Heritage Policy & Legislation
Historic cultural heritage is looked after by all levels of government in Australia and many different arms of government have a role to identify, manage and protect heritage places and objects.
It can be quite confusing, as heritage may be protected by local, State and Commonwealth Governments.
In Victoria, Heritage Victoria supports the work of the Heritage Council of Victoria, although the two are quite separate entities.
Heritage Victoria is a Victorian State Government agency and is part of the Department of Planning and Community Development, whereas the Heritage Council is an independent statutory authority established under the Heritage Act.
For a complete listing of all state and territory heritage agencies and other related organisations, visit the Australian Heritage Directory.
The Victorian Heritage Act 1995 is administered by Heritage Victoria and is the Victorian Government's key piece of cultural heritage legislation.
The Act identifies and protects heritage places and objects that are of significance to the State of Victoria including;
- historic archaeological sites and artefacts
- historic buildings, structures and precincts
- gardens, trees and cemeteries
- cultural landscapes
- shipwrecks and relics
- significant objects
Some changes to the Heritage Act came into effect on 1 Dec 2008.
The Heritage Act 1995 established a legislative framework for heritage protection in Victoria, replacing both the Historic Buildings Act 1981, the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 and part of the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1971.
Shipwrecks are protected in Victoria under the Victorian Heritage Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.
All shipwrecks and shipwreck relics in Victorian waters that are at least 75 years old are protected by these two laws. Some shipwrecks less than 75 years old can also be protected. Both laws are administered by the Maritime Heritage Unit, Heritage Victoria.
All municipalities in Victoria are covered by land use planning controls which are prepared and administered by State and local government authorities. The legislation governing such controls is the Planning and Environment Act 1987 as amended in 2000.
Places of significance to a locality can be protected by a Heritage Overlay. Heritage Overlays are contained within local council planning schemes and assist in protecting the heritage of a municipality. Heritage Overlays include places of local significance as well as places included in the Victorian Heritage Register.
The Victorian Government introduced the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. This Act replaces Part IIA of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the State Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972. The Act links the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage more directly with planning and land development processes.
Aboriginal heritage places are not always identified within Heritage Overlay controls so check first with you local Council. You can find out whether there is an Aboriginal place recorded on your property by contacting the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (OAAV).
Commonwealth: National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists and the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999
The National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists were established in January 2004 with the amendment of the Commonwealth EPBC Act. The National Heritage List is a register of places of outstanding Indigenous, historic and/or natural heritage values.
The Commonwealth List is a register of important Commonwealth owned places. Heritage places can be on one or both lists. The EPBC Act is administered by the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), which develops and implements national policy, programs and legislation to protect and conserve Australia's natural environment and cultural heritage. The Australian Heritage Council assesses whether or not a nominated place has heritage values against the relevant criteria and makes a recommendation to the Minister on that basis. The Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts makes the final decision on listing. DEWHA also administers the Australian Heritage Database.
What is the World Heritage List?
The World Heritage List is a list of places of outstanding cultural and natural heritage that are considered to have importance for all humankind.
The List is established under the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was adopted by UNESCO in November 1972. There are currently 185 countries which have adhered to the World Heritage Convention.
Any one of these countries may nominate places within their borders for inclusion in the World Heritage List. Each nomination is assessed by one of the Advisory Bodies specified in the Convention, International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) assesses cultural sites and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assesses natural sites.
Only if the nominated place passes rigorous assessment against criteria for establishing the outstanding universal value of the site can it be inscribed in the World Heritage List. The World Heritage Committee, made up of 21 State Parties to the Convention, makes the final decision on whether a site should be included in the List.
In June 2004, Victoria's Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was inscribed in the World Heritage List as Australia's first built heritage site of outstanding universal value. In 2007 the Sydney Opera House became Australia’s second built heritage site to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
How many sites are on the World Heritage List?
The Burra Charter provides guidance for the conservation and management of places of cultural significance (cultural heritage places), and is based on the knowledge and experience of Australia ICOMOS members.
Conservation is an integral part of the management of places of cultural significance and is an ongoing responsibility.
Who is the Charter for?
The Charter sets a standard of practice for those who provide advice, make decisions about, or undertake works to places of cultural significance, including owners, managers and custodians.