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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Page: 66

Senator CARR (5:13 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Conservation of Australia’s historical heritage places report was received on 21 July 2006. I advise the Senate that I believe this to be a very disappointing document. If fully implemented, its recommendations would accelerate the loss of heritage places in Australia, including many of our major regional and state buildings, many of which are places of particular significance. This is, unfortunately, very much a partial document delivering what looks suspiciously like predetermined outcomes. Accordingly, I think it is very short sighted. I am particularly concerned about the debate relating to public versus private interests, as is represented in this report. This is a report that gives an overwhelming priority to the perceived short-term interests of private property owners to the detriment of the long-term interests of the community at large. It underestimates the value of heritage conservation as a public good by seeking to corral that sense of public value to property and sites already in public hands. By downplaying the significance of the environmental, social and economic benefits of heritage conservation, the report fatally compromises the value of its own recommendations.

The commission also enters the debate over compensation and its alternative of incentives within a clear system of developmental controls. The Productivity Commission comes down decisively in favour of compensation, applied in conjunction with voluntary agreements. The commission proposes a series of regressive alternatives. It seeks an ad hoc and ultimately ineffective means to manage the protection of heritage places. There is no doubt that all processes can be and are improved over time, but this preference by the commission for compensation is ultimately self-defeating. In all Australian jurisdictions, compensation as a means of management has been considered and rejected. The same is true in heritage and planning processes right across the Western world. It is proposing here an antiquated, obsolete and ahistorical approach to heritage protection and one not in keeping with world best practice. It is one that goes against all the things the Productivity Commission claims are the core values it pursues.

These recommendations, if implemented, would undermine a sustainable system of heritage management in this country. The commission now uses incentives for owners of heritage places but within an orderly system of listing of heritage development control. If the commission’s recommendations became practice, it could mean that the value of cultural heritage itself would be undermined.

When debating the question of private loss against the wider public interest, the Productivity Commission finds in favour of private owners. I am concerned that in doing so the Productivity Commission, through this report, plays down the extent and level of public support for heritage conservation and heritage listing of sites and places of significance. There are many varied surveys, including those undertaken by survey groups such as Allen Consulting, which consistently report a high level of public support for and appreciation of heritage protection. The Australian public is nowhere near as negative, aggressive or reactionary on these questions as some of these so-called economic rationalists in the Productivity Commission would like to believe. The evidence just does not support the predetermined positions that they have taken on these matters.

I am concerned that this report contains the appearance of predetermined or preconceived notions of what is in the public interest and, in doing so, has taken the view that the ultimate test of government is to protect private interests. The commission not only effectively marginalises the majority of submissions it received in favouring the principles of the current system but has remained blind to its own errors in its analysis. In the course of the consultation period, a number of heritage councils drew to the commission’s attention errors of fact and of interpretation in relation to the use of voluntary agreements in the United States. Those arrangements are not as the commission represents them. Despite this being drawn to their attention, those submissions have been ignored by the authors of this report.

It is my concern that this report is fundamentally flawed. Its principal recommendations on fundamental changes to heritage management protocols should be rejected by government. The net effect of the recommendations is that the voice of heritage, which is an important community voice, would effectively be drowned out. That is the underlying presumption of this report. If implemented, the changes that are proposed in this report would direct us down a one-way street to destruction. If these changes are implemented, national assets will be lost in so many cases. It is a matter of deep concern that a publicly funded body such as the Productivity Commission could devote so much time and energy to producing such a shoddy document.

Question agreed to.