Review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act

The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (PMCH Act) protects Australia's movable cultural heritage and provides for the return of foreign cultural property which has been illegally exported from its country of origin and imported into Australia. It gives effect to Australia's agreement to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970.

Mr Shane Simpson AM was appointed in 2014 to undertake an independent review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. The review's methodology included research and development, and broad national consultation (including a national survey) towards developing a new model.



Mr Shane Simpson AM submitted his independent report Borders of Culture: Review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, Final Report 2015 to the Australian Government on 30 September 2015.

The review proposes a new model which is based on the principles below, these principles will provide the basis for a comprehensive modernisation of the legislation.

  • a simpler legislative framework for the regulation of export and import of cultural material
  • objective standards to define the material being regulated
  • clear, practicable criteria for determining the significance of the material
  • a more efficient assessment process by requiring a greater degree of title, provenance and asset description information from applicants applying for permits
  • adherence to principles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decision-making
  • a distinction between Ancestral remains and objects
  • interaction with other Commonwealth, state and territory legislation and regulatory schemes
  • a flexible and risk-based approach to assessment processes
  • clearer guidance to decision-makers throughout the process
  • a shortening of the decision-making process so that the processing of applications is faster and more cost-effective than the current system
  • transparency at all stages including application, process and decision
  • a new classification system for protecting the nation's most important cultural material that:
    • better reflects the true richness of the cultural heritage of Australia and the diverse regions and places that constitute the nation
    • protects material already found to be significant by Commonwealth, state and territory governments and
    • provides a flexible and living category of material which attracts high-level protection (currently only available to the static melange that is Class A)
  • more effective prosecution procedures (such as varying the burden of proof in certain circumstances where the relevant  evidence is reasonably expected to be in the control of the applicant rather than the Government)
  • an extension of the current General Permit system to a wider group of approved organisations
  • a transparent process for the testing of foreign claims for the return of illegally exported material that is consistent with international models and compliant with relevant treaties
  • incorporation of mechanisms that are informed by other international conventions relating to cultural property (including a cohesive and consolidated process for the return of looted and stolen cultural material) and
  • modernising enforcement and offence provisions to ensure they are in line with current best practice.

Terms of reference

The PMCH Act has not been significantly amended since its enactment, and the scope of the review is therefore intentionally broad.

The terms of reference for the review are available here:

Consultation for the review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act

Mr Shane Simpson AM was appointed to undertake the review of the PMCH Act and its regulations in December 2014. On 1 July 2015 Mr Simpson released a position paper outlining a new model for the regulation of cultural material in Australia based on research and consideration of submissions made by the sector to past reviews.

This position paper can be found below.

More than 40 meetings were held in all state and territory capital cities between in July and August 2015. Over 500 institutions and individuals were invited to attend, including collecting institutions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, special interest groups, the commercial arts sector, non-government organisations, academics and state, territory and Commonwealth government bodies. Consideration was also given to submissions made to the 2009 review of the Act. The review also received 120 survey responses and 40 emails and letters from individuals and organisations.

Thank you to everyone who attended consultation meetings and contributed to the survey, your comments informed the final version of Mr Simpson's proposed new model and the report to the Australian Government.

Follow the Ministry for the Arts on Twitter for updates @artsculturegov.

Read the Review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 media release announcing the review.


Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act Review
Ministry for the Arts
Department of Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 2154
Canberra ACT 2601