Today marks the 10th anniversary since 11 Australian convict sites were listed by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the first structures of this kind in Australia to receive this level of recognition and protection.
The 11 convict sites were nominated for World Heritage listing by Labor in 2008.
The anniversary should provoke the Morrison Government to consider the scope of unmet basic conservation and restoration work attached to these places of internationally significant heritage and dark history. Indeed, according to the management plans for the convict sites there is more than $33 million needed for fundamental conservation work, without which there will a larger bill for running maintenance in the longer term.
Currently the Government spends $5.3 million each year through the Australian Heritage Grant programme which is required to support projects across a pool of 117 nationally listed natural, cultural, and built sites.
Yet the recent independent review of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which comprises some of Australia’s most famous and precious national historical sites, identified $47 million in what it has deemed as “urgent repairs and maintenance” across the estate, which includes the world-listed convict site Cockatoo Island. In Western Australia the McGowan government is contributing $3.5 million to works at Fremantle Prison, but more than $10 million of basic conservation has been identified.
Taking care of our natural and cultural heritage is essential to shaping, understanding, and reconciling our national identity. It’s how we connect our history in all its complexity and diversity to the physical world.
Today’s anniversary should also be a reminder that history and heritage are foundation stones of our tourism sector. At a time of sharp impacts across our economy, investing in well-framed conservation work will support jobs and skills in a sector of the workforce that has declined, and create better visitor attractions for tourism in recovery. During the global financial crisis, heritage work was the focus of a specific and successful funding program.
Ten years after the World Heritage listing of the convict sites the Morrison Government should be prepared to work with state and territory governments on plans for job creation and shared funding that will ensure the sustainability and conservation of these sites.