The essential work of heritage groups - controlling other people's stuff without actually buying it - can only have legitimacy if based on the broadest community support. Tom Harley, chairman of the Australian Heritage Council, implicitly acknowledges this when he justifies his group's activities by citing research that "92% of Australians value heritage as a core part of national identity".
I'm concerned that a tiny, cosy clique of well-connected and monied people are poorly placed to determine the community's interests. There is a real danger that these self-appointed guardians' values will be out of kilter with the broader community, resulting in waste, delays, corruption and other harms.
So rather than relying on bland motherhood statements about values, heritage lobbyists should get us to put our money where their mouth is. If they can't purchase and preserve particular assets through tin rattling and fund raising, then surely this is the fairest and most transparent signal from the community that we regard the property's heritage to be of little value?
What stronger claim to broad community support could there be than Australians ponying up to preserve the heritage that matters most to us