Australia's inaugural Heritage Strategy begs an Australian Heritage Policy

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The inaugural strategy for Australian cultural and natural heritage was launched in December 2015. The Australian Heritage Strategy 2015 (Strategy) presents 11 Objectives and 51 'Proposed actions' to support Australia’s official goals for heritage under 3 ‘high level outcomes’: National Leadership, Strong Partnerships and Engaged Communities. The Strategy’s 10-year Vision is:

Our natural, historic and Indigenous heritage places are valued by Australians, protected for future generations and cared for by the community.

Click here to access the Strategy.

As the Australian Constitution does not make heritage an area of Australian Government responsibility we are fortunate that the resounding plea for national leadership on heritage, arising from consultations between 2012 and 2015, has been heard and a national strategy produced. Consultation submissions expected the Australian Government to build on precedents of significant indirect Commonwealth involvement in heritage since 1975. The resulting document unfortunately
evidences the inability of the Australian Government to fund the management and protection of heritage places in general and its own properties in particular. Community contributions are therefore encouraged throughout the document in order to share the costs (and benefits) of identifying and managing heritage places.

Currently, the natural and cultural heritage function occurs in at least ten contexts across Australian Government public policy and departmental arrangements. Yet the key diagram in the Strategy at Figure 1 (p. 8, copied below), titled ‘Australia’s Heritage’, is used to exclude movable cultural heritage from scope and omits natural heritage (landscape is a cultural concept). This diagram also displays technophobia and oddly aligns tangible and intangible expressions of heritage.

Most importantly, Figure 1 and the Strategy, are out-of-step with 21st century thinking about heritage as a form of active social inquiry capable of offering unique insights into human valuation more generally – as we have suggested in our submissions to the consultations. Concessions to the social in the document are generally couched in terms of economic, that is, material ‘wellbeing’, and places themselves are commonly termed ‘assets’. 

Rather than using this unprecedented opportunity to communicate what heritage is now understood to be and to ‘join up’ the Australian Government heritage function towards proper articulation with larger public policy issues, such as sustainable development, this Strategy confirms heritage in its outdated mode: as physical remnants of cultural structures. It is portentous that the term ‘heritage’ has now been reduced so authoritatively to mean only this in Australia.

Overall, the inaugural Australian Heritage Strategy 2015 is disappointing because it is internally confused, favours traditional interests and, above all, does not offer a holistic understanding and treatment of heritage for Australians today – as its title suggests. With core messages of cost sharing and red tape reduction for business, ‘National leadership’ and ‘heritage’ are interpreted in instrumental rather than inspirational ways.

For these reasons we believe the Strategy reveals clear need for a dedicated and holistic Australian Heritage Policy to address the concerns raised above, towards revision of the Australian Heritage Strategy 2015.

Outline of approach in our Comments paper (click through provided below)

We have prepared evidence and suggestions to support the above overview in a ‘Comments’ paper, which follows our usual running number with endnotes format. This focuses on two questions posed in Part 1 of the two-Part Strategy: ‘What is Australia’s heritage?’ (with a Box analysing Figure 1) and ‘Why do we need a strategy?’ (Part 1 of the Strategy positions the Objectives and Proposed actions detailed in Part 2.)

Following brief descriptions of the Strategy’s answers to these questions in Parts A and B of our Comments paper, notes towards alternative answers are provided and an outline for the next iteration of the Australian Heritage Strategy is proposed, including a choice of two Vision Statements.

Policymakers are a target audience for this advice but we also hope the broader Significance International readership will find it a useful resource for focused discussion on how to better understand, interpret, support and use heritage in Australia in the 21st century.

Objective 11 of the Strategy raises Australia's leading role internationally in heritage theory and practice since the mid-1970s. We propose refreshing this reputation in line with extraordinary developments by Australian heritage theorists since the turn of the 21st century, which take the ideas of 'pluralist Australia' and a more thoroughly 'globalised world' into genuine account.

Click here to read this news item with full references and its evidence-base in our expanded 'Comments on the inaugural Australian Heritage Strategy'

Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2016 (Archive on Monday, January 1, 0001)
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