Ship shape or all at sea? A preliminary assessment of Australia’s recent legislative reforms concerning underwater cultural heritage

Guy Jesse Dwyer

Abstract


The Australian Parliament’s new legislation for regulating the protection of Australia’s underwater cultural heritage – the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (Cth) – recently received assent. The Act is to commence on a date fixed by Proclamation or, if no such date is fixed, on 25 August 2019. When it commences, the Act will serve to modernise and expand upon the existing regime for protection of specific forms of underwater cultural heritage. The purpose of this article is to provide a preliminary assessment of Australia’s recent legislative reforms concerning underwater cultural heritage with a view to determining whether these reforms are likely to succeed in practice. It is ultimately concluded that, for the most part, the Australian Parliament is generally to be congratulated on an Act that is well drafted, structured and easy to understand. So long as sufficient resources and funding are provided to those with responsibility for implementing and administering the Act, it is generally considered that the Act has good prospects of succeeding in practice. Whilst recognising that the new Act represents a significant improvement on its predecessor – the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (Cth) – and places Australia once more at the very forefront of domestic responses to global calls for legal protection of underwater cultural heritage, this article identifies some deficiencies or inadequacies in the new Act that could be improved, and makes some recommendations for improving those deficiencies or inadequacies.

Keywords


Underwater cultural heritage; salvage; historic shipwrecks; relics; domestic implication of international law concerning underwater cultural heritage; UNESCO Convention; Law of the Sea Convention

Full Text:

PDF