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National Trusts discusses changes to the legislation affecting nationally significant places.

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Monday, 25 August 2003



PETER THOMPSON: The way we manage the nation’s heritage is set for big changes. The government thinks the 28-year-old Register of the National Estate is outdated and cumbersome and has set up a new regime. Labor, the Greens and the Australian Conservation Foundation are concerned the 14,000 sites on the existing register will disappear. But many environment and heritage groups, including the Australian Council of National Trusts, which is the peak body of national trusts, approve of the new laws. Its executive officer, Alan Graham is in our Canberra studio this morning. Alan, good morning to you.


ALAN GRAHAM: Good morning, Peter.


PETER THOMPSON: What is the essence of these changes?


ALAN GRAHAM: They are fundamentally important and far-reaching changes in the sense that, for the first time in Australia, the Commonwealth government under this new framework will have a responsibility for identification, protection and care of nationally significant places.


PETER THOMPSON: At the moment they don’t. At the moment, they have a register where places are listed, but they don’t have responsibility for care?


ALAN GRAHAM: That’s correct. The Register of the National Estate was a very important centrepiece of the old regime, if you like. But effectively of all the 14,000 places recognised for their heritage importance within Australia, apart from those places which were owned by the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth government had no legal jurisdiction over those other places that were listed. That has been the difficulty, I think, in recent times in terms of the protection management regime that has been in place in Australia.


PETER THOMPSON: In other words, unless those places were protected by the states under their own laws, they were vulnerable?


ALAN GRAHAM: That’s correct. They are either protected by the states or by local government. Certainly, the Register of the National Estate—and if you traced it historically—has had an important role in terms of a morale suasion argument with developers and with government and organisations like ourselves have used listing on the Register of the National Estate to help argue the cause for particular places. But legally speaking, there is no responsibility—at the Commonwealth level, I mean.


PETER THOMPSON: Am I right in saying that under this new change, which has been approved now by parliament, that there will be an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list? If you like, an ‘A’ list of places which are protected and a ‘B’ list of places that have got value but aren’t going to be extended protection.

ALAN GRAHAM: I am not sure that’s technically correct, either Peter. Certainly, there will be a national list of places established over a long period of time. Those places that are currently on the Register of the National Estate and are not currently on a state or territory government list or a local government list, those places will be assessed for their values and ultimately, certainly, if a state or territory heritage council so wishes, will be entered onto their respective registers.


PETER THOMPSON: Are you saying there will be only one list then, one national list?


ALAN GRAHAM: There will be one national list, as such, but though effectively, through the Register of the National Estate, there will be an inventory of heritage places that are both effectively on the national list, perhaps on state and territory lists, local government lists. In fact, could include, ultimately, places that have been classified by the National Trust.


PETER THOMPSON: There are 14,000 sites on this current list. How many might there be on the revised list?


ALAN GRAHAM: On the national list?




ALAN GRAHAM: It’s a little unclear. All of that still has to be tested. We’re certainly hopeful that that list may ultimately be something in the region of 1,000 to 2,000 places. And I’m talking about an extended period of time. It’ll take sometime to go through the process of getting those places listed.


PETER THOMPSON: I know the House divided over whether this was meritorious—this set of changes. And you’ve got Green groups on both sides of the fence with your Council of National Trust being in favour of this. The bottom line has to be: will things be more or less protected?


ALAN GRAHAM: It is certainly our very strong view that they will, in fact, be protected, Peter, yes.




ALAN GRAHAM: Because if a place is ultimately listed on the national list, the Commonwealth government, as I said earlier, has a responsibility to actually manage and protect that place. Those places that are currently on the Register of the National Estate that haven’t been assessed for their heritage value at state or territory or local government level will ultimately be assessed for their values in terms of those jurisdictions. So ultimately, certainly in the case of culture and environment places, there will be protection for all places.


PETER THOMPSON: What about the minister? Because the federal Environment Minister gets a lot more discretion under this new law.


ALAN GRAHAM: Yes, that’s absolutely correct and certainly the National Trust as an organisation, toiled with that particular issue for quite some period of time. What we decided was important here were two basic principles: one was the importance of the heritage assessment of a place being separated from a decision to actually list. As I said, it took us some time to actually agree to that particular process. And that is effectively what happens with a place being entered onto the national list.


One of the things that we held out for very strongly, and many other groups did as a result of this new legislation is, that if the minister decides not to list a place on the national list, then the minister is obliged within a reasonable period of time to make the reasons for that very clear.


PETER THOMPSON: Let me pick up natural sites, because I know the Green movement, for instance, is concerned that a lot of natural sites, like forests, won’t be on the new list.


ALAN GRAHA M: Yes, that’s correct. Forests are not part of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


PETER THOMPSON: So they’re off. So we’re really talking about the built environment only?


ALAN GRAHAM: No, we’re talking about other places, other than forests. We’re talking about natural environment and indigenous heritage places as well.


PETER THOMPSON: So they may still be on the list?


ALAN GRAHAM: Yes, that’s correct.


PETER THOMPSON: A final question, and that is about penalties: if, on this new list, damage is done, the penalties are, in fact, quite high?


ALAN GRAHAM: Yes, that’s correct. I haven’t got the clauses in front of me. They’re very substantial in terms of the responsibility it’s placed on owners of nationally-listed places.


PETER THOMPSON: Thank you very much, indeed, Alan.


ALAN GRAHAM: My pleasure, Peter.


PETER THOMPSON: Alan Graham is executive officer of the Council of National Trusts. As I say, that new law which has now gone through parliament has Green groups on both sides of the fence, with the National Trusts in favour of it, but the Australian Conservation Foundation, for one, concerned about the natural sites being off that list, has been opposed to the changes. Labor and the Greens voted against.