House debates

Wednesday, 28 March 2018


Underwater Cultural Heritage Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:28 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will continue the policy framework of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, but broaden it to extend protection to all Australia's underwater cultural heritage. The Historic Shipwrecks Act is to be repealed. The bill clarifies present and future jurisdictional arrangements for protecting and managing aircraft and other underwater cultural heritage consistent with the 2010 Australian Underwater Cultural Heritage Intergovernmental Agreement.

For the first time it gives distinct recognition to discovered human remains. It also recognises the important role of the public in underwater cultural heritage. It strengthens the regulatory framework for better day-to-day protection of sites and associated articles.

Several key policy elements in the bill result from public feedback given during a review of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and Australia's consideration of ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The bill is consistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and positions us to participate in the global community's response to threats to underwater cultural heritage. Participation would give Australia an international legal basis for protecting our underwater and shared underwater cultural heritage outside 24 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline but in the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, such as the recently located USS Lexington, which was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942.

Subject to consultation with the relevant coastal state, this bill enables the protection of underwater cultural heritage significant to Australia that is located outside of Australian jurisdictional waters, such as HMAS AE1 in Papua New Guinea. It also regulates actions by Australians on these sites by permit.

Other policy elements continuing from the 1976 act include the capacity to give effect to the 1972 Agreement between the Netherlands and Australia Concerning Old Dutch Shipwrecks, mandatory reporting of new discoveries, and retaining the delegated framework that has enabled effective collaborative administration with the states and the Northern Territory since 1983.

All shipwrecks that have been under water for 75 years remain protected, and this level of protection will now be extended to sunken aircraft and their associated articles. Shipwrecks and aircraft that have been under water less than 75 years and other types of underwater cultural heritage can be protected through individual declarations based on an assessment of heritage significance.

Consistent with recommendations from the 2015 review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, this bill enables the regulation of Australian and foreign persons in regard to importing and exporting protected underwater cultural heritage.

In line with the government's commitment to minimising regulatory burden, this bill simplifies the sale or transfer of protected articles by introducing a transferable permit.

The bill also aligns with government compliance policy, strengthening and broadening the range of investigation and enforcement powers, and includes a graduated approach to compliance and enforcement to better protect underwater cultural sites.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.