Todays article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald regading the theft of war relics from the Kokoda Trail was addressed in our newsletter at almost 5 years ago and is repeated below:

‘There is a need for the Australian Government to work in partnership with the PNG Government to protect war relics along the track.  These relics have been rusting in the jungle for the past 65 years and are now being rearranged and removed as souvenirs.

‘According to some research conducted by one of our trekkers the recent announcement of Kokoda as a place of significant historical interest is virtually meaningless.

‘It seems that a section (390K) was inserted in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act in February 2007 as part of the most recent amendments to the EPBC Act (and further amendments are planned) to establish a list of important heritage sites overseas.

‘This list sits alongside the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List – all Australian sites which have robust protection. The aim of the section is supposed to give some recognition to overseas heritage sites that have a special place in Australia’s history. The list is named “Overseas Places of Historic Significance to Australia” (L OPHSA). While this recognition is timely it does not seem to provide adequate protection.

‘This is because when the Heritage amendments were made to the EPBC Act in 2003, they provided for overseas places to be included on the National Heritage list.Old subsections 15C(11) and (12)contained offence provisions relating to actions taken outside the Australian jurisdiction where there is or may be a significant impact on a National Heritage place located outside the Australian jurisdiction. SS5(3) limited the application of these offence provisions to Australians.

‘Section324J(2A) provided that the Minister could not include in the National heritage List a place that is wholly or partly in a foreign country unless the Minister is satisfied that the national government of the foreign country has agreed to the inclusion in the List of the place so far as it is in the country. It is this last section that caused the problems that exist with the current legislation.

‘It seems that problems arose with this listing provision as soon as Australia sought to utilise it in relation to the Gallipoli road issue.  It was obviously not possible to get foreign countries to agree to the listing as they were concerned with the issue of sovereignty.  Part of the problem seems to be the offence provisions (even though they only applied to Australians) and party to the fact that we were proposing to list the places on the National Heritage List which would not have been acceptable to the Turkish Government. As a result amendments were made to completely disconnect the listing of overseas places from the National Heritage List and the inclusion of any offence provisions was abandoned. The result is that the list of overseas places of Historic importance to Australia is merely symbolic.

‘It does not seem that the Government now intends to apply offence provisions to section 390K.  This should be reviewed the contentious issue was with purporting to control the actions of foreign countries. All the other offence provisions in the EPBC Act apply to Australians anywhere in the world. A separate list with offence provisions applying only to Australians would solve the problem and also provide an enforceable deterrent to the removal of war relics from the Kokoda track.

‘Whilst the Government may argue that the EPBC Act really doesn’t provide protection for movable artifacts of significance they should realise that like the parts of any ecosystem, or important parts of a heritage building, they may be covered if they are listed as part of the values of a listed place.

‘We have a national responsibility to preserve the war relics across the track for future generations.  The Government should not be deterred from ensuring this happens due to the complexities involved in negotiation with foreign countries.  It is therefore recommended the issue be re-examined with a view to crafting offence provisions in the EPBC Act to ensure they cover the theft and removal of artifacts from foreign countries.’

The link to the article is at