Australian Heritage Strategy: AICCM's response 2014

This is AICCM's response to the Australian Heritage Strategy Public Consultation Paper. More information can be found on the government's website.

Download the full document [pdf version]

SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS 

  • RECOMMENDATION ONE (Section 3) That the DSEWPC clarifies its concept and management of heritage as being limited to immovable built and natural heritage and the intangible heritage relationships that accompany these. This revision will help to clarify the current Federal policy vacuum surrounding the preservation of movable cultural heritage across public and private collections. 
  • RECOMMENDATION TWO (Section 3) Alternatively, the AHS may seek to include moveable cultural heritage as part of its mandate in an effort to provide a platform by which moveable cultural material will be independently recognised as a form of heritage to be celebrated and managed accordingly. 
  • RECOMMENDATION THREE (Section 3.1) That the AHS recognises the leadership role that professional cultural heritage bodies currently play in setting standards for heritage activities and preservation in Australia. 
  • RECOMMENDATION FOUR (Section 4) That the DSEWPC seek to align its activities with allied government agencies (including Australia Council, Office of the Arts and Department of Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education) to address issues relevant to moveable heritage. 
  • RECOMMENDATION FIVE (Section 5) That the AHS ensure the development of a collaborative industry environment. A move towards skill and knowledge sharing and collaborative engagement is essential in a resource-constrained environment.  

1. Introduction

The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Strategy for Australia’s Heritage. We have long felt that the lack of such a strategy, one covering heritage of all types, has been a major omission. We agree with many of the observations and recommendations presented in the document, but also have significant concerns.

2. About the organisation

The Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) was established in 1976. It is a non-profit organisation concerned with the conservation, preservation and provision of access to Australia’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Our membership includes over 550 professional conservators working in galleries, libraries, archives, museums and private practices across the country and internationally as well as allied professionals such as archivists, architects, curators, librarians and volunteers.

AICCM is committed to preserving our tangible and intangible heritage to enable our nation’s stories to be told. We aim to preserve significant objects from the past and present, which is an investment for the future. It is through these objects that we can share our knowledge, experience and assist others to care for their heritage. This is demonstrated by the work we have done in the past. For example, as part of the Heritage Collections Committee (HCC) Conservation and Collection Management Working Party, AICCM members were instrumental in developing a range of policies and publications that ensured long-term preservation of Australia’s Cultural Heritage. These documents include:

  • Heritage Collections Committee and Cultural Ministers Council, National Conservation and Preservation Policy for Movable Cultural Heritage, Canberra, 1995.
  • Cultural Ministers Council and Heritage Collections Council, National Conservation and Preservation Policy and Strategy: Australia's heritage collections, Commonwealth Department of Communication and the Arts, Canberra, 1998.
  • A number of publications focused on collections management and care as part of the Heritage Collections Council. They are: Significance (2001), Significance 2.0 (2009), re-Collections (1998) Be Prepared (2000) and Guidelines for Environmental Control in Cultural Institutions (2002).

Many of our members are represented on national and international conservation bodies including AusHeritage and ICOM-CC.

3. Comments on the draft

The draft Strategy for Australia’s Heritage clearly aims to represent the needs of all types of heritage. The full spectrum of cultural heritage is shown in a graphic on page 12; from tangible to intangible, movable to immovable. However, in its detail, the strategy significantly neglects the area of tangible, moveable heritage across public and private collections.

This is reinforced when looking at the images incorporated in the document which focus on   natural landscapes or historical sites. There are no images of art galleries, museums, archives or libraries; all of which hold important parts of Australia’s cultural heritage. 

Specific comments are as follows:

  • We feel that the differences between moveable and immoveable, tangible and intangible heritage are of such magnitude that it is difficult to encompass them in one document.
  • We feel that the Department of the Environment should consider its responsibilities in relation to different types of heritage. It may be more appropriate to limit its responsibilities to immovable built and natural heritage and the intangible heritage relationships that accompany these.
  • We feel that moveable and tangible heritage may be better served in another portfolio. The current candidate would be the Ministry for the Arts, under the Attorney General’s Department where the bulk of our national collecting institutions are located. Their website already includes information relating to just such a function.
  • Alternatively, the Department of the Environment could assume responsibility for all types of cultural heritage. This would require a stronger emphasis on moveable and tangible heritage in the responsibilities of the Department, and in this Heritage Strategy. It would also require that the Department of the Environment to align its activities with other government agencies working in the area of moveable cultural heritage:  Ministry for the Arts, Australia Council for the Arts, National Cultural Heritage Committee, Department of Education and the Australian Research Council.
  • We suggest that the Strategy for Australia’s Heritage recognises the leadership role that professional cultural heritage bodies, such as the AICCM and ICOMOS, currently play in setting standards for heritage activities and preservation in Australia.
  • We suggest that the Strategy for Australia’s Heritage ensure the development of a collaborative industry environment. A move towards skill and knowledge sharing and collaborative engagement is essential in a resource-constrained environment.
  • We suggest that the Strategy for Australia’s Heritage recognises Conservators as key members of Australia’s heritage community. They are currently omitted from the list on p14 of the document.
  • We suggest that the document acknowledges the large number of commitments and initiatives currently in place in relation to Australia’s  moveable heritage. The example given – the loan of a Matthew Flinders map from the UK - is not an example of part of Australia’s moveable cultural heritage, being owned by a foreign body. Projects aimed at the preservation of Australian-owned Heritage would be better included, for example the Community Heritage Grants program funded by the Ministry for the Arts.
  • We suggest that the document include a discussion of the need for appropriate training in the field of cultural heritage management and conservation. This would include a commitment to the maintenance of suitable courses at the tertiary level, such as those at the University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra. Without such courses our heritage professionals will not be able to gain appropriate grounding in conservation issues, ethics and practices.
  • We suggest that the Green Army proposal be reworked in order to ensure that only appropriate projects are included. Projects to be considered for the scheme should be of a suitable level of complexity and sensitivity as to be safely handled by unskilled persons. Any project that involves the conservation or restoration of a significant element of cultural heritage should be excluded from the program as such work should be carried out by trained professionals who understand the specific needs of the material in question.

Need more information? Contact Ian Batterham