nature Reserves and Flora Reserves

Fraser Island 181 000 ha 1992 Natural (2) Qld DEH National Park, Wetland Reserve, township areas, Commonwealth land
Great Barrier Reef 34 870 000 ha 1981 Natural (4) Ministerial Council, C'wlth Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 95% , Qld DEH 5% and day to day management Marine Park, leased land and private land
Kakadu National Park 1 975 700 ha 1981, 1987, 1992 Natural (3)

Cultural (2)

C'wlth Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA), Board with Aboriginal majority About one-third of the national park is Aboriginal owned and leased to ANCA. The remainder is Commonwealth land.
Lord Howe Island Group 146 300 ha 1982 Natural (2) Lord Howe Island Board Crown land leased by Minister for Lands
Shark Bay 2 300 000 ha 1991 Natural (4) WA Dept of Conservation and Land Management National Parks, Nature Reserves, Pastoral Leases, Marine Environment, private land.
Tasmanian Wilderness 1 380 000 ha 1982, 1989 Natural (4)

Cultural (3)

Ministerial Council, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmanian Forestry 1% National Park, State Reserve, Conservation Area, State Forest, Crown land vested in the Hydro-Electric Commission
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park 132 566 ha 1986, 1994 '86 Natural (2)

'94 Cultural (2)

C'wlth ANCA, Board with Aboriginal majority Aboriginal owned leased to ANCA
Wet Tropics of Queensland 894 000 ha 1988 Natural (4) Ministerial Council, Qld Wet Tropics Management Authority and board, day to day management by Qld Gov't Depts** National Park, Environmental Park, State Forest, Timber Reserve, Aboriginal Reserve, leasehold and defence purpose reserves,

private freehold land

Willandra Lakes Region 370 000 ha 1981 Natural (2)

Cultural (1)

Ministerial Council, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dept of Conservation and Land Management National Park, pastoral leases, private freehold land.

* Part of this property is managed by the Department of Defence (submission, number 18, p 1).


1.20 There are over 50 different designations in use in different parts of Australia to describe areas protected for their biodiversity. Steps are currently being taken under the auspices of the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council to facilitate communication and exchange information about protected areas and to assess their status by relating Australia's many different categories to the IUCN's six protected area categories. The IUCN categories are:

1.21 The status of most of Australia's world heritage areas is that of Category 2, 'National Park' which is defined by the IUCN as:

However, some parts of some world heritage areas, such as Lord Howe Island and the Great Barrier Reef, are managed for sustainable use, and Australia's world heritage areas also include elements of some of the other categories.

1.22 The National Estate refers to those parts of Australia's natural, indigenous or historic environment which are identified as worth keeping for present and future generations of Australians. The Australian Heritage Commission is a Commonwealth statutory authority responsible for compiling the Register of the National Estate, and the States and Territories also maintain heritage lists. Under the Commonwealth's legislation, listing does not place controls on the actions of State, Territory and local governments or private owners, but the Commonwealth Government is constrained from taking any decision or action which adversely affects a place on the Register.

1.23 The National Trust is a nation-wide community-based organisation which identifies, acquires and conserves places of aesthetic, historic, scientific, social and other values and lobbies to encourage the conservation of such places. Listing by the National Trust does not confer any legislative protection on a place.

1.24 Added to the combinations of national protected areas, Australia is party to several international agreements relating to the environment and conservation. Besides the World Heritage Convention, there is one other international convention and one international programme that include provision for designation of internationally important sites in any region of the world - the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention) and the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB).

1.25 All nominated Ramsar sites are placed on the List of Wetlands of International Importance and each Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention is obliged to nominate at least one wetland of international importance. The Ramsar Convention places general obligations on Contracting Parties relating to the conservation of wetlands throughout their countries, with special obligations pertaining to the wetlands which have been placed on the List.

