Review of the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986

Shane Simpson's Report on the review of the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986  Borders of Culture was released in Canberra last week by Minister Fifield

The Report is online at  and seems to substantially formalise much of the 2015 Position Paper released and commented upon by quite a number of those involved with heritage and historic vehicles and automotive history at the various State consultation meetings, or the online Survey, or in direct correspondence with the Review staff. As well a number of the suggestions, concerns or validations raised by the special interest groups such as the automotive heritage sector have been taken on board. 

The Report is 198 pages, for those who want a condensed form read Simpson’s recommendations for a completely new and single legislative model for regulating cultural material leaving Australia, as detailed in Part E Recommendation - New Model, Section 45ff. of Borders of Culture.

Many in the automotive history community will be aware of significant or important Australian heritage vehicles and artefacts that have been exported overseas. Many too will have heard of the various ways of circumventing the old Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (PMCH) which has clearly been unable to effectively ensure the protection of some of Australia’s outstanding automotive heritage. An internet search reveals many cars, motorcycles, trucks, race cars, ex-WW2 vehicles, traction engines and stationary engines now overseas of which a number are uniquely Australia or have other attributes that firmly tie them significantly into Australian cultural and technological heritage. The old Act has protected a couple of lovely steam engines but to date not one motor vehicle, related artefact or historical document in 30 years!

Conversely the current Act is ambiguous, confusing and the procedures unwieldy and time-consuming for those legitimately seeking to export vehicles and artefacts. Of note to Australian automotive historians the PMCH Act should also have provided protection from export to significant historical documents, the old Act failed this on a number of occasions as print and photo collections have been sold and dispersed globally or transferred overseas.

An aspect that Australian automotive historians should consider is the importance of their research information in providing vehicle context and provenance for owners, custodians, auction houses, dealers, purchasers and those tasked with regulating the licenced export of heritage vehicles i.e. Customs & Border Protection and the Cultural Property Section, Ministry for the Arts and their expert examiners. Some vehicles have been granted export licence as there simply was not enough authentic information available to document the unique heritage value of the vehicle. More data, made more readily available will assist all to make appropriate assessments of vehicles etc. for export or not. 

It is a long journey in Canberra from review Report to, perhaps, the framing of new legislation. Those concerned about Australian automotive heritage could consider contacting and encouraging their local Commonwealth MP to support the Simpson Report and on their behalf make positive representations to the Minister to expedite the replacement of the current Act with the Simpson Report’s recommendations. 

Updating the PMCH Act seems to be a win-win thing – streamlining the export licence process and reducing the accidental infringement of the Act for genuine exporters while substantially strengthening the protection and retention of the important examples of Australian transport heritage.


D Wright advises two vehicles are protected under the Act, a 1903 Innes car built by George Innes and a 1923 Alfa Romeo RLS Queen that now resides in the Victoria Museum in Launceston. There was also an issue over the attempted sale of cars from the Parker collection see this item from the Canberra Times in 1982. I believe this led to a ban on pre 1912 vehicles, made or assembled in Australia, being exported see Press Release.