House of Representatives Committees

Managing Australia's World Heritage


The Committee is to inquire into the management arrangements for inscribed World Heritage areas including:


37th Parliament

Chair Mr J V Langmore, MP
Deputy Chair Mr E H Cameron, MP
Members Mr R L Chynoweth MP
Mr R D C Evans MP
Mr E L Grace MP
Mr R H Horne MP
Mr H A Jenkins MP
Mr B Lloyd MP
Hon. L B McLeay MP
Mr N J Newell MP
Mr W E Truss MP
Mr W H Wakelin MP

38th Parliament

Chair Mr W E Truss MP
Deputy Chair Hon. J A Crosio MP
Members Mr L J Anthony MP
Mr B F Billson MP
Mr E H Cameron MP
Mr W G Entsch MP
Mr J B Hockey MP
Mr H A Jenkins MP
Miss J M Kelly MP [1]
Mr J V Langmore MP
Hon. Dr C M Lawrence MP
Hon. S P Martin MP
Mr G R McDougall MP
Dr A J Southcott MP
Committee Secretary
Mr Ian Dundas
Principal Research Officer
Dr Sarah Hnatiuk
Research Officer
Ms Susan Cardell
Administrative Officer
Mrs Marlene Lyons

[1] On 11 September 1996 the Court of Disputed Returns found that Miss Kelly's election to the House of Representatives on 2 March 1996 was void.


The nomination of outstanding and universally significant places to the World Heritage List has often been a contentious matter in Australia. Nominations have been made against a background of community suspicion, dissension and even High Court challenges. However, over the years since the first nominations, there has been increasing acceptance of the concept of world heritage and the appropriateness of parts of Australia being recognised for their international values. In addition, the State and Commonwealth Governments have slowly developed ways of working through some of the difficult issues relating to Australian nominations to the World Heritage List and the way these areas should be cared for in the future.

This inquiry into Australia's world heritage areas was not about the processes that lead to the nomination of parts of the Australian continent for world heritage listing by the World Heritage Committee. It was devoted to examining the management of the existing eleven world heritage areas and what needs to be done to preserve, protect and present the areas in the future. The Inquiry was commenced by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts during the last Parliament and much of the work for this report was done by the previous Committee under the leadership of the then Chairman, Mr John Langmore, MP. The present Committee accepted the task of completing the inquiry after the 1996 Federal election. The new Committee inherited an excellent basis upon which to complete the investigation and to develop recommendations.

This inquiry has been an interesting and rewarding task. It has taken the Members of both the present and the previous Committees to a number of the most special places in the world, as we saw and heard how the different authorities with responsibility for managing Australia's world heritage areas are addressing their task. We have drawn on insights gained from our discussions and inspections to produce this report and its 54 recommendations. In some cases the enthusiasm which accompanied a world heritage nomination has not been followed by an adequate commitment of resources to care for and present the area. The Committee is convinced that, if its recommendations are pursued, there will be a significant improvement in the way in which world heritage areas are managed.

The Committee appreciates the assistance that it has received from many sources in the course of the inquiry. It thanks the State Governments, Commonwealth Government departments, State and Commonwealth world heritage management authorities, members of the public, academics, businesses and their peak bodies, and conservation organisations for their input into the inquiry. Queensland has more world heritage areas than any other State, however, the Committee was a little disappointed with the meagre contribution of the Queensland Government to the inquiry.

The Committee urges all of those entrusted with the responsibility of managing world heritage listed areas to pursue their protection, conservation and presentation to the highest standard possible.

I commend the Members of the previous and present Committees for their enthusiasm and hard work in completing this inquiry and reaching constructive conclusions, and thank them for their assistance to me. I also wish to gratefully acknowledge the outstanding work of the Committee Secretariat, especially Ian Dundas, Sarah Hnatiuk, Susan Cardell and Marlene Lyons who have provided excellent support to the Committee throughout the Inquiry.

Warren Truss


ACF Australian Conservation Foundation
ACIUCN Australian Committee for the IUCN
ANCA Australian Nature Conservation Agency
CAFNEC Cairns and Far North Environment Centre
CCWA Conservation Council of Western Australia
CEPA Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency
CERRA Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia
DEH Department of Environment and Heritage, Queensland
DEST Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
GBR Great Barrier Reef
GBRMPA Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
ICCROM International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Properties
ICOMOS International Council for Monuments and Sites
IGAE Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment
IUCN International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
LEAP Local Environmental Action Program
MAB UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme
MCA Minerals Council of Australia
NEP National Ecotourism Program
NES National Ecotourism Strategy
NFF National Farmers' Federation
NPWS National Parks and Wildlife Service
NQCC North Queensland Conservation Council
NSW New South Wales
Ramsar Convention Convention on Wetlands of International Importance
REEP Regional Environmental Employment Program
TCA Tourism Council Australia
TECCAC Thoorgine Educational and Cultural Centre Aboriginal Corporation
TWWHA Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area
TWWHACC Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Consultative Committee
UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
WH World heritage
WHA World heritage area
WHU World Heritage Unit, Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
World Heritage Convention Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
WTMA Wet Tropics Management Authority
WWF World Wide Fund for Nature Australia


Eleven Australian sites of universal natural and/or cultural significance have been listed as world heritage areas under UNESCO's Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention). As signatory to the Convention, the Commonwealth Government is responsible for the conservation, preservation, and presentation to the public of these sites. It is directly responsible for the management of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu world heritage areas, but the other sites are managed by the States where they are situated, with the Commonwealth discharging its responsibilities by oversight of, and assistance to, the States. The Commonwealth has the power to intervene if the States fail to protect adequately world heritage values.

