A “saddened and disappointed” Heritage Minister has revealed she is considering sacking every member of the ACT Heritage Council.
This followed an independent review that uncovered evidence of unprofessional behaviour, a lack of direction and a stressful working environment.
The Council is 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.
In August, its work was suspended following concerns about dysfunction and a deteriorating workplace environment.
Heritage Minister Rebecca Vassarotti (29 November) tabled the executive summary of the review in the ACT Legislative Assembly, stating she had lost confidence in its workings.
A comprehensive review into the Territory’s heritage system would now begin, Ms Vassarotti confirmed.
The summary of the review from consultancy firm Nous described the strained relationships between the Council and Government staff and “painted a concerning picture” of “wide-ranging and complex structural issues”.
“I am saddened and disappointed about the findings. It is clear the Government needs to take urgent action to address the findings and restore confidence in the Heritage Council,” Ms Vassarotti said.
The review was damning in its findings.
It stated that Council members did not have a unified understanding of priorities and governance processes and trust had been eroded between them.
It also found unprofessional behaviour by both Council members and Heritage Unit staff had led to stress in the work environment.
Furthermore, both sides were frustrated about how best to improve things even though both felt that a better working relationship was needed.
“There is dissatisfaction and misalignment of expectations between some Council members and the Heritage Unit regarding each other’s work processes,” it read.
“Attempts to resolve this misalignment have been unsuccessful.”
These stressors had been exacerbated by an increase in work, without a corresponding increase in budget and resources.
Ms Vassarotti said while she was considering ending the appointment of Heritage Council members, she would first consult with the Assembly’s standing committee on environment, climate change and biodiversity about any actions she intended to take.
Ms Vassarotti thanked Council members and staff for participating in the review and said she would continue to make information about her next steps publicly available as she had it.
“I would like to acknowledge all Canberrans who contacted me to support the need for a review of the Heritage Council,” she said.
“The strong support and desire for change is further evidence of the need for the ACT to reform its heritage arrangements. Many residents have taken the time to share their stories and the need for a new approach to the regulation, governance and administration of heritage in the ACT.”
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.