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Prof Richard Mackay, AM, Unpacks the State of the Environment Report 2016

GML CEO Sharon Veale welcomed over 50 professionals to GML Heritage last Thursday evening, to hear Prof Richard Mackay, AM, dive deep into some of the findings of the State of the Environment Report 2016.

Richard—Director of Possibilities at Mackay Strategic and Special Adviser to GML Heritage—was responsible for the heritage theme in both the 2011 and 2016 State of the Environment Reports. In a fascinating presentation, he talked about the major pressures and some of the key drivers and trends in Australia’s current environmental dataset.

Richard Mackay

Prof Richard Mackay, AM, presenting at GML Heritage.

Overall, Richard noted that Australia’s environment is in reasonably good condition. Yet there are challenges for our natural and cultural heritage. He especially noted that some of our most significant environments, such as the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, are suffering. The cumulative effects of land use, climate change and tourism amplify the pressure on this fragile ecosystem, resulting in bleaching events over recent years.

A diver surveys bleached coral at Lizard Island in March 2016 (Source: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey)

A diver surveys bleached coral at Lizard Island in March 2016. (Source: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey)

Into the detail of the heritage chapter, Richard shared the following insights:

–  The National Reserve System continues to improve through the addition of substantial Indigenous Protected Areas. More than 17 per cent of land and over 36 per cent of Australia’s marine area are now included within reserves.

–  Australia’s Indigenous heritage remains inadequately documented and protected. Incremental destruction continues, although there is increasing recognition of the importance of Indigenous involvement in heritage management.

–  Resources allocated to heritage conservation and management do not reflect the value attributed to heritage by the Australian community. Significant resources are provided by government; however, overall funding levels are static or have declined. In particular, Commonwealth grant funding for heritage projects has reduced significantly over the period.

–  Loss of knowledge is impacting our heritage. In Indigenous communities, while revival and renewal of traditions and language is apparent there is a parallel decline and continuing incremental destruction. Loss of traditional crafts and trade skills, combined with an aging workforce, impacts on our ability to care for our historic environment.

–  Data collection needs to improve, to provide deeper insight and to guide better decision making.

–  Heritage is a responsibility that needs to be shared by all of us, across all levels of government and by corporate Australia and the community generally.


Kinchega Woolshed at Kinchega National Park, NSW. Photo by Richard Mackay

Kinchega Woolshed at Kinchega National Park, NSW. (Photo by Richard Mackay)

To conclude, Richard demonstrated SoE Digital, the interactive digital platform linked to the reporting datasets. Graphs, tables and maps can be generated yielding information about the state of Australia’s heritage and other environmental themes that will be of interest to policy-makers, students, researchers, professionals and the general public.

HER 14 Indigenous Protected Area Additions Since 2011 – 2016 (Source:

HER 14 Indigenous Protected Area Additions, 2011–2016. (Source: