New Heritage Legislation for WA

Monday 13 November 2017 @ 10.20 a.m. | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

The Heritage Bill 2017 (No 47 - WA) (the Bill) was introduced into the Western Australian Assembly on Wednesday 8 November 2017 and has reached the second reading debate stage.

Background to the Bill

This Bill proposes the repeal of the current legislation the Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990 (the current Act) replacing it, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, with a modern, clearly written Heritage Act 2017 (the new Act). The new Act is said to address contemporary needs and reflect the ". . . best practice in the recognition and management of the state’s cultural heritage."

Western Australia was the last of the Australian states to enact specific legislation which recognised and protected non-Aboriginal cultural heritage places. 

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the current Act was written at a time when ". . . legislators responded to the community’s demands for the protection of its heritage places amid the demolition of a significant proportion of Perth’s built heritage in the name of progress."

The current Act came into operation 26 years ago, and almost from the start was found to have many flaws and shortcomings creating  obstacles to its effectiveness, through: 

  • complex and redundant assessment and consultation processes, 
  • inflexible development referral requirements, and
  • countless ambiguities and arcane language that is hard to comprehend and expensive to administer. 

The Explanatory Memorandum points out that because the current Act originated in the 1970s and 1980s, it is known for phrasing that is hard to interpret and reflects the statute drafting style of those days, being rigid, and having an adversarial approach to heritage management. This is a position which has changed with a very clear shift in attitudes and a broader community now more engaged and informed about the importance of recognising and preserving its “. . . sense of place” through familiar landmarks, urban spaces and regional areas.

The Bills Objectives

The Explanatory Memorandum indicates that Bill recognises that: 

"It is apparent now that property developers in particular understand the value of heritage, accepting heritage conservation as an  integral part of the process of redeveloping and adapting heritage places. With few exceptions, they recognise the 'point of difference' heritage provides and have become cooperative and even eager to work with the Council to develop and refine proposals that involve changes to registered places. In recent years, numerous exemplars of best-practice adaptive re-use throughout the state have been delivered, with no more compelling evidence than the heritage-led transformation of Perth."

The Bill's objectives are stated as being, while having due regard for the "rights of property ownership", to:

  1.  to promote understanding and appreciation of Western Australia’s cultural heritage; and
  2.  to recognise the importance of places of cultural heritage significance and their stories in understanding the course of Western Australia’s history; and
  3.  to provide for the identification and documentation of Western Australia’s places of cultural heritage significance; and
  4.  to encourage and facilitate the conservation, continuing use, development and adaptive reuse of places of cultural heritage significance in ways that represent high standards of heritage conservation and are in harmony with cultural heritage values.

According to the Explanatory Memorandum the Bill ". . . reflects contemporary attitudes to heritage and modern heritage management practice" and anticipates ongoing change and encourages the use of heritage places as integral to vibrant communities. 

The Bill is also said to bring a new level of efficiency and transparency that has consultation and negotiation at its heart, rather than imposition and heavy-handed regulation, to achieve the goal of identifying, recognising and protecting Western Australia’s most precious heritage places for current and future generations.

Next Steps

As already indicated the Bill has reached 2nd reading stage and will continue to be debated in the coming parliamentary sitting days.

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Heritage Bill 2017 WA and explanatory memorandum as reported in the TimeBase LawOne Service

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