ACT heritage reform

Rachel Jackson, GML Principal and Head of the Canberra office, reports on the findings of the ACT Government’s Heritage Jurisdictional Review.

Recently, the ACT Minister for Heritage, Rebecca Vassarotti MLA, announced the release of the Consultation Report for the ACT Government’s Heritage Jurisdictional Review.

The key reform themes include ‘establishing ACT Aboriginal People as the decision makers on their cultural heritage’ and ‘strengthening the governance and administration of the ACT heritage arrangements’.

The consultation report, which can be found here, sets out a pathway for the ACT Government with 11 strategic reforms and 46 actions.

The public’s responses to the reform themes provides an insight into the diversity of opinion and knowledge in the community. It highlights the nuances and many complex factors that exist within the ACT’s current heritage legislation and governance.

Given the myriad of community insights, the proposed reform process now includes an additional reform theme: to ‘champion heritage as a compelling and valued consideration in the planning and development of Canberra’.

Other matters considered included the need to identify the rightful custodians of Country and to determine the decision-making powers and processes of a proposed Aboriginal cultural heritage body.

The need to strengthen the relationship between heritage processes and Territory planning legislation was highlighted.

Recognising local heritage, not just ‘state-level’ heritage, and dealing with the significant backlog of heritage nominations and advice requests are also considered crucial to reform.

But protecting Canberra’s heritage holistically requires more than just the proposed reforms to ACT heritage legislation.

The dual Territory and Commonwealth planning and heritage systems are piecemeal and not well connected, and this results in heritage values being managed differently. Without an overhaul of these systems together, the ‘ACT only’ heritage reforms may fall flat.

While Minister Vassarotti sees that ‘Canberrans need and deserve a robust, high functioning and first-rate heritage system that celebrates and protects our shared history’, this will take time, alongside collaboration and commitment from the Chief Minister Barr and the National Capital Authority.