Australia/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.3 Cultural heritage

Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986

This Act aims to protect Australia’s heritage of movable cultural objects.  In giving effect to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, it also supports foreign countries’ right to protect their heritage of movable cultural objects.  The Act covers a wide range of movable cultural heritage objects, ranging from Indigenous art and artefacts to objects significant for Australia’s agricultural heritage.

The Act regulates the export of cultural heritage objects from Australia.  One class of objects, ‘Class A’, may not be exported on the basis of their significance for Australia.  These include:

  • Victoria Cross medals awarded to Australian service personnel;
  • Each piece of the suit of metal armour worn by Ned Kelly at the siege of Glenrowan in Victoria in 1880; and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects which cannot be exported.  These are:

          o Sacred and secret ritual objects

          o Bark and log coffins used as traditional burial objects

          o Human remains

          o Rock art

          o Dendroglyphs (carved trees)

Objects under ‘Class B’ require a permit for export and include

  • Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage
  • Archaeology
  •  Natural Science
  • Fossils and Meteorites
  • Applied science or technology
  • Heritage Machinery
  • Fine or decorative arts

The Act is administered by the Office for the Arts, and is at of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government's key piece of environmental legislation which commenced in July 2000.  The Act involved the Commonwealth government joining with the states and territories to establish a national scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation.  Under the framework established in the Act the Commonwealth Government is responsible for the protection of matters of national environmental significance, with the states and territories having responsibility for matters of state and local significance.

The objectives of the EPBC Act are to:

  • provide for the protection of the environment, especially matters of national environmental significance
  • conserve Australian biodiversity
  • provide a streamlined national environmental assessment and approvals process
  • enhance the protection and management of important natural and cultural places
  • control the international movement of plants and animals (wildlife), wildlife specimens and products made or derived from wildlife
  • promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources

The Act is administered by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.  For further information see


Chapter published: 27-12-2013