Australia’s built heritage: preserving character, enhancing value

An interview with Greg Hunt MP, Federal Minister for the Environment

By Michael Constantine

In April this year, Fox Tucker Lawyers had the pleasure of sponsoring the marquee event on the 2014 Australian Heritage Week calendar, The Ultimate Heritage Debate & Dinner.

Staged at the State heritage-listed Rymill House, the event featured two high-profile teams, one led by South Australian Deputy Liberal Leader Vickie Chapman MP and the other by Former South Australian Minister for Infrastructure Patrick Conlon MP, contesting the topic “Does heritage really matter?”.

Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt MP was keynote speaker at the event, where he appropriately launched the Government’s draft Australian Heritage Strategy. The document, available here, touches on many aspects of the preservation and use of built heritage that are of particular interest to us and our clients here at Fox Tucker Lawyers.

So we approached the Minister to ask if he would be prepared to clarify and elaborate on his personal views in this important area.

We’re delighted to say he generously agreed, and the results of our interview appear below.
MC: Heritage-listed properties of varying significance are clearly culturally valuable assets. Should we recognise their great economic value to communities and the nation?

GH: Places on the World and National Heritage Lists are important drawcards for domestic and international tourists. Recently it has been estimated that the Sydney Opera House, a World Heritage site, is worth over $4bn to the Australian economy.

Our cultural heritage places are also recognised as an important driver of regional economies across the country.

MC: Heritage-listed properties are at times unable to be used for their original purpose. Do you believe contemporary adaptation and re-purposing are appropriate strategies in these circumstances? Does this approach have the potential to increase listed properties’ economic and cultural value?

GH: Adaptive reuse can be an appropriate strategy to preserve our heritage structures, as long as it is sympathetic to the place’s original heritage values.

The most successful built-heritage adaptive reuse projects are those that best respect and retain the building’s heritage significance and add a contemporary layer that provides value for the future. Sometimes, adaptive reuse is the only way that the building’s fabric will be properly cared for, revealed or interpreted, while making better use of the building itself.

In the pursuit of sustainable development, communities have much to gain from adaptively reusing historic buildings. Avoiding the process of demolition and reconstruction brings out environmental benefits of adaptive reuse. Environmental benefits, combined with energy savings and the social advantage of recycling a valued heritage place means that adaptive reuse of historic buildings can make a positive economic and cultural contribution.

MC: Many heritage-listed properties are held by private owners. What role do you believe private owners play in increasing the value of these properties for communities, and what role should government play?

GH: The draft Australian Heritage Strategy recognises the important role played by private owners in the protection and promotion of heritage-listed properties.

While many of our heritage assets belong to a local community, such as historic buildings or sacred sites, many have values that resonate widely and have significance to many people. Other places are significant to the entire nation.

The draft Strategy is asking for comment on what role governments should play in better supporting private owners of heritage properties and how private property owners could be better supported by the heritage sector in sustainability and upkeep measures.

The draft Strategy also includes a number of suggested actions that may be pursued in coming years to help private heritage owners and managers.

MC: Government-owned heritage-listed properties of significance are often publicly accessible. Is there the potential for private owners of heritage properties to provide public access to these properties in exchange for maintenance and upkeep concessions? Would this assist economic development in the heritage industry and boost community appreciation?

GH: The draft Strategy explores the potential for new innovative funding, resource sharing and creative partnerships to help protect, promote and commemorate Australia’s national heritage and is asking how resources could be shared through heritage partnerships to ensure the greatest return on agreed priorities.

MC: Conservation and preservation is mostly represented and conducted by community organisations. How can individuals and private property owners be incentivised in sustainability and upkeep measures?

GH: The Australian Government Community Heritage and Icons Grants and the Green Army Programme will help to better share the financial and labour costs associated with management of Australia’s heritage places.

The Community Heritage and Icons Grants will provide funding to support local historical or heritage groups for the conservation and interpretation of local cultural heritage, while the Green Army Programme will, in part, bring young people together with heritage managers to undertake appropriate works on heritage sites.

MC: Would you say that activation of heritage places and fostering future heritage are important to the cultural life of communities? And what can Australia do to enhance its perception as a cultural tourism destination?

GH: Increasingly, heritage is recognised as playing a significant role in community engagement in health, well being and social inclusion.

There is strong potential to strengthen the role of tourism in supporting natural and cultural heritage. For much of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage a viable tourism market exists and can be further developed particularly in regional communities. Communicating the fascinating stories of our local community heritage can create powerful experiences.

Through new Community Heritage and Icons Grants, communities are encouraged to promote and tell the stories of their local heritage and to explore linkages with local tourism bodies to further promote these heritage experiences. Australia’s Community Heritage website provides an important free platform for such promotion.

The draft Strategy also notes innovative tourism experiences can be developed to encourage greater engagement with the cultural aspects of our heritage places, such as can be currently experienced at Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks.

For more information, please contact:
William Esau

William Esau
p.  +61 8 8124 1955
e.  Email me

This communication provides general information which is current as at the time of production. The information contained in this communication does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Should you wish to discuss any matter raised in this article, or what it means for you, your business or your clients' businesses, please feel free to contact us.

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