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World Heritage

What is world heritage?

Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located (UNESCO 2015).

The idea of ‘World Heritage’ arose in 1972, when United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognised that valuable cultural and natural heritage was becoming increasingly threatened, and those places of Outstanding Universal Value needed to be protected.

A World Heritage Convention—signed by over 170 countries including Australia—was then established to ensure the protection and conservation of cultural and natural heritage of ‘Outstanding Universal Value (PDF)’ for future generations. Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the convention in 1974.

Queensland's world heritage areas

Queensland’s World Heritage areas are globally recognised as the best of the best examples of natural heritage in the world. Of Australia’s 19 World Heritage listed properties, five of them are wholly or partially in Queensland:

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is responsible for the statewide coordination of World Heritage matters and providing high level secretariat support to the Fraser Island, Riversleigh and Gondwana advisory committees.

Fraser Island, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Riversleigh section of the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites all have advisory committees responsible for providing advice to the managing agencies and the Australian and state governments’ relevant Ministers responsible for World Heritage—on matters relating to the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission of World Heritage values.

Wet Tropics World Heritage area and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area are both governed under a statutory authority.

Management of areas

When an area is nominated for World Heritage listing, there must be a management plan or system showing how the area will be managed and protected for the future—setting out what laws and plans are in place, including traditional management. UNESCO monitors all World Heritage areas. As a signatory to the World Heritage convention, Australia is obliged to follow UNESCO’s international guidelines and consider other management standards.

Australia has an overarching management framework for World Heritage areas that includes:

  • The Australian World Heritage Intergovernmental Agreement - outlines roles and responsibilities of Australian, State and Territory governments
  • The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999- key legislation for protecting World Heritage values
  • Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee- representatives from each Australian World Heritage area share information on best practice management
  • Australian World Heritage Indigenous Network - provide an Indigenous perspective on managing Australia’s World Heritage areas.

A range of state laws can also apply such as the Nature Conservation Act 1992, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003. Regional natural resource management plans can also play a role.

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Last updated
29 October 2015