AHAA 2022 Victorian Election Campaign

The 2022 Victorian Election presents a critical opportunity for heritage stakeholders and heritage enthusiasts all around Victoria to influence the State political agenda.

Land Titles Office Melbourne. Fending off inappropriate redevelopment plans in 2022.

Across the political spectrum, elections effectively focus the attention of political parties and aspirant candidates upon matters which they perceive aware will resonate with the voters.

The 2022 Victorian State Election is scheduled to be held on 26 November 2022 to elect the 60th Parliament of Victoria. All 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and all 40 seats in the Legislative Council (upper house) will be up for election. In total 128 seats.

The AHAA (Victoria) Campaign aims to make sure all State candidates are aware of key heritage issues.

AHAA is determined to ensure that heritage issues are firmly on the policy agenda of ALL political parties and on the personal ‘radar’ of ALL candidates competing in the electorates across Victoria.

A reminder that AHAA is an ‘alliance’ of those for whom heritage really matters and is not aligned with any political party. 

AHAA is determined to:

  • Raise awareness of all candidates in the 2022 Victorian State Election that Heritage Assets may have cultural, environmental, economic
  • Advocate for the formation of a State Ministry for Heritage
  • Advocate for additional sources of funding heritage projects including the establishment of Victorian Heritage Lottery and Foundation so that the preservation of Victoria’s Heritage Assets is properly funded

AHAA recognises the unique importance of Indigenous heritage assets to their communities. Although such heritage assets are respected and valued by all citizens, protection, and conservation of these assets must be guided by the views of Indigenous communities.

There is unquestionably widespread public alarm about heritage loss, and there is widespread support for this policy shift among heritage stakeholders nationally. The media reports heritage degradation with depressing regularity. Let’s ensure political aspirants and representatives in the 2022 Victorian State election grasp this urgent necessity before more heritage assets are irrevocably squandered due to ignorance and political apathy.

Context

Currently the disparity between States and Territories in relation to identification, preservation and funding of heritage assets exacerbates heritage loss across the nation. There are numerous determinants which result in inconsistent standards of identification, preservation and funding of our nationl heritag asset base is inconsistent.

Regrettably, post 2022 Federal election, there is an apparent resistance to incorporating the word ‘Heritage’ into the title of the relevant Ministerial portfolio title. This indicates the low level of ministerial engagement with heritage issues, Although some States and Territories have acknowledged the value of Heritage in this way, Victoria has not. There is a failure to acknowledge the significance or value of ‘Heritage’ in Victoria and this is a persistent problem.

State Comparisons in Acknowledging Heritage

ACT  has a Minister for Heritage and the Environment.No Lottery

NSW has a Minister for Environment and Heritage. No Lottery.

Note: Sydney Opera House was built with the proceeds of a State Lottery. National Trust (NSW) states on the review of the State legislation ‘Other tax concessions and funding could and should be possible for heritage, but it is unclear how the Heritage Act itself could facilitate such change. Numerous schemes, from the expansion of the NSW Historic Houses Trust’s “Endangered Houses Fund”, through to the UK’s “Heritage Lottery” scheme could all be readily implemented without legislative change. Indeed, these programs have long been advocated for over two decades, and the Heritage Office itself has undertaken many research programs into their feasibility – it is not so much about “what could we do” but “will we actually do it?” It would appear that, as far as the Heritage Act is concerned, the granting of concessions or assistance hinges on one key fact: whether an item is eligible – that is, whether it is listed or not.’

Northern Territory has a Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and a Minister for Desert Knowledge. No Lottery.

Queensland    No reference to the term ‘Heritage’ on a Ministerial level except for the Ministry of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. Other Heritage matters lie with Ministry of the Environment & Great Barrier Reef and within  the  Dept of Environment and Science. No Lottery. Note: In 2019 National Trust (Qld) called on the State govt to establish a Heritage Lottery.

South Australia  No reference to the term ‘Heritage’ on a Ministerial level . Heritage matters sit within Dept of Environment and Water. No Lottery.

Tasmania has a Minister for Heritage . No. Lottery. Note: In 2016 a submission to an Upper House inquiry to help fund heritage sites preserve and restore Tasmanian heritage sites was proposed.

Western Australia has a Ministry for Culture and the Arts, Sport and Recreation; International Education and  Heritage. WA also has a Dept. of Planning Lands and Heritage and the State Lottery successfully delivers a stream of heritage funding eg. 2021  $2.8 million was  granted to the National Trust of Australia WA for Heritage projects and events,

Victorian Context

Unlike several other States and Territories in Australia, Victoria has no dedicated Ministry of Heritage. The word ‘Heritage’ in any ministerial portfolio title is absent indicating its relative lack of status.

In Victoria the Planning and Environment Act 1987  governs ‘Heritage’ matters and the  Minister for Planning is responsible for heritage matters. There are inherent flaws in this structure. There is an inevitable ‘tension’ between, planning and developments and  heritage preservation.   When ‘tensions’ arise, well-funded development, chronically under-funded Heritage advocacy groups and inadequate legislation means that heritage considerations rarely prevail. The State Government is well aware of this ‘tension’ between heritage preservation and relentless development.  Mechanisms to ostensibly establish equitable grounds for development decision-making fail regularly. Base-level of heritage protection is yet to be achieved across Victoria: 4% of councils were yet to complete a stage 2 heritage study; nearly 10% were yet to translate any studies into the Heritage Overlay; and nearly 20% identified geographic gaps in their studies. 

Heritage policy and Planning policy reform is entwined. Both underpin and are failing heritage preservation in Victoria. Increasingly developers seek ways, to exploit the planning and heritage laws, to achieve permit conditions more favourable to their projects and generally with scant regard for heritage. Although Councils are the responsible authorities on local planning and heritage laws including  local design overlays, and heritage overlays,  developers may  simply by-pass Councils.  Developers may directly lobby for permit decision via a Ministerial Call-in. The process directing Ministerial Call-in decisions on developments requires referral to Councils for comment only. There is tension in Victoria between the widely understood economic ‘value ‘ of development and absence of understanding of the ‘value’ in heritage assets – economic, cultural and economic ‘value’ of heritage preservation. Where development applications are initially made to and are rejected by Councils, developers may pursue their application further by seeking a Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) Hearing and Panel review.  Developers then hire planning and legal expertise to argue the matter at VCAT. Council pragmatism generally prevails. Councils are aware that to defend any decision to reject a development may a be contested at VCAT  and may entail costs for planning and legal expertise which they can ill afford whereas developers absorb this as a ‘cost of doing business’. When community and residents advocating in support of heritage protection contest inappropriate development at VCAT by they personally absorb costs.

 Heritage policy reform in Victoria clearly has tremendous support across the community. Yet successive State Governments have demonstrated consistent ambivalence towards heritage asset loss and a consistent agenda prioritising property development. No surprise then  that Victoria has no Ministry of Heritage nor Heritage Lottery. Without a dedicated Ministry of Heritage there is no ‘ministerial champion’ for heritage preservation or adequate funding.

It takes a lot to trigger heritage policy reform. Regrettably Victoria experienced such a ‘trigger’, The blatantly unlawful demolition of a heritage hotel in Carlton,  in 2021 triggered the Legislative Council Environment and Planning Standing Committee to launch an Inquiry to examine Planning and Environment Act 1987”  – in effect to investigate Protections within the Victorian Planning Framework.  The Inquiry elicited an avalanche of 260 submissions, each submission representing the output multiple stakeholder consultations. The submissions put forward, not only criticism, but also a range of practical ameliorative proposals. 

While local heritage outcomes are ultimately dependent on council action, this does not absolve responsibility at the state government level. The State Government must ensure that councils observe their responsibilities under the Planning and Environment Act and it has an ongoing leadership role in improving the local heritage system. As such, the Interim Report recommended one major strategic initiative— to revitalise of the State’s role in providing leadership in the protection and management of local heritage—supported by three principal pillars: 

  1. establishment of dedicated local heritage roles within DELWP to provide necessary focused leadership and direction 
  2. creation and maintenance of a centralised, up to date repository of clear and consistent guidance material 
  3. provision of direct support and assistance to ensure base-level heritage studies are completed and translated into the planning scheme. 
  4. A more comprehensive program of incentives for the conservation of both
    state and local heritage places should be developed, and could be funded by a heritage lottery along the lines of Lotterywest or the UK Heritage Lottery Fund. Establishment of a heritage lottery should be investigated as a matter of priority. 

In July 2022, the Interim Report this ground-breaking Inquiry were released, This induced widespread heritage stakeholder frustration and alarm when it was  strategically shelved by the State Government to be potentially re-visited after the November State Election.  As National Trust (Vic) stated “increased development pressures, the growing impacts of climate change, and an increased emphasis on fast-tracked planning approvals, the heritage places and environmental assets that make Victoria special are under threat. The core problem is continued inaction”. This ‘shelving’ is further inaction. See https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/fear-of-public-input-anger-as-planning-system-inquiry-delayed-20220321-p5a6ed.htmlSee. https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/initiatives/have-your-say-2022-victorian-parliamentary-inquiry-into-heritage-protections/

The infamous Corkman Hotel demolition incident also   triggered legislative action by the State Government in 2021.  New provisions under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 were introduced  to strengthen Victoria’s building system and provide greater protection for heritage listed places. Importantly the provisions also regulated the development of land where a heritage building has been unlawfully demolished – in whole or in part – or left to fall into disrepair. But alas – the Corkman has gone! Again – too little too late.

Register Your Interest

Register to become part of the Australian Heritage Advocacy Alliance – simply email your contact details to: info@ahaa.net.au