Movable cultural heritage

All images © Office for the Arts, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet unless otherwise stated. Image credits: Ned Kelly's armour © State Library of Victoria; Australia, Adelaide Hunt Club Cup, Art Gallery of South Australia, Australia; Hobson's Bay Pier Steam Hoisting Winch © Museum Victoria, Australia.

Movable cultural heritage includes objects that people create or collect and forms an important part of a nation's identity. These objects are known as cultural property and can be artistic, technological, historical or natural in origin.

There is increasing trade and exchange of cultural property between nations. This exchange can enhance international appreciation of cultural diversity, but it can also lead to the loss of significant aspects of a nation's cultural heritage.

Many countries have laws which regulate the export of cultural property. There is a wide range of cultural property protected including:

In Australia, national and international cultural property is protected through the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (PMCH Act). The PMCH Act gives effect to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970.

Australian Cultural property protected by the PMCH Act is guided by the criteria set out in the National Cultural Heritage Control List.

Review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act.

On 23 December 2014 the former Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, announced the appointment of Mr Shane Simpson AM to review the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

Find out more about the review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act.

Exporting cultural property from Australia

The export of Australia's significant cultural property is regulated under the PMCH Act. It is not intended to restrict normal and legitimate trade in cultural property and does not affect an individual's right to own or sell within Australia.

The PMCH Act implements a system of export permits for certain cultural property defined as 'Australian protected objects'.

Australian protected objects form part of the movable cultural heritage of Australia and meet the criteria established under the National Cultural Heritage Control List.

Importing cultural property into Australia

The PMCH Act also protects foreign cultural property. Foreign governments can request the return of cultural property that has been illegally taken from their country and imported into Australia. If you are importing cultural property into Australia you must ensure its exportation has not contravened cultural laws in its country of origin.

Australian protected objects that are currently overseas may be legally imported and subsequently re-exported if a certificate of exemption has been issued.

Further information

  • The National Cultural Heritage Account assists public cultural organisations to purchase Australian cultural property. The acquisition of nationally important objects for public collections enables Australians to access their valuable movable cultural heritage.

Contacts

For advice on exporting cultural property, for more information about the PMCH Act or if you have information on possible illegal exports and imports, please contact:

Cultural Property Section
Ministry for the Arts
Department of Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 2154
Canberra ACT 2601

Email: movable.heritage@arts.gov.au
Tel: 1800 819 461.

Image credits

Ned Kelly's armour © State Library of Victoria; Australia, Adelaide Hunt Club Cup, Art Gallery of South Australia, Australia; Hobson's Bay Pier Steam Hoisting Winch © Museum Victoria, Australia.