Heritage Legislation

Historic cultural heritage is looked after by all levels of government in Australia (local, state and national). They have different roles in identifying, managing and protecting heritage places and objects. Their responsibilities are explained below.

This page also explains the role of other groups that protect Australia’s cultural heritage, including the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Burra Charter.

Read more about the differences between local and state heritage listing.


Planning and Environment Act 1987

All municipalities in Victoria are covered by land use planning controls, which are prepared and administered by state and local government authorities. The legislation governing such controls is the Planning and Environment Act 1987 as amended in 2000.

Heritage Overlays are one such planning control. Heritage Overlays include places of local heritage significance as well as heritage precincts.


Heritage Act 2017

The Heritage Act 2017 is administered by Heritage Victoria and the Heritage Council of Victoria. It is the Victorian Government’s key cultural heritage legislation.

The Act identifies and protects heritage places and objects that are of significance to Victoria, including:

  • historic archaeological sites and artefacts
  • historic buildings, structures and precincts
  • gardens, trees and cemeteries
  • cultural landscapes
  • shipwrecks and artefacts
  • significant objects
  • objects associated with a place.

The Act establishes the Victorian Heritage Register, the Heritage Inventory and the Heritage Council of Victoria.

The Heritage Act 2017 replaces the Heritage Act 1995, which established a legislative framework for heritage protection in Victoria that replaced the Historic Buildings Act 1981, the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 and part of the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1971.

Maritime heritage legislation

Shipwrecks are protected in Victoria under the Heritage (Underwater Cultural Heritage) Regulations 2017 and the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

All shipwrecks and shipwreck relics in Victorian waters that are at least 75 years old are protected by these two laws. Some shipwrecks less than 75 years old can also be protected. Both laws are administered by the Maritime Heritage Unit, Heritage Victoria.

Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 links the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria with planning and land development processes.

Aboriginal heritage places are not always identified within Heritage Overlay controls so check first with your local council. You can find out whether there is an Aboriginal place recorded on your property by contacting the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council was established in 2007, under this Act, an independent statutory body.  They are supported by the Office of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.

This Act replaced Part IIA of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Victorian Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972.


The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is administered by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. The Department develops and implements national policy, programs and legislation to protect and conserve Australia’s natural environment and cultural heritage.

The Australian Heritage Council uses criteria to assess whether a nominated place has heritage values and makes a recommendation to the Minister. The Minister for the Environment makes the final decision on listing.

The Department of the Environment also administers the Australian Heritage Database.

National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists

The National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists were established in January 2004 with the amendment of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The National Heritage List is a register of places of outstanding Indigenous, historic and/or natural heritage values.

The Commonwealth Heritage List is a register of important Commonwealth-owned places. Heritage places can be on one or both lists.

Burra Charter

Conservation is an integral part of the management of places of cultural significance and is an ongoing responsibility.

The Burra Charter provides guidance for the conservation and management of places of cultural significance (cultural heritage places). It is based on the knowledge and experience of Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) members. ICOMOS is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation of cultural heritage professionals formed as a national chapter of ICOMOS International in 1976.

The Charter sets a standard of practice for those who provide advice, make decisions about or undertake works to places of cultural significance, including owners, managers and custodians.


The UNESCO World Heritage List is a list of places of outstanding cultural and natural heritage that are considered to have importance for all humankind.

The list is established under the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by UNESCO in November 1972.

In Victoria, there are two World Heritage listed sites: The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens (added in 2004), and the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape (added in 2019).