This report focuses on the management of Australia's existing world heritage areas and does not consider the arrangements that precede the nomination and listing of new properties. It covers the legal underpinnings of world heritage, management plans and agreements, private sector involvement in world heritage management, administrative arrangements for Australia's world heritage areas, defining world heritage values and managing threats to them, monitoring and reporting on world heritage preservation, presenting world heritage areas and educating the community about them, funding and cost recovery. A recurring theme throughout the report is the balance of responsibilities for world heritage management between the State and Commonwealth Governments, and the best arrangements for delivering the highest standard of management for world heritage properties. A complete list of the Committee's recommendations follows the summary.

Legal issues

While the Commonwealth Government is obliged under the World Heritage Convention to protect the nation's world heritage areas, the Constitution provides only limited powers to do so. The World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 empowers the Commonwealth Government to intervene to stop damage to world heritage. While preferring a cooperative approach with the States, the Committee recognised that this legislation is essential and should be retained, but it does not support calls for additional legislation that would establish a general framework for world heritage management by the Commonwealth. However, amendments to the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act were identified which would increase its effectiveness in providing protection (recommendation 1). In addition, the application of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 could be usefully extended to apply to proposed developments or activities which might damage world heritage (recommendation 7).

The management regimes for most world heritage areas are based in State legislation and administrative arrangements, usually those relating to national parks. In some cases however, where multiple land tenure exists and multiple resource uses are pursued, special management authorities have been established, like the Wet Tropics Management Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. As the legislation applying to world heritage areas may predate the world heritage listing, a review of the adequacy of State and Territory legislation is needed to establish that the existing laws satisfy Australia's international obligations (recommendation 8). A number of recommendations is made regarding the Commonwealth's legislation governing the management of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area (recommendations 2-6).

The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment provides broad guidance on how the States and Commonwealth will work together in dealing with international treaties, with one schedule of the Agreement devoted specifically to world heritage matters. Within this framework, detailed agreements between the State and Commonwealth Governments relating to each world heritage area are needed but have yet to be finalised for a number of properties.

Management structures

For some years the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories has been pursuing the establishment of consistent, best practice management arrangements for all world heritage areas. These arrangements have the support of the Committee and a number of others, including State Governments, academic lawyers, and industry and conservation groups. The recommended management structure comprises Ministerial Councils, community advisory committees, and scientific, technical advisory committees that are tailored to the needs of individual properties (recommendation 9). Boards of management may also be useful in some cases.

In view of the controversy that has accompanied the listing of some world heritage areas and the continuing concerns of local communities in these areas, it is important that all stakeholders, including indigenous people, are consulted about, and have opportunities to participate in, the areas' management (recommendations 11, 14, 20). The establishment of effective consultative arrangements would be helped if the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories compiled and disseminated information on best practice approaches (recommendation 13). The processes sponsored by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for the compilation of the 25-year regional plan for the Reef and the form of the recent (and long over-due) consultations in the Willandra Lakes Region were presented as model arrangements. Other areas, such as Fraser Island (and the Willandra Lakes in earlier times), have had less happy experiences.

Management issues


Management plans have been finalised and agreed between State and the Commonwealth Governments for some world heritage areas, and deliver a high standard of management. However, not all world heritage areas have plans. In the absence of plans, the world heritage managers are without guidance, and the public is uncertain about what activities are permitted and may respond negatively to the presence and concept of world heritage. Plans should be completed and agreed as soon as possible, and then reviewed on a regular basis so that they can be adjusted to changing circumstances (recommendations 16, 19, 27). In addition, world heritage management may be facilitated by sympathetic regional planning that harmonises management of areas outside world heritage areas with the goal of world heritage protection inside (recommendation 18).


The world heritage values for which an area was placed on the World Heritage List should form the basis of the area's management plan. This is the case for recently completed plans but may not be true for others. When older plans are reviewed, they should be redrafted to incorporate world heritage values as their starting point (recommendation 17). Furthermore, as knowledge about an area increases and the criteria for world heritage recognition are refined, it is appropriate to redefine that area's values to provide a better basis for management (recommendation 21). In a number of world heritage areas, the existing boundaries were established along lines of convenience rather than being related to the need for world heritage protection. When the values of these areas are being reconsidered, it may be advisable to examine in addition how well the existing boundaries protect the values (recommendation 22).

