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Annual Report 2000-01 on the operation of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 and the administration of the National Cultural Heritage Account

Commonwealth of Australia 2002
ISBN 0642548293


Publishing information

This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process
without prior written permission from the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Heritage. Requests and inquiries concerning
reproduction and rights should be addressed to:

The Secretary Department of the Environment and Heritage
GPO Box 787 Canberra ACT 2601
Telephone: 02 6274 2111 Facsimile: 02 6274 2095
Email: movable.heritage@

Produced by the Department of the Environment and Heritage.
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Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 2000 01 Financial Statements
Statement by the Departmental Secretary

Section 47 of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 requires an Annual Report to be prepared on the operation of the Act during each year.

The protection of movable cultural heritage function was transferred to the Department of the Environment and Heritage as a result of changes to Ministerial responsibilities following the 2001 Federal election. There were three financial transactions, providing funding totalling $251 000 from the Account at 30 June 2001. There were assets of $249 000, and no liabilities, at that date. There are no other matters required by Schedule 2 to the Finance Minister's Orders made under section 63 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 that require to be reported.

Roger Beale Secretary
20 April 2001

Purpose of the ACT

The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (the Act) regulates the export from Australia of cultural heritage objects. The purpose of the Act is to protect, for the benefit of the nation, objects the loss of which overseas would significantly diminish Australia's cultural heritage. The Act includes provisions that also allow Australia to respond to an official request by a foreign government to return objects that have been illegally exported from their country of origin.

The Act defines certain heritage objects as 'Australian protected objects' and implements a system of export permits. Some Australian protected objects of Aboriginal or Military heritage, or historical significance, cannot be granted a permit for export under any circumstance. Other Australian protected objects may be exported provided a permit has been obtained. Permits are granted by the responsible Minister, on the advice of the National Cultural Heritage Committee and Expert Examiners. Heritage objects located overseas may also be defined as Australian protected objects under the Act, and a Certificate of Exemption may be issued for such an Australian protected object to enter Australia and return overseas without restriction.

National Cultural Heritage Control List

The National Cultural Heritage Control List sets out the categories of objects classed as Australian protected objects and the criteria defining each of these categories. These criteria include historical association, cultural significance to Australia, representation in an < Australian public collection, age, and current financial thresholds.

The Control List includes Class A objects which cannot be granted a permit for export and Class B objects that may be granted a permit for export.

On 10 May 2001 the Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation refused an export permit for the left shoulder piece from the armour worn by Ned Kelly at the siege of Glenrowan on 28 June 1880. The Minister subsequently decided that because of the unique place of Kelly and the significance of his armour to Australians, that all pieces of the Kelly armour should be given the extra protection of reclassification as Class A objects under the Act. The amendment to the Regulations, to reclassify the Kelly armour as Class A objects within Part 9 of the National Cultural Heritage Control List, was signed by the Governor-General in Council on 28 June 2001.

Class A objects for which a permit cannot be granted, include:

  1. some of the most significant items of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage:

    - bark and log coffins;
    - human remains;
    - rock art;
    - dendroglyphs (carved burial and initiation trees); and
    - sacred and secret ritual objects.
  2. Victoria Crosses awarded to Australian recipients.
  3. The objects comprising the suit of armour worn by Ned Kelly at the event known as the siege of Glenrowan in 1880.

Class B objects which may be exported subject to a permit, include:
archaeological objects;

Liaison with Australian Customs Service (ACS)

During 2000— 01, there has been an increase in liaison between the Australian Customs Service and the Department on the protection of movable cultural heritage. With the assistance of Customs, a number of inquiries were undertaken in respect of objects being imported into Australia.

Following trials with Customs, a profiling program with the Customs's EXIT system has been instituted. Additionally, Departmental staff continued to provide input to the development of Customs's Cargo Management Re-engineering project.

National Cultural Heritage Account

The National Cultural Heritage Account was established under Section 5 of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Amendment Act 1999 and in accordance with the regulatory requirements of the Commonwealth Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. Its purpose is to facilitate the acquisition of Australian protected objects for display or safekeeping. A total of $500 000 was allocated during the 2000— 01 financial year and is expected to be maintained at this level over time.

During the year the following assistance was provided from the Account:

In addition, two other objects were under consideration at the close of the financial year.

Export Permit Applications

A total of 821 objects were assessed under 159 applications (including requests for letters of clearance) during 2000— 01. A statistical summary of all applications processed in 2000— 01 is at Appendix I. As in previous years, a range of material was included in the applications and these are listed at Appendix II.

There were 35 applications covering 38 objects under consideration at 1 July 2000 and 34 applications covering 74 objects still under active consideration at 30 June 2001.

Permits for permanent export

Permits were issued to permanently export 30 cultural heritage objects in 29 applications. In general, the exporters were seeking to either sell the objects on the international market, or to exchange the objects with overseas collectors.

Permits for temporary export

Permits were issued to allow the temporary export of 46 Australian protected objects for exhibition or assessment purposes covered by five applications. Included in these permits were:

Letters of clearance

A total of 88 Letters of Clearance were issued covering a total of 657 objects. These letters confirm that export permits are not required where objects do not fall within the Control List. Of the total, 31 Letters covering 342 objects resulted from Applications where the objects were found not to meet the Control List criteria and the Act did not apply to them. In addition, 57 Letters covering 315 objects were issued as a result of discussions with prospective applicants prior to the lodgement of a formal application, where it became evident that the objects would not meet the Control List criteria.

Applicants may obtain a preliminary assessment of certain natural science objects. Expert examiners have indicated that the vast
majority of these assessments relate to material that is of little or no scientific or cultural significance, or to material that is adequately represented in public collections by objects of equivalent quality. Where the object is assessed as being of little scientific or cultural significance a Letter of Clearance allowing its export is issued immediately by the expert examiner.

In cases where the object is assessed as being of high scientific or cultural significance and is not adequately represented in public collections, it is subject to the full assessment process, including consideration by the Committee.

Applications later withdrawn

Eight applications received were later withdrawn in the year under review.

Conditional permits

Three conditional permits were issued during 2000— 01.

A permit was granted for the export of a number of Aboriginal paintings on the condition that a high quality colour transparency of each of the paintings and, where applicable, historical documents relating to each work be forwarded to the Department for future research purposes. Under a standing agreement, the Australian National Museum holds these transparencies.

A permit was granted for the export of a quantity of rock from the Pilbara, believed to contain micro-fossils, on the condition that should such fossils be discovered that the rock be returned to Australia.

A permit was granted for the export of a number of carousel figures from the Victor Harbour carousel on the condition that photographs and historical documents relating to the figures be lodged with a South Australian collecting institution.

Certificates of Exemption

Ten Certificates of Exemption were issued during 2000— 01. Certificates of exemption allow Australian protected objects that are currently overseas, to be imported into Australia and subsequently re-exported. Owners of Australian protected objects located overseas are encouraged to repatriate them to Australia for display or sale. Objects imported for exhibition allow the Australian public access to elements of their cultural heritage that would otherwise be unavailable. Objects returned for sale provide opportunities for Australian residents to purchase and return these objects to the Australian domain. A certificate provides overseas owners with security that their objects can be re-exported on completion of the exhibition or if sale to a resident of Australia is unsuccessful.

As an example, during 2000— 01 Certificates of Exemption were issued for:

Refusal of Export Permits

Four applications for an export permit were refused during 2000— 01.

These were:

Object Date of decision

An Aboriginal painting: Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Painting -Untitled,

This is an important work by the artist, highlighting his personal development and demonstrating the religious knowledge of a young man under the instruction of Pintubi elders.

Very few works were produced by the artist during the early Papunya art movement of 1971 and 1972 and of these, only two of comparable significance are held in public collections in Australia. The export of this work would be a significant loss to
Australia's Aboriginal heritage, given the rarity and religious sensitivities associated with the imagery in this particular painting.


The 'Binya' meteorite

The Binya meteorite is unique as it is the only known specimen of a meteorite of this composition, and has been classified as an anomalous member of a rare type of meteorite, the IIIF Group.

The Minister's refusal of an export permit for the meteorite is being appealed before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.


A WWII Mk 21 Beaufighter aircraft

The aircraft is a rare and complete example of an Australian built aircraft representative of both Australia's military history and Australia's WW II industrial and technological manufacturing capacity. Of the remaining Australian built Mk 21 Beaufighters, this aircraft is the most complete existing example of the Beaufighter, and there are no complete Australian built Beaufighter aircraft in public collections in Australia. In addition, the aircraft has war memorial significance to 31 Squadron Association and its members.


The left shoulder guard from the armour of Ned Kelly

The story of the life and death of Ned Kelly is one of the wellsprings of Australian national identity, and the importance of the Kelly theme to the creative arts is well established and significant. Representations of Kelly have engaged some of Australia's most important intellectuals and creative artists in fields as diverse as art, opera, film, and historical scholarship. These representations of Kelly have consistently focussed on the armour worn at the siege of Glenrowan. This image of Kelly in armour is both historically important and a definitive reference point which is highly significant to broader Australian culture.


National Cultural Heritage Committee

The Act provides for the Minister to appoint the National Cultural Heritage Committee. The Committee is responsible for advising the Minister on permit applications and on the administration of the Act, including the National Cultural Heritage Control List, the Register of Expert Examiners, and the National Cultural Heritage Account.

Committee members are:

Dr Philip Jones, Senior Curator, Department of Anthropology, South Australian Museum, from 26 October 1995 (Chairperson).

Mr Roger McIlroy, Chairman and Managing Director of Christie's Australia, from 29 January 1996.

Dr Kenneth McNamara, Senior Curator, Invertebrate Paleontology, Western Australian Museum, from 26 October 1995.

Mr Simon Molesworth AM QC, Barrister-at-Law, Victoria, from 29 January 1996.

Professor Di Yerbury AM, Vice-Chancellor, Macquarie University, Sydney, from 12 October 2000.

Ms Deborah Tranter, Deputy Director, Cobb & Co Museum, Queensland, from 24 April 2000.

Ms Patricia Sabine, Director, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, from 27 April 2000.

Ms Brenda L Croft, Curator of Indigenous Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia, from 25 February 2000.

Ms Carol Henry, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Art Exhibitions Australia, NSW, from 15 February 2000.

Ms Jennifer Sanders, Associate Director, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, from 4 May 2000.

The Committee met in Canberra on 1 December 2000, 23 March 2001 and 27 June 2001, and via telephone conference on 13 October 2000, 6 December 2000, 8 December 2000 and 30 April 2001, to consider contentious applications and issues under the Act. In addition, a considerable amount of Committee business took place outside of the more formal meetings, including considering export applications and

making recommendations to the Minister. Committee-related expenditure for the 2000— 01 financial year, including travel for attendance at meetings and sitting fees, was $24

Register of Expert Examiners

The Register of expert examiners was maintained by the Committee in accordance with Section 22 of the Act. The Committee continually seeks to invite individuals with appropriate expertise to join the Register to ensure that it is balanced, comprehensive and representative.

The Committee wishes to express its sincere gratitude to the expert examiners, who do not receive remuneration, for giving the benefit of their wide experience and practical support throughout the year. Their specialised knowledge and advice in preparing reports for consideration by the Committee and the Minister are vital in the protection of Australia's significant movable cultural heritage.

Illegal Trade in Cultural Material and Overseas Requests for Return of Material Illegally Exported from the Country of Origin

During the year the Department continued to receive inquiries from within Australia and overseas regarding possible illegal imports. The Department worked in cooperation with the Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs Service officers to investigate these inquiries. Under the Act, objects illegally exported from another country into Australia contrary to cultural heritage laws of the country of origin, may be subject to seizure and forfeiture to the Commonwealth. Actions taken included negotiation with overseas governments on these cases.

In some of these cases the potential threat of legal action is enough to ensure that exporters obtain proper export clearances under cultural heritage laws to safeguard the national heritage interests of the country of origin. Where necessary, action is taken under the Act to seize illegally exported objects and return them to their country of origin. In other cases, seizure action proves unnecessary or inappropriate after the initial investigation. Each such case not only demonstrates the vigilance of Australian authorities and Australia's willingness as a good international neighbour to cooperate in protecting the national heritage of other countries, but also helps to improve public awareness of the importance of national cultural heritage.

As noted in last year's Annual Report the Department was involved in continuing investigations into approximately $4 million worth of ancient Greek ceramics allegedly stolen from museums in Greece and illegally exported to Australia in 1994. These objects were seized under the Act and at the conclusion of the investigations the Minister returned them to the representatives of the Government of Greece in Melbourne in July 2000. The return attracted widespread media attention within Greece and Australia.

The Department was also involved during the year in the seizure of 71 939 pieces of early nineteenth century Chinese Swatow porcelain, salvaged from the wreck of the vessel Tek Sing in Indonesian waters. Negotiations in respect to these ceramics were still being conducted at the close of 2000— 01.

The UNESCO Convention

There are 91 states party to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970). The Act was passed as the necessary implementing legislation prior to Australia's accession to the Convention, which occurred on 30 January 1990.

Administration and Staffing

Financial and staffing details relating to the administration of the Act are contained in the 2000— 01 Annual Report of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

Appendix 1

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