Historic cultural heritage is looked after by all levels of government in Australia (local, state and national) and each has different responsibilities. Other groups also protect Australia's cultural heritage including the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Burra Charter.

Heritage Victoria explains the difference between state and local listings.

Current legislation and protections

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

Heritage Overlays are one of the planning controls local councils can use and include places of local heritage significance as well as heritage precincts. You can view overlays at Planning Maps Online

The Heritage Act 2017 (the Act) is administered by Heritage Victoria and is the Victorian Government's main cultural heritage legislation

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

  • archaeological sites and artefacts
  • historic buildings, structures and precincts
  • gardens, trees and cemeteries
  • cultural landscapes
  • shipwrecks and artifacts
  • significant objects.

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

It also establishes a legislative framework for heritage protection in Victoria, replacing the Heritage Act 1995, Historic Buildings Act 1981, the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 and part of the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1971.

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 Aboriginal Victoria

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 Burra Charter outlines best practice standards for managing cultural heritage places, based on the knowledge and experience of Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) members.

The Charter sets standards for anyone who provides advice, makes decisions about or undertakes works to places of cultural significance, including owners, managers and custodians.

Department of the Environment

The Commonwealth Department of the Environment administers the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999, and develops and implements national policy, programs and legislation to protect and conserve Australia's natural environment and cultural heritage.

The Australian Heritage Council assesses whether a nominated place has heritage values based on the National Heritage List criteria 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 Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999. Heritage places can be on one or both lists:

  • National Heritage List: a register of places of outstanding Indigenous, historic and/or natural heritage values

Commonwealth List: a register of important Commonwealth-owned places.

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.


The World Heritage Convention has been ratified (agreed to) by 185 countries. All of these countries can nominate sites within their borders for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Each nomination is assessed by the:

The site is assessed against the Operational Guidelines which establish the outstanding universal value of the site. If the site passes the assessment, the World Heritage Committee - made up of 21 State Parties to the Convention - makes the final decision on whether a site should be included in the List.

Sites on the World Heritage List

There are over 1000 properties on the World Heritage List. They represent the cultural and natural heritage the World Heritage Committee considers to have outstanding universal value.

In June 2004, Victoria's Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was added to the World Heritage List as Australia's first built heritage site of outstanding universal value. In 2007 the Sydney Opera House became Australia's second built heritage site to be added.

Maritime heritage legislation

Shipwrecks are protected in Victoria under the Heritage Act 2017 and the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976

The offences and fines that apply under the Heritage Act 1995 are outlined in the Heritage Underwater Cultural Heritage Regulations 2017

All shipwrecks and shipwreck artifacts 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.


Heritage Victoria administers the historic shipwreck and artefact provisions of the Heritage Act. We also manage underwater aircraft crash sites. The Act applies to all shipwrecks and artefacts in Victorian State waters, including bays, harbours and rivers such as Port Phillip Bay, Gippsland Lakes and the Goulburn River.

The Executive Director, Heritage Victoria, is the Victorian Delegate responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. This Act applies to all shipwrecks and artifacts that lie in Commonwealth waters around the Victorian coastline.


The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 was developed after the discovery of the shipwreck of City of Launceston in 1980. The 1863 steamship was found virtually intact and was the first wreck to be listed and protected under the state Act.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 has now been amended and incorporated into the Victorian Heritage Act 2017.

Page last updated: 11/06/19