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The Heritage system in Australia needs to change to embrace a fairer, better system for all

Currently the heritage system in Australia is not working.
It relies on councils identifying properties for heritage listing, and then once listed most of the pain, burden and cost is left to an individual owner to deal with. As a consequence of little financial assistance, it has been estimated that on current trends a substantial part of Australia’s remaining historic heritage will be lost through demolition and neglect between now and 2024 (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.164, Box 7.1). In general Australian Councils do little to help ease the burden of being heritage listed, and the little help that is given is often negligible compensation for the loss in property value - e:g $1,000 every 4 years for maintenance, upkeep and improvements for one property (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.174). It is easy for Australian Councils and other Heritage groups to demand that certain properties be heritage listed because they do not have to foot the bill – they just demand something and walk away leaving hundreds of owners with either a huge financial burden, &/or at a large financial disadvantage. Because Australian Councils and Heritage groups are not required to pay for anything, their nominations for heritage listing are comparatively unrestrained leaving much financial devastation in their wake (for a list of the different types of financial burdens that heritage listing brings, please click on ‘Types of Heritage Pain’ above).

This needs to change.
Property is used by many people as an asset to help finance any necessary moves and medical expenses as one grows older. The cost of living is also rising in Australia. It is not reasonable, fair, or ethical for the wider community to seek a benefit for itself and then expect one particular small group within society to carry the primary burden of the cost of providing that benefit – it is essentially theft from this small group’s own personal asset base for their financial future. When hit with such a large financial burden, it is inevitable that heritage listed properties will encounter more neglect. There is no question that our historic heritage is important and needs to be conserved, but this should not be at the expense of an individual’s life savings and should actually be based upon a system that works!

So, what can be done?
1) Provide adequate financial help and compensation to affected owners
North America, Canada, Western Europe and the UK’s public investment in incentives for historic heritage is far more advanced compared to Australia. They achieve their conservation goals through agreement, or at least cooperatively, rather than solely through regulatory ‘taking’. In Colorado, USA during the 2015 financial year alone the Government provided a little over US $273 million dollars to 2,243 different historical heritage projects across Colorado (click on  'Good vs Bad Heritage Systems' above to learn more) - , this equates to an average of US $121,711 per heritage property! In the years 2014 - 2015 Australia  provided only a little over AUD $310,000 (GST inclusive) to only 30 different heritage projects across Australia - this equates to an average of $10,333 per heritage property. 

In Canada ‘the Heritage Conservation Act 1996 has been designed to provide fairness to both the public interest and to property owners - it is important to consider the costs of conservation on property owners’ (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.396). For example in British Columbia ‘the Heritage Conservation Act 1996 states that the government must compensate an owner for any reduction in market value attributable to listing’ (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.395). This has led to key differences in the way British Columbia manage their heritage listings which has multiple effects including that they are not causing financial devastation to an individual, and more importantly that their actual aims are being achieved of heritage listed properties being looked after rather than neglected as is the developing case in Australia

There are great examples of heritage systems that work far better than Australia's heritage system - please click on 'Good vs Bad Heritage Systems' above to learn more.


2) Virtual Heritage Preservation
Other First world countries apart from Australia have already recognised and implemented the benefits of conserving their heritage using various digital technologies rather than actually heritage listing them - as the cost of virtual recording would be a lot less than the costs flowing from listing them (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.26). In response Heritage Sector Technology Specialist Industries have emerged who are solely focused on providing high-quality digital photo-realistic and interactive solutions specifically for the heritage sector. 

The public would benefit from Virtual Heritage Preservation in the following ways:
i) Currently most heritage sites are not open to the public, so using digital technology (such as 3D reconstructions with tours) will be much more advantageous than physical listing in regards to people being actually able to access them (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.27).

ii) Digital technology is not subject to the same possibility of physical damage, loss and general deterioration that a physical building is subject to. Other Victorian industries have already recognised this and employed digital technologies to record their historic buildings – for instance the Mechanics’ Institute of Victoria with their ‘Big-Mech Database’ of their buildings as well as other material information. Engineering Heritage Victoria also use digital technology to record their history for future generations (Productivity Commission, 2006, p.26).

iii) Many people walk past lots of heritage sites without realising their importance or history. Digital technology can additionally provide auditory and visual explanations to help educate people.

iv) Current and future generations will interact more with digital technology because it is readily available all the time, easy to use and relatively cost effective.

v) Digital Collections can be formed and access charged for to help raise funds for heritage conservation.

vi) People worldwide can benefit from Australia’s heritage if it was in digital form – this is especially important to people who are unfortunately unable to travel.

vii) The knowledge that Australia’s heritage is being conserved far into the future without causing financial devastation to one individual/family (presuming that either the owner is paid appropriate compensation if their property is heritage listed, or that their property will not be subject to heritage listing because it is in digitised form).

viii) The knowledge that in the future if their property is considered for heritage listing, then they will not be financially crippled from it, and that Australia’s heritage will still be conserved in digital format.

In essence we would like the Australian Government to put an end to Heritage Pain in Australia by
1)Updating Australia’s Heritage Act 1995 to be equal to the laws in other First World Countries who are fair to both the public interest as well as the rights of the private property owner. Owners of heritage listed properties in Australia need to be paid adequate compensation for the loss to their financial future – just like heritage owners in other countries.

2) Provide ongoing adequate financial support and good tax incentives to encourage heritage conservation, and encourage people to nominate their own properties for listing (this system CAN work - just click on 'Good vs Bad Heritage Systems' above to learn how). 

3)If the cost of compensation for an individual property is too great, then instead of that cost being borne by either an individual or the government, this property should be digitally recorded instead of being formally heritage listed.
 
So please sign our Petition (click on the button below), and if you would like to know what more you can do to help, please click on the the What Can I do to Help? tab above


References:
Australian Government Productivity Commission, 2006, Conservation of Australia's Historic Heritage Places - Productivity Commission Inquiry Report No.37, Canberra, Media and Publications Productivity Commission.​​
Click here to sign the Petition for a fairer, better alternative!