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Thursday, 7 December 2000
Page: 21025


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (9:45 AM) —I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 2000

The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2000 will significantly improve the conservation and management of heritage in Australia.

The Bill builds upon the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) framework in establishing, for the first time ever, a truly national scheme for the conservation of Australia's unique heritage assets. This national scheme harnesses the strengths of our Federation by providing for Commonwealth leadership while also respecting the role of the States in delivering on-ground management of heritage places.

The Commonwealth's existing heritage conservation regime, based on the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975, is now seriously outdated and subject to significant limitations. In 1975 the AHC Act represented best practice, and its enactment was an important step in demonstrating Commonwealth leadership in relation to heritage conservation. Within this framework, the Australian Heritage Commission has performed its role with distinction over the last 25 years. But the case for reform is now compelling.

The Register of the National Estate, maintained under the AHC Act, now contains over 13,000 places. Some of these places are of national heritage significance, but many should properly be regarded as places of State or local significance. As a result of these 13,000 entries, the Commonwealth is often involved in matters that are not appropriately the responsibility of a national government. The current regime therefore creates unnecessary intergovernmental duplication and imposes unnecessary costs on the community and industry.

It is also important to recognise that the AHC Act provides no substantive protection for heritage places of national significance. The limited procedural safeguards in the AHC Act fall well short of contemporary best practice in heritage conservation. It is probably accurate to say that the AHC Act is designed to prevent uninformed decisions, but not unwise decisions.

In addition, the statutory process in the AHC Act is initiated by indirect triggers, such as foreign investment approval. This adds to the uncertainty and delay, and limits the capacity of the AHC Act to provide any real benefit for heritage conservation.

While the AHC Act pioneered the identification of heritage, all States and Territories now have heritage protection legislation. The AHC Act fails to recognise and accommodate the development of State and local heritage conservation regimes. This adds to the level of intergovernmental duplication and creates confusion in the community about the respective roles of different levels of government.

In establishing a new national heritage conservation regime, the reforms implemented through the Bill will address the shortcomings of the existing regime. In particular, the reforms will give effect to the outcomes of the 1997 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Agreement on Commonwealth/State Roles and Responsibilities for the Environment. COAG agreed on the need to rationalise existing Commonwealth/State arrangements for the identification and protection of heritage places. In this context, COAG agreed that the Commonwealth's role should be focussed on places of national heritage significance.

Consistent with the COAG Agreement, the Bill establishes a mechanism for the identification of heritage places of national significance. Such places will be inscribed on a National Heritage List. This List will consist of natural, historic and indigenous places that are of outstanding national heritage significance to the nation as a whole. The List may also include overseas sites where we have an agreement with the sovereign country—Anzac Cove being an example of such a potential listing.

The listing process will be open and transparent and will include a mechanism for consideration of public nominations. Most importantly, the Minister will be guided in his or her decision-making by advice from an independent body of heritage experts—the Australian Heritage Council.

Places on the National List will be identified under the EPBC Act as a matter of national environmental significance. This will ensure that, for the first time ever, heritage places of truly national significance receive appropriate statutory protection. A rigorous and efficient assessment and approval process will apply to actions that are likely to have a significant impact on the national heritage values of a place on the National List. The EPBC Act provides a framework for Commonwealth/State co-operation in relation to this assessment and approval process.

The Bill will also provide for the identification and protection of places on Commonwealth land—Commonwealth Heritage Places. For the first time there will be a single list of Commonwealth places that have significant heritage value. A public nomination and listing process similar to that for the National List will apply in relation to the Commonwealth List.

With the repeal of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975, the Register of the National Estate will no longer be a statutory register. However, the information on the Register will continue to be publicly available as a heritage information resource.

The Bill implements the Government's election policy commitments relating to heritage. In presenting this Bill, and through the creation of an independent statutory Australian Heritage Council, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to ongoing national leadership in relation to heritage conservation. In doing so, the Bill delivers on community expectations in relation to what a contemporary heritage regime should provide for the nation.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

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AUSTRALIAN HERITAGE COUNCIL BILL 2000

The Australian Heritage Council Bill 2000 establishes the Australian Heritage Council as the nation's primary heritage advisory body. Its role is to provide independent and expert advice to the Minister on the identification, conservation and protection of places on the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List. The Council will consist of eminent experts in the fields of natural, indigenous and historic heritage.

The Council will replace the Australian Heritage Commission as the Commonwealth's expert advisory body on heritage. The Minister will seek and consider the Council's advice on a range of matters pertaining to heritage conservation and protection under the Environment and Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The establishment of the Australian Heritage Council will provide the Minister with the best possible advice from highly-regarded professionals in the field. The Council will have a vital role to play in ensuring the success of the Government's new heritage protection regime. A particularly important function of the Council will be to provide advice to the Minister in relation to the identification of places which qualify for listing on the List of National Heritage Places and the List of Commonwealth Heritage Places. Advice from the Council will also form the basis for Commonwealth involvement in the management of such places.

The Australian Heritage Commission has played a pivotal role in the conservation of Australia's heritage places over the last 25 years. The Australian Heritage Council will continue the tradition of Commonwealth leadership in the field of heritage conservation and management. It will do so within the framework of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which provides a strong basis for the conservation and management of places of truly national significance.

I commend the bill to the House.

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AUSTRALIAN HERITAGE COUNCIL (CONSEQUENTIAL AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2000

This Bill is an adjunct to the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2000 and the Australian Heritage Council Bill 2000.

The Australian Heritage Council (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2000 has two primary objectives.

Firstly, the Bill provides for the repeal of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 and for the removal of a reference to that Act in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Secondly, the Bill puts in place arrangements for a smooth transition from the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 to the new scheme established in the Australian Heritage Council Bill 2000 and the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2000.

The Bill, together with the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2000 and the Australian Heritage Council Bill 2000, establishes a truly national scheme for the conservation of Australia's unique heritage assets. This national scheme harnesses the strengths of our Federation by providing for Commonwealth leadership while also respecting the role of the States in delivering on-ground management of heritage places. A centrepiece of the new regime is the creation of an independent statutory heritage body, the Australian Heritage Council.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Ordered that further consideration of these bills be adjourned to the first day of the 2001 autumn sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.