After a couple of recent conversations with heritage advocates it became clear that Commonwealth funding for Australia's cultural heritage places is in trouble. In fact, heritage protection in Australia just seems to be falling through the cracks.
Tuesday 21 October 2008
Senator LUDLAM—Yes, the clock is ticking. I will go through these fairly quickly and I will place on notice whatever is left at the end of the slot. I wanted to ask some fairly general questions at the outset on Commonwealth government expenditure on heritage. I am concerned more at the moment with human heritage and built heritage rather than natural. It appears from the budget statements that the comparable total heritage budget in 2001 was $57.6 million. In 2008 it was $45 million. Can you confirm that that is an accurate assessment and can you explain whether that is a significant reduction in core Heritage Division funding or whether funding has been displaced into different areas?
Mr Shevlin—Unfortunately I do not have the figures with me for 2001 so I cannot give you that precise comparison.
Senator LUDLAM—Is it your sense that funding has been reduced relatively sharply in the last six or seven years?
Mr Shevlin—Total funding for heritage, particularly world, national and Commonwealth heritage, this year is slightly less in total than last year. I can give you that figure but I cannot give you the figure going many years back.
Senator LUDLAM—Perhaps I can put that on notice. The answer that I am seeking really is whether there has been an actual decline in Commonwealth funding since 2001—we can use that as a benchmark—or whether funding has been displaced into different portfolio areas or different agencies, because it appears that that is in fact the case. We will draw your attention to one. The National Heritage Investment Initiative received $3.5 million in 2001 and was reduced to around $200,000 in 2008-09. Can you outline what can be done within that program with $200,000?
Mr Shevlin—The $3.5 million is the figure that was available in the previous financial year, 2007-08.
Senator LUDLAM—I do beg your pardon. So that is a reduction just in the one financial year?
Mr Shevlin—The figure for this current financial year reflects the funding profile that was agreed by the previous government. Usually there is four years funding. So the last year of the funding is this current year and that was the $200,000. That is the profile that was agreed some time back. The future funding in this area is something that will be considered by the government in the next budget.
Senator LUDLAM—Is this initiative being shut down?
Mr Shevlin—Different programs are run at different times and this particular one had that profile. Governments will be considering possible alternatives, but it is not the only funding that goes to world, national and Commonwealth heritage. This year a total of about $28.5 million is going to that in total, but there is always a slightly different mix of programs and expenditure that occurs from one year to the next.
Senator LUDLAM—I draw your attention to a couple of different reports. The Productivity Commission in 2006 identified substantial problems with achieving heritage outcomes at local government level; the 2006 Australian State of the environment report also was quite critical of the way that we are managing national heritage and World Heritage in this country; and a letter was sent to the heritage minister, Mr Garrett, on 15 August 2008 from 37 senior heritage figures, including Barry Jones, Jack Mundey and a number of others. Their concern was expressed: ‘The overall situation with Australia’s historic heritage is at its lowest point since before the time of the Whitlam government in the 1970s. There are major problems with funding for conservation, education and training, promotion’ et cetera. They cite that the heritage situation in Australia is ‘approaching crisis’. Do you agree with that evaluation? What do you think is being done at a Commonwealth level to address that evaluation?
Mr Shevlin—As I said, the total funding for world, national and Commonwealth heritage listed places this year is close to what was provided last year, but there is a different mix. I do not think I would describe it as a crisis. Certainly—and this is reflected in the letter from those correspondents—they have a particular focus on funding for historic heritage. Funding for historic heritage—that particular program certainly—as I said, has declined from last year to this current year. The government is well aware of those concerns and I am sure will be considering those in the next budget context.
Senator LUDLAM—I put it to you that it would appear that funding is slightly less this year than last year, slightly less last year than the year before and the year before that, and we are looking at a systemic decline in funding for heritage in Australia. Would you agree with that?
Mr Shevlin—There has been a decline over some years, but different parts of the program go up and down. Some of it reflects the decisions made with state governments about where responsibility should sit for heritage in Australia. The clear understanding is that responsibility for local heritage should sit with local government, state heritage should sit with state governments and only national and world heritage appropriately sits with the Commonwealth. Some of the change in funding could well reflect that agreed allocation of responsibilities.
