Movable cultural heritage
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:
- Indigenous art and artefacts
- works of fine and decorative art
- scientific and archaeological artefacts
- fossils, meteorites and minerals
- agricultural and industrial heritage
- books, stamps and medals
- historic material.
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 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
- Find out more about the Australian Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 and the 1970 UNESCO Convention
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.
- Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport
- 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.
- Administrative information on the PMCH Act is available in the Movable Cultural Heritage Annual Reports.
- Make sure it's above board poster) (PDF 358 KB
- Make sure it's above board brochure
- Application for a certificate of exemption from export control (Word 67 kB)
- Application for a certificate of exemption from export control (PDF 110 kB)
- Export permit [application] (PDF 110 kB)
- Export permit [application] (Word 180 kB)
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:
Office for the Arts
Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport
PO Box 6500
Canberra ACT 2600
Tel: 02 6210 2929
Fax: 02 6210 2905
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.