A broad review into heritage arrangements in the Territory has been announced, a week after the relevant minister threatened to sack the ACT Heritage Council.
The inquiry will investigate the functions, structure, administration and operation of the council, governance arrangements between the council and the ACT Heritage Unit, and the heritage laws in place in other jurisdictions.
Committee chair Dr Marisa Paterson, who announced the inquiry on Monday (5 December), said it was a “critical time” to examine ACT heritage arrangements to see how they can be improved.
It follows months of well-publicised concerns about the workplace culture of the council.
In August this year, Heritage Minister Rebecca Vassarotti suspended the work of the council following reports of a dysfunctional and deteriorating workplace environment.
Complaints about the council holding up significant projects also came to light and a sustained increase in demand for heritage advice has put pressure on the council since 2014.
Ms Vassarotti ordered a formal review by independent consultancy firm Nous Group.
A “saddened and disappointed” Heritage Minister late last month (29 November) confirmed that the review had revealed evidence of unprofessional behaviour, a lack of direction and a stressful working environment.
She also confirmed she was prepared to take the step of sacking the Heritage Council, a statutory body charged with identifying, assessing, conserving, and promoting heritage places and objects and making decisions about the registration of heritage places and objects.
Ms Vassarotti said she had lost confidence in the council.
“It is clear the government needs to take urgent action to address the findings and restore confidence in the Heritage Council,” Ms Vassarotti told the Assembly.
“As Canberra continues to grow, the community and the government now more than ever require well-functioning heritage arrangements to ensure that the ACT’s natural, cultural and Indigenous heritage are recognised, registered and conserved for future generations.”
Only the executive summary of the Nous review was made public.
This was damning in its findings, discovering unprofessional behaviour, an erosion of trust, frustration about how to improve and an increase in work that hadn’t been accompanied by an increase in the budget which resulted in workplace stress.
All nine appointed Heritage Council members and four staff from the government’s Heritage Unit were interviewed as part of the review.
Canberra Liberal MLA Nicole Lawder tried to force the government to table the full report as well as the recommendations it made, but this was voted down in the Assembly.
It’s understood the information contained in that report could pertain to individual-level circumstances and behaviour.
Submissions can be made by email to LACommitteeECCB@parliament.act.gov.au until 3 March 2023.