Managing impacts

World heritage managers are committed to management to the highest standard possible and regard management to the standard of a national park as the minimum acceptable. An important tool in achieving a high standard of management is understanding the threats to world heritage areas and how to manage these threats. Research on the impacts of tourism and fishing and their management are high priorities here (recommendations 23, 24). Another management tool is the control of the uses to which world heritage areas are put. Controls should be imposed in the light of the principle of ecologically sustainable use, the precautionary principle, and a holistic or ecosystems approach that takes account of cumulative impacts on ecosystems. The control of users of world heritage areas is best achieved through processes of education, persuasion and permits backed up by a rigorous system of enforcement (recommendations 25, 26).

Monitoring and reporting

The success of management in protecting world heritage areas is judged by monitoring the status of the areas' values. To date, the Commonwealth Government has provided annual reports on Australia's world heritage properties to the World Heritage Committee, but these reports have not been based on systematic monitoring. In order to place monitoring and reporting on a more solid footing, the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories needs to assist world heritage managers by providing regularly updated guidance on suitable monitoring systems, to ensure that these systems are established, and to scrutinise the results (recommendations 30, 31, 32).

A role for the private sector

The management of world heritage areas is currently carried out principally by government agencies. Managers need to seek the most efficient and effective ways of providing services and this may involve a greater role for the private sector in the provision of services, for example in the greater use of contracting out (recommendation 28). Any involvement by the private sector in world heritage management needs to be without exception under the strict control of the public sector, and the system for regulating this involvement needs very careful consideration (recommendation 29).

Presenting and educating about world heritage

In addition to the obligation to protect world heritage areas, the World Heritage Convention imposes on the Commonwealth the responsibility of presenting them to the public. It also requires the Commonwealth to ensure that education about world heritage is provided. There are four elements that the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories should pursue in these respects. Working with world heritage managers, it should help to develop standards for presentation and education (recommendations 34, 35); it should assist managing agencies to train staff with relevant skills and to encourage the development of volunteers (recommendations 37, 38); it should promote the use of the world heritage emblem in signage and information supplied to the public (recommendation 39); and it should ensure that there is at least one significant visitor information centre in each world heritage area and investigate what further development and refurbishment of existing centres is needed (recommendations 40, 41).


Most of the funding required for world heritage areas is provided by government, although users have been increasingly a source of revenue in recent years and have contributed substantial sums for the management of the better visited areas.

Government funds

The Commonwealth Government provides relatively generous funding to the world heritage areas such as Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta for which it is solely responsible. It shares with the States the funding of the remaining areas, but distributes funds among them in a manner that is not equitable and not calculated on the basis of need. Two principles were identified that should guide the Commonwealth in contributing funds to State-managed world heritage areas. State Governments would be expected to continue to fund the areas at the level at which they were funded before being listed as world heritage, and the Commonwealth's role would be to supplement these funds to raise the standard of management and facilities to a level appropriate for world heritage conservation and presentation (recommendation 42). Agreement should be reached between the States and Commonwealth for all world heritage areas on the funding to be contributed by each party (recommendation 44). Several other principles that would ensure greater consistency, equity and transparency in the funding among world heritage areas and over time are also discussed.

The disparity in funding between world heritage areas should be addressed by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories working with managing agencies to identify their needs for additional funding, providing the necessary funds, and regularly reviewing the adequacy of the funds supplied (recommendations 45, 46, 49). The Committee estimated that an additional $20.6 million are needed in the first year and $16 million in subsequent years to address the urgent requirements for adequate world heritage management. It identified Fraser Island and the Riversleigh Fossil Mammal Site as properties in particular need of immediate, additional funds (recommendations 47, 48). Recent cutbacks in world heritage funding do not augur well for world heritage protection.

In rare cases, compensation should be provided to the users of world heritage areas who experience substantial disadvantage as a result of ongoing management decisions (recommendation 50). The inquiry does not, however, comment on the payment of compensation at the time of nomination or listing of a property as this is outside the terms of reference for this inquiry.

Cost recovery

The introduction of cost recovery measures has been driven by the shortage of government funding for world heritage management and is now widespread. It has been a relatively recent development and managing agencies are still learning from their experiences. A number of principles are identified in this report as important in any system of cost recovery, among them the need to closely link the revenue from fees to services provided (recommendation 51). These principles should be detailed by a review of existing practices and experience, which the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories should coordinate. Such a review would provide useful guidance on the operation of fee systems by addressing issues like the appropriate balance between government and user contributions, equity of access, and how fee levels should be set (recommendation 53). An area where there are particularly difficult issues in applying equitable charges to different classes of users is the Great Barrier Reef Region; here a review by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments of the user fees that they levy in the area could identify more appropriate ways of charging users (recommendation 52).

Another source of funds that requires further exploration is the private sector, either through sponsorship (recommendation 54) or the provision of facilities and infrastructure.

The future

This report acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of the system of world heritage protection that has been established in Australia by the States and Commonwealth Governments. The recommendations summarised above are intended to build on the strengths and contribute to the establishment of better ways of managing world heritage. Some of the current problems in the management of existing world heritage areas can be clearly linked to past nomination and listing practices. These problems clearly underline the need for any future nominations to be pursued in a different manner. Consultation with all stakeholders should occur at an early stage and be ongoing, and management plans and funding agreements should be established before nomination occurs (recommendations 12, 15, 43).





















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