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Canberra Today 13°/15° | Monday, December 4, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Government is wrong to resist heritage listing

ED WENSING is one of a group of seven professionals who lodged one of two nominations in 2009 to have Canberra included on the National Heritage List. While they wait, the ACT government has started resisting the listing.

IN 2009, the then federal Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, called for nominations for entry on the National Heritage List under the theme of “A Free and Fair Australia”. 

Ed Wensing.

The Minister said key messages associated with the theme included that Australia was one of the world’s oldest modern democracies; a robust and enduring democratic government with distinctive political and social institutions. 

Two nominations for parts of Canberra to be entered on the National Heritage List were made in March, 2009. The nominations are initially assessed by the Australian Heritage Council (AHC) who then makes a recommendation to the Minister. The AHC’s assessment of these nominations was completed in 2011. The AHC’s assessment of the nominations has been with successive Commonwealth and ACT governments of both political persuasions for over a decade. 

The Minister’s decision on whether or not to enter the place on the National Heritage List has been extended 10 times, with the current extension due to expire on June 30. The length of time this has taken is inexplicable. 

On February 26, Acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry was reported as expressing concerns about the listing, and seeking advice from the federal Minister for the Environment as to whether the protections “would be ‘onerous’ and what scope they would cover”. 

As one of the nominees for placing significant parts of Canberra on the National Heritage List, I respectfully disagree. To the contrary, I believe it is misleading to suggest that National Heritage Listing will impede the city’s future growth and development. 

A place can only be entered on the National Heritage List (NHL) for its outstanding natural, indigenous or historic heritage values for the nation. The listing must therefore describe those values in detail, because it is the values of a place that are being protected. 

A listing is made to protect a place from erosion of the values that give a place its significance, whether they be for natural, indigenous and/or historic values. That does not mean that a place has to be “frozen in time” and that changes cannot be made to a place. 

Nominees were not privy to the AHC’s recommendations to the Minister in 2011. Nor are we privy to any of the to-ing and fro-ing between the ACT and Commonwealth governments about the listing. 

Until the public knows what values are going to be inscribed in the listing, it is a bit far-fetched to be making assertions about whether or not the listing will prevent the upgrading of infrastructure or impede the city’s growth and development. 

I therefore call on the federal Minister for the Environment to release the full details of what is being considered for entry on the National Heritage List, including the full description of the values, and the management plan that must accompany the listing. 

To ensure the ongoing protection of a National Heritage place, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations Act 1999 (Cth) provides for the preparation of management plans that sets out how the significance of the place will be protected and conserved. Plans must be consistent with the National Heritage management principles, which provide a guiding framework for excellence in managing heritage places. Under the EPBC Act, a management plan must address a range of matters, including:

  • the objectives for managing the place, 
  • a management framework, 
  • a comprehensive description of the place, 
  • a description of the values, 
  • a description of the condition of the place, 
  • a description of the method used to assess the National Heritage values, and 
  • a description of the management requirements, including goals, possible changes and pressures, policies to manage the values, an implementation plan, how the implementation will be monitored, and how the plan will be reviewed.

I therefore also call on the federal Minister for the Environment to release the draft management plans for the places to be listed, so the public can have some input to the values of the places to be listed, and how they will be managed. 

More than 13 years has passed since the nominations were made. Surely, it is time for a decision to be made to either enter the nomination – in full or in part (as recommended by the Australian Heritage Council) – or reject the nomination(s) outright. 

The nominations present a rare opportunity to make an historical decision to recognise that the planning of Canberra has made an extremely valuable contribution to Australia’s planning history and to democracy generally, and therefore deserves to be recognised as a place that has outstanding heritage value to the nation.

Both governments are not seeing the opportunities that National Heritage Listing of Canberra can bring. There are only a small number of pre-planned capital cities in the world. Canberra is the best example and we have a great deal to be very proud of.

Dr Ed Wensing is Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU, and a sessional senior lecturer, School of the Built Environment, UNSW.

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Ian Meikle, editor

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