1.26 Biosphere reserves are nominated by the MAB committee of the country concerned, and are designated following review and acceptance by the MAB Bureau. A country can participate in the MAB programme without designating any of its territory as a biosphere reserve. Biosphere reserves differ from world heritage and Ramsar sites in that they are not designated exclusively for protection of unique areas. The objectives of these reserves include research, monitoring, training and demonstration, as well as conservation. The biosphere reserve model comprises three integrated zones. The centre zone is devoted exclusively to the management and maintenance of the contained biological diversity, the buffer zone is an area devoted to amelioration of human impact on the core, research in conservation, public education and recreation and the outer zone is an area of controlled human impact with heavy emphasis on the involvement of the local community in the care, maintenance and management of the zone. [7]

Why the inquiry was carried out

1.27 The Committee had received reports of deficiencies and inconsistencies in the management and funding of world heritage areas, including the lack of consultation with people living near these areas. The Committee's concerns were reinforced by visits in 1994 to Fraser Island and Willandra Lakes. In previous years The Committee and its predecessors had also visited Kakadu National Park, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Tasmanian Wilderness, Shark Bay and Lord Howe Island. Furthermore, in December 1994, key industry groups released a paper that called for reforms to management in world heritage areas, including giving all parties early notice of possible nominations, seeking community views about nominations, establishing an impartial professional panel to assess nominations, and providing for socio-economic studies and compensation for people who have suffered economic loss as a result of listing. [8]

1.28 The proper management of world heritage areas was thus a concern at both regional and national levels. Local communities were keenly aware of, and interested in, the overall management of world heritage areas. The Committee considered there was a need to investigate questions such as the Commonwealth's responsibilities in meeting its international and national obligations once an area is identified as having world heritage values, and the adequacy of funding, management and consultation arrangements in world heritage areas.

1.29 The then Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, Senator John Faulkner, agreed to the inquiry and its terms of reference on 8 December 1994. The Committee was not asked to look at the nomination process or the merits of areas nominated for world heritage listing, but rather to inquire into the management, funding and consultation arrangements of already listed areas in terms of the Commonwealth's involvement and responsibilities. The terms of reference required the Committee to inquire into the management arrangements for inscribed World Heritage areas including:

Conduct of the inquiry

1.30 During 1995 and January 1996, the Committee received 77 submissions from individuals, Commonwealth, State and Territory Government departments, businesses, academics, and lobby groups (Appendix D). Nine public hearings were held in Canberra, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane where the Committee received evidence from representatives of different sections of the community with interests in world heritage management (Appendix E). In addition, Committee Members visited the Wet Tropics, Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Shark Bay and Lord Howe Island world heritage areas, where they met informally with local groups and world heritage area managers and learnt at first hand how the areas were managed. The inquiry had not been completed by the time the Parliament was dissolved on 29 January 1996.

1.31 A new Committee was formed in May after the 38th Parliament was elected. Its membership was substantially different from that of the previous one; ten new members were nominated to the Committee and four members of the previous Committee were re-nominated. The new Committee resolved that it wished to complete the world heritage inquiry, and on 5 June 1996, the new Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill, referred the inquiry to the Committee with the same terms of reference as before.

1.32 The new Committee advised previous witnesses to the inquiry that the inquiry had been resumed and invited them to bring to the Committee's attention any significant, new developments. Fifteen submissions were received in response to this invitation. In addition, the Committee visited Kakadu National Park, met government and non-government stakeholders in world heritage issues in Darwin, and held a workshop in Canberra. The workshop brought together a small number of experts with experience and interests in world heritage management, in an informal, private meeting with members of the Committee.


[1] UNESCO, The World Heritage Convention, 1983, p 4.

[2] Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, submission (number 62), p 4.

[3] Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, submission (number 78), pp 1-2.

[4] Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Australian World Heritage News, Vol 1, No 1, Summer 1996, p 3.

[5] IUCN, Guidelines for Protected Area Management Categories, IUCN, Cambridge, 1994, pp 17-23.

[6] IUCN, p 19.

[7] Peter Bridgewater, 'World heritage and its role in a national nature conservation system', Australian Parks and Recreation, Vol 29 (3), Spring 1993, p 41.

[8] Australian Mining Industry Council, Australian Petroleum Exploration Association, Business Council of Australia, National Association of Forest Industries and National Farmers' Federation, World Heritage in Australia: Proposed Management Reforms, December 1994.

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