Senator LUDLAM—Under the EPBC Act there is a requirement to review and report on Commonwealth and national heritage lists by 2009. Is that review afoot at the moment? Is that under way? Mr Shevlin—We are doing some internal work on that matter at the moment. I understand there is not a requirement for a public review, so we are doing some internal work, which will then inform advice that we would provide to the minister.
Senator LUDLAM—But there is no requirement under the act for the minister to make the review public?
Mr Shevlin—The minister would table it, I understand.
Senator LUDLAM—It will be tabled?
Mr Shevlin—Yes, I just got that advice.
Senator LUDLAM—So some kind of formal process has been triggered under EPBC and that review has started?
Mr Shevlin—There is an internal process occurring within my division and then we will provide some advice to the minister, which could inform whether we do something more formal than that.
Senator LUDLAM—Is there any requirement under that section for public consultation in that regard?
Mr Shevlin—I am not aware of that. I can take it on notice, if you like.
Senator LUDLAM—I would appreciate that, thanks. The Australian Heritage Council is, according to its website, the principal adviser to the Australian government on heritage matters. Is the AHC providing advice on issues such as this, such as the overarching review that is being undertaken, or is the role of the AHC specifically to provide comments on discrete individual sites?
Mr Shevlin—One of the primary roles of the council is to provide statutory advice on potential listings for properties for the Commonwealth and national heritage list, so that is a large part of their job. They are able to provide advice to the minister on any heritage matter that they wish to do.
Senator LUDLAM—So that does not have to be invoked by the minister?
Senator LUDLAM—They can provide advice on broader issues.
Mr Shevlin—Their act allows them to provide advice to the minister on any heritage issue that they believe they could or should.
Senator LUDLAM—Have they provided advice to the minister, since this committee last sat in an estimates hearing, that goes to the issue of declining funding overall for the heritage portfolio?
Mr Shevlin—They have provided no written advice that I am aware of. They have had discussions with the minister. The minister has met with the Heritage Council.
Senator LUDLAM—Lastly, and then I will wind up because we are very short of time, the minister recently abolished his ministerial advisory forum on cultural heritage. I think the minister’s statement was that it was not strategically useful, although it had been providing a valuable contribution over 12 years. Did the minister ever actually convene a meeting of the full forum before it was abolished?
Mr Shevlin—The minister met with a number of the key members of the forum—those members that represented the largest groups of members there. He met with the chair of the Australian Council of National Trusts, the head of ICOMOS Australia and the chair of the Federation of Australian Historical Societies. Those three groups between them represent probably close to 200,000 members. He met with those before he took any decision about how he might progress. The whole point of that discussion was to talk to them about what might be the best way forward in terms of engaging with some of those groups and getting advice, but advice that is useful for the minister and the government.
Senator LUDLAM—Just to be clear, the individual groups were met with at different times, but at no point did the minister sit down with that forum before it was abolished?
Mr Shevlin—No, he met with the representative three members together.
Senator LUDLAM—The constituent groups.
Mr Shevlin—He met with those three together. He did not convene a meeting of the entire group.
Senator LUDLAM—Was the rationale for abolishing the forum lack of funds to support its activities?
Senator LUDLAM—What was the reason that was given for dissolving that group?
Mr Shevlin—As the minister advised the body, he thought there were more useful ways to get advice on heritage matters in a more strategic way.
Senator LUDLAM—Can you provide us with some information as to what form that has taken?
Mr Shevlin—The minister, in his letter to the members of the former consultative committee forum, advised them that he would be establishing a working group to advise him. He has not announced the details of that, so it would not be appropriate for me to do so.
Senator LUDLAM—Minister, I am wondering whether we could put on notice with you, because I suspect this would be outside your portfolio responsibilities—
Senator Wong—I am here representing Minister Garrett as well.
Senator LUDLAM—I understand that—when we would expect to see some announcement as to the form of this working group, its make-up and constituency, the role it will play and whether it will have funding going forward.
Senator Wong—I will take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM—Thanks, Minister. Chair, I have no further questions.