Part 1: Introduction and Methodology

1.1 Introduction

The Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) process, agreed by governments as part of the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS), requires an assessment of all forest values prior to the development of Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs). These agreements are intended to provide the basis for ensuring that the full range of obligations and interests of both Commonwealth and State governments are met in relation to the protection of forest values and the sustainable use and development of forest resources.

In accordance with the Commonwealth's obligations under the World Heritage Convention, there is a requirement to identify and assess World Heritage values. In the case of forested areas this obligation is being undertaken as part of the RFA process. A methodology for assessment of these values has been discussed between the Commonwealth and the States. The methodology is based on current knowledge and expertise and its application in the CRA context is directed primarily at forested areas. The methodology is outlined below.

1.2 Thematic Methodology for World Heritage Assessment

Places on the World Heritage List are defined as those which have outstanding universal value. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in evaluating whether a place nominated to the World Heritage List has outstanding universal value, uses a short-hand way of considering this level of significance by asking `is this place the "best of the best" in the world?'

The methodology used for World Heritage assessment in the RFA process is based on a thematic approach to identifying this level of value. To be consistent with the work of the World Heritage Committee, and to ensure that it is indeed working at the level of outstanding universal value, the following question is posed continuously when working through the methodology - `are we dealing with the "best of the best" of its kind in the world?'

The framework on which the methodology is based was originally developed by Domicelj, Halliday and James (1992) and is outlined in their report entitled Framework for the assessment of Australia's cultural properties against the World Heritage Criteria. The thematic approach is consistent with those being used globally to assess World Heritage value. While the original Domicelj et al. (1992) study concentrated on places with cultural values, the methodology is a generic one and has been adapted for the forest World Heritage work to assess outstanding universal natural value as well as cultural value.

The thematic methodology represents a systematic, comparative and efficient means for identifying places that meet the criteria and operational guidelines of the World Heritage Convention. The methodology assesses significance by developing themes of outstanding universal value and then testing places against these by working through a series of steps, which include tests drawn from the Operational Guidelines for the World Heritage Convention. A sieve model is used and places which do not meet particular tests of significance, integrity and authenticity are discarded at various steps. The steps in the thematic methodology are summarised below:

Step A Identify themes of outstanding universal value relating to natural and cultural values of terrestrial Australia.

Step B Identify places in forested areas where further work is needed to determine whether they are best global expressions of the themes of outstanding universal value.

Step C Determine, with reference to the World Heritage criteria, which of those places identified in Step B have integrity and authenticity, and identify existing legal protection and management mechanisms.

Step D Evaluate the significant places selected in Step C by consideration of their global context, and identify those essential and/or integral to a theme of outstanding universal value.

Step E Assess the places selected in Step D against the definitions in Articles 1 and 2 of the World Heritage Convention and the criteria in paragraphs 24 (a) and 44 (a) of the Operational Guidelines

Application of the thematic methodology in the RFA process has involved the use of an Expert Panel to undertake Steps A and B. The Expert Panel advises governments of themes of outstanding universal value, and of forested places that require further assessment as possible best global expressions of the themes.

Places identified in Step B might not in themselves have World Heritage values. Only places that meet the requirements of all of the steps of the methodology, including the final step involving a formal assessment against the criteria, and operational guidelines, are likely to have World Heritage value.

The further steps of the methodology (Steps C, D and E) will be undertaken at a later date, as RFAs are completed and joint assessment processes are agreed between the Commonwealth and relevant State Governments.

None of the places identified by Steps B - E fulfil the definition of `identified property' in the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983. The Attorney-General's Department advised the Commonwealth's World Heritage Unit in correspondence of 7 June 1996 that "the mere application of any or all stages of the methodology to a place will not make that place `identified property' for the purposes of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983. The Act will not be capable of applying to a place solely by reason of the application of the above steps of the methodology."

A more detailed outline of the methodology for World Heritage assessment is at Attachment 1.

1.3 Approaches to World Heritage Assessment

The methodology summarised in the previous section and in Attachment 1 has been developed to provide governments with a rigorous and systematic approach to identifying World Heritage values in the context of the RFA process. Its application involves identification of possible places of outstanding universal value in Australia's forested areas, as part of the work being undertaken to develop Regional Forest Agreements for particular states or regions.

The context for the use of the methodology is therefore confined to terrestrial areas of Australia that are defined as forested. The definition of "forest", as agreed by Governments in the National Forest Policy Statement, was used as the basis for identifying forested areas for World Heritage Assessments, viz:

"an area, incorporating all living and non-living components, that is dominated by trees having usually a single stem and a mature or potentially mature stand height exceeding 5 metres, and with existing or potential projective cover of overstorey strata about equal to or greater than 30 per cent. This definition includes Australia's diverse native forests and plantations, regardless of age. It is also sufficiently broad to encompass areas of trees that are sometimes described as woodlands. The focus of this Statement excludes woodlands". (National Forest Policy Statement p.47).

Many other parts of Australia have important values which may be outstanding in a global context; these include the drier areas which comprise the majority of the terrestrial parts of the continent, as well as the extensive marine areas surrounding the continent and its islands. The assessment of possible World Heritage values in these non-forest areas of Australia is outside the scope of the advice to be provided by the Expert Panel

The Panel has been advised that the thematic methodology outlined in this report is being used by governments in addition to the approaches that have been traditionally used for identifying and assessing possible World Heritage places. Its use has not replaced any of these processes; nor is it the intention of governments that it should. The methodology being used in the context of the RFA process is only one of the approaches being used by the Commonwealth Government to ensure the protection of Australia's World Heritage values, as part of meeting its obligations under the World Heritage Convention and the World Heritage Properties Protection Act 1983.

The application of the methodology outlined in subsequent sections of this report, and in the two previous reports of the Expert Panel, is confined to identifying places of possible outstanding universal value in forested areas. This application of the methodology does not extend to reviewing the values of Australia's currently listed World Heritage Areas, nor does it encompass any work to consider the integrity of these World Heritage Areas, including issues associated within their boundaries.

1.4 The Expert Panel

A Panel of Experts was established to implement Steps A and B of the methodology. Members of the Expert Panel were drawn from amongst Australia's foremost experts in disciplines relevant to the World Heritage natural and cultural criteria. Panel members were required to have international standing in their fields of expertise. This ensures that they can assess themes and places in their global perspective.

Expertise and experience in the identification and assessment of World Heritage values was also an important factor in the selection process; the Panel included members with substantial experience in this area, as well as in their areas of specialist technical expertise.

The agreed structure of the Panel included a chairman and at least two experts from each of the following five disciplinary areas, identified in relation to the World Heritage criteria:

  • Aboriginal cultural values,
  • European cultural values,
  • natural geological and geomorphological values,
  • natural flora values, and
  • natural fauna values.

The Panel was established following discussions between the Commonwealth and the States.

The Panel met in Melbourne on 13 - 14 June 1996 to implement Step A of the methodology for terrestrial areas of Australia, and Step B for forested areas of Victoria. It subsequently met in Canberra on 13 March 1997 to implement Step B for forested areas of Tasmania, and again in Canberra on 14, 15 and 21 October 1997 to complete its implementation of Step B in relation to forested areas of Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Members who attended each of the Panel's meetings are listed in Attachments 2-4.