NATIONAL HERITAGE LISTINGS FRAUGHT WITH DELAYS AND MISSED DEADLINES
26th June 2017
Humane Society International has written to the Australian Heritage Council (AHC) with a public complaint over the extreme delays in the process for the inclusion of places in the National Heritage and Commonwealth Lists, particularly those sites nominated in recognition of their natural values. Humane Society International has major concerns with the serious deterioration of the program in recent years, with iconic rainforests, last remaining wild rivers and pristine seas teaming with life all going without due heritage protection thanks to Government inertia and neglect of the program.
The letter was sent by former Australian Heritage Councillor and Humane Society International Director, Michael Kennedy AM, and outlines how nominations for natural heritage places are systematically thwarted through unreasonable delays, repeatedly extended deadlines and failure to add places to the priority assessment list.
“Between 2004 and 2010, it took one year on average for a place to be added to the National Heritage List, but since 2010 to present, the average duration has been five years,” said Michael Kennedy, Director of Humane Society International.
While recently commemorating the Battle of the Coral Sea, a heritage nomination for the Coral Sea for both its outstanding wartime and natural heritage has stalled in the bureaucracy.
“It’s just been revealed that Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has pushed back the assessment deadline for listing the Coral Sea a further two years to 2019. That means it will have been 11 years since the Coral Sea was originally nominated for listing before any assessment is given by the AHC, and then we have to wait for the Minister to make his decision which he could theoretically put off indefinitely,” continued Mr Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy was a member of the inaugural AHC and helped develop national priorities in relation to natural National Heritage areas.
Another outstanding area that has been nominated by Humane Society International for Commonwealth Heritage listing includes the Townsville Field Training Area (TFTA), home to lush rainforests and a refuge for species like the cassowary.
“The purpose of the National Heritage program is to list places of outstanding heritage significance, and so important are the values of these places they are afforded protection as Matters of National Environmental Significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. In our view, such lengthy delays in assessment damage the public’s confidence in the national heritage listing process, which we see as a critical conservation program,” continued Mr Kennedy.
The current National Heritage regime was put in place by the Howard Government with the help of The Australian Democrats and the vision at the time was for the jewels of Australia’s natural heritage to get due recognition and protection.
Australia’s State of the Environment Report 2016, released in March, states that “our protected natural and cultural resources do not yet comprise an appropriate set of heritage places” and that “the continuing reduction in the public-sector resources allocated for heritage presents a growing risk to long-term conservation of heritage values.”
Humane Society International has also just learnt that its outstanding nominations including Antarctic Territory/Australia’s Antarctic Whale Sanctuary, Barrow and Montebello Islands Marine Conservation Reserves, Cape York Peninsula, Daintree Lowland Rainforest, Great Western Woodlands of Western Australia, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park and Elliot Price Conservation Park and Simpsons Desert Dingo Habitat have not made it to the National Heritage Finalised Priority Assessment List for 2017-2018. Only two nominations made the List, neither of them Natural Heritage Places.
“Humane Society International is fully supportive of the AHC and the need for increased resources and funding, but we have major concerns with what we see as the serious deterioration of the program in recent years, and the long-term negative consequences for natural heritage conservation in Australia,” concluded Mr Kennedy.
– In the past seven years,10 historic places of National Heritage have been listed, eight Indigenous places and only three of Natural Heritage.
– Coral Sea (National Heritage)
The Coral Sea within Australia’s jurisdiction makes up an area of approximately 1,000,000 square kilometres northeast of Queensland. It includes Heralds Beacon Island, Osprey Reef, the Willis Group and 15 other reef and island groups, in addition to the Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef National Nature Reserves. The Coral Sea’s natural heritage includes coral reefs, sandy cays, abyssal plains, deep sea mountains and canyons, which play host to a spectacular array of wildlife. The Battle of the Coral Sea was fought from May 4 to 8, 1942 and therefore it not only has natural heritage values, but also historic significance. The Coral Sea was first nominated to be listed as a National Heritage place in 2008 following a joint nomination prepared by Humane Society International and seven other environmental organisations, was renominated in 2010 and placed on the priority assessment list in 2012. The Minister has now extended the deadline for the nomination to be assessed out to 2019.
– Townsville Field Training Area (Commonwealth Heritage)
Covering 231,890 hectares of diverse habitat ranging from lush rainforest to extensive open woodlands, the TFTA forms part of an important vegetation and wildlife corridor and abuts the World Heritage Wet Tropics Rainforest, National Parks, The Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mt Zero/Taravale Sanctuary and State Forests. Some of the significant threatened species that are likely to find refuge in the TFTA include the northern bettong, spotted-tailed quoll, squatter pigeon (southern subspecies), grey falcon, red goshawk, bare-rumped sheathtail bat and the southern cassowary. In 2015 it was reported that up to 10,000 cattle would be able to graze on the site.* The AHC’s failure to assess the TFTA for Commonwealth Heritage listing is also in breach of the body’s requirements under the EPBC Act. The AHC had six years to provide their assessment to the Minister, and investigations following a Freedom of Information application submitted by Humane Society International in October last year found that no work had been done on the assessment since 2009. The assessment was due 30 June 2015.
– Fitzgerald River National Park and Lesueur National Park (National Heritage Listings)
Located in the south-west of Western Australia, an internationally recognised ‘biodiversity hotspot’, the Fitzgerald River National Park which supports around 1,748 plant species within the park’s 297,244 hectares and Lesueur National Park, which contains more than 900 species within its 27,235 hectares, are two of the most important reserves for plant conservation in Australia. The only places to be added to the List in the past five years were the Fitzgerald River National Park and the Lesueur National Park in Western Australia, which took nine years to be listed and were significantly revised by the Minister to exclude areas even the AHC recommended for listing. In his letter notifying Humane Society International of his decision to only list the National Parks, former Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt explained that “listing areas outside the National Parks could have adverse local economic impacts by increasing regulatory approval costs and creating a deterrent to future mining and resource development.” This statement completely flies in the face of the objectives of the National Heritage program.
* ‘Graziers win right to use defence land’ – Townsville Bulletin, 15 August 2015 (http://www.townsvillebulletin.com.au/news/townsville/graziers-win-right-to-use-defence-land/news-story/59bce20eb3d3247bb869d8aa0d76b8a3)