Australia was one of the first countries to sign the World Heritage Convention. This is an international treaty to protect places that exhibit outstanding universal natural or cultural values. There are currently nineteen Australian properties on the World Heritage List including the Great Barrier Reef, the Tasmanian Wilderness, the Wet Tropics of Queensland and Shark Bay in Western Australia. Some places such as Kakadu National Park, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Willandra Lakes Region and the Tasmanian Wilderness are listed for both natural and cultural criteria. The only South Australian site on the World Heritage Register is the joint listing of the “Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Naracoorte (SA) and Riversleigh (Qld)".
Australia’s first cultural heritage place, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2004. For the latest information on World Heritage sites or nominations visit the Commonwealth Department of the Environment's website website at: http://www.environment.gov.au.
The adoption of the World Heritage Convention in Australian law is through the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). The EPBC Act applies to Commonwealth, State, and even privately owned property which has been nominated for inclusion on the World Heritage List.
The EPBC Act identifies World Heritage properties as a matter of national environmental significance (MNES). This means that a person must not take an action that has or is likely to have a significant impact on the world heritage values of a declared World Heritage property without first obtaining the permission of the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment.
Under the Significant Impact Guidelines prepared under the EPBC Act, an impact is regarded as significant if:
- one or more of the world heritage values is lost; or
- one or more of the world heritage values is degraded or damaged.
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