2nd Plunge Gillard
by Take the Plunge—Protect Australia's Heritage
The Hon. Julia Gillard MP
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Dear Prime Minister Gillard,
Support for the ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage
I am writing to request that the Australian Government ratify the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
It has been eleven years since the 2001 Convention was written. To date, 41 countries have ratified or accepted the Convention, which came into force on January 2, 2009. Previously the Australian Government had been a leading example for legislation that protected underwater cultural heritage (UCH), but now Australia has fallen behind international standards.
Australia was involved with the development and final form of the 2001 Convention. The principles of the Convention are:
To preserve underwater cultural heritage for the benefit of humanity;
To consider in-situ preservation as the first and preferred option;
To prevent commercial exploitation for trade, nor shall it be irretrievably dispersed;
That state parties should promote information sharing, training, technology transfer and raise public awareness concerning the significance of UCH.
These points are consistent with current practices and methods of protection and managing sites in Australia. Why are we not upholding standards that we helped to create?
The Australian Government’s ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention would have four key benefits:
To maintain Australia’s position as a world leader in UCH protection;
To benefit the management of shared heritage with international governments, as well as the management of Australian merchant vessels and warships lost in international and states’ coastal waters;
Include other sites and materials that need protection, such as submerged aircraft wrecks and their associated human remains, or indigenous landscapes;
And to meet Australia’s international obligations in the Asia/Pacific Region.
In 2009 the Department of Sustainability, Water, Population, Arts and Communities (SEWPAC) initiated a review of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. This prompted submissions from agencies, industrial partners and individuals with advice on amendments and overwhelming support for Australia becoming a signatory to the UNESCO 2001 Convention. Despite such a strong response, no progress has been made to change the Act to comply with the standards of the UNESCO 2001 Convention, and ratification has been confined to ‘consideration’.
Review of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 was overtaken by the independent review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC ACT) published on December 21, 2009. Although there was a strong focus on creating a leading example in the treatment of heritage, amendments did not concern ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention and hence failed in this endeavour. A following review of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 must consider amending legislation to enable ratification. This is the only way that Australia’s underwater heritage can be protected in its entirety.
This year Australia is commemorating the start of World War II in the Pacific. Australia’s largest contribution in this war was the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was the first naval battle in history where the action was fought entirely by aircraft. This Battle prevented the invasion of Japanese into northern Australia. Hundreds of aircraft wrecks resulted, but none of these are protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.
How can Australia commemorate the war, when we are not considering aircraft from this significant and important battle as protected underwater cultural heritage? Amending the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 to comply with the broader definition of heritage in the UNESCO 2001 Convention, which includes submerged aircraft, would solve this issue.
By ratifying the UNESCO 2001 Convention, Australia will have the opportunity to cooperate with other countries in the management of shared UCH. Australia would benefit from sharing UCH resources with other nations, as well as ensuring the protection of Australian heritage outside of our national waters.
An example of international co-operation benefiting underwater cultural heritage is the upcoming 300-year anniversary of the wrecking of Zuytdorp, a Dutch East India Company merchant vessel, off the Western Australian coast. This site is part of the Australian Netherlands Committee of Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS) international agreement, signed on November 6, 1972. ANCODS continues to succeed in research, sharing and disseminating information, education and community access. The UNESCO 2001 Convention encourages international cooperation and would benefit research and protection of Australia’s international underwater heritage.
On July 5, 2010, the Australian Underwater Cultural Heritage Intergovernmental Agreement was made to clarify the responsibilities of the Commonwealth, States and Territories in the protection of underwater cultural heritage. More importantly, it aims to meet international best practice in the protection of underwater cultural heritage as outlined in the Rules to the Annex of the UNESCO 2001 Convention. This is a vital step in the co-operation of all of the governing parties in Australia to protect all of Australia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage as outlined by the UNESCO 2001 Convention. However, it is not legally binding.
As a member of the public, I respectfully request for the Australian Government to amend and update the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, and ratify the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, so that all of our underwater cultural heritage can be protected.