The Register of the National Estate was closed in 2007 and is no longer a statutory list. All references to the Register of the National Estate were removed from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) on 19 February 2012.
The expiration or repeal of parts of the EPBC Act and the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003 relating to the Register of the National Estate does not diminish protection of Commonwealth heritage places.
These parts have been superseded by stronger ongoing heritage protection provisions under national environment law.
The Register of the National Estate (RNE) is now an archive of information about more than 13,000 places throughout Australia.
The RNE was originally established under the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 (repealed). Under that Act, the former Australian Heritage Commission entered more than 13,000 places in the register, including many places of local or state significance.
The Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 provided a basic level of statutory protection for places in the RNE, limited to actions by the Commonwealth. Commonwealth agencies were required to avoid taking actions that would adversely affect places in the RNE, unless there was no feasible and prudent alternative.
A new national heritage system
In 1997 the Council of Australian Governments agreed that heritage listing and protection should be the responsibility of the level of government best placed to deliver agreed outcomes. It was agreed that the Commonwealth's involvement in environmental matters should focus on matters of national environmental significance, including World Heritage properties and places of national significance. Each state, territory and local government has a similar responsibility for its own heritage.
This led to the creation of two new heritage lists in 2003. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) the National Heritage List includes places of outstanding heritage value to the nation, and the Commonwealth Heritage List includes heritage places owned or controlled by the Commonwealth.
The protection of heritage places for which the Australian Government is responsible continues under the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act not only protects heritage from actions by the Commonwealth, it protects places in the National Heritage List, in the Commonwealth Heritage List, and on Commonwealth land. All proponents, not just the Commonwealth, are required to seek approval for actions that could have a significant impact on the heritage values of these places.
Closure of the Register
Following the 1997 agreement, there was a significant level of overlap between the RNE and heritage lists at the national, state and territory, and local government levels. In line with the 1997 agreement, the Australian Government has phased out the RNE as a statutory list. In 2003 the Australian Parliament passed legislation to repeal the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975, which established the RNE,and to introduce a new system of heritage protection for nationally significant places under the EPBC Act and the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003. In 2006 the EPBC Act and the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003 were amended to freeze the RNE and to provide for a five-year phasing out of statutory references to the RNE.
As a result of these changes to legislation:
- On 1 January 2004 the responsibility for the RNE was transferred from the former Australian Heritage Commission to the Australian Heritage Council.
- On 19 February 2007 places could no longer be added to, or removed from, the RNE.
- On 19 February 2012 all references to the RNE were removed from the EPBC Act and the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003.
The RNE is maintained on a non-statutory basis as a publicly available archive and educational resource.
Protection of places in the Register
The existence of an entry for a place in the RNE does not in itself create a requirement to protect the place under Commonwealth law. Nevertheless, information in the register may continue to be current and may be relevant to statutory decisions about protection.
RNE places can be protected under the EPBC Act if they are also included in another Commonwealth statutory heritage list or are owned or leased by the Commonwealth. For example, RNE places owned or leased by the Commonwealth are protected from any action likely to have a significant impact on the environment.
In addition, places in the RNE may be protected under appropriate state, territory or local government heritage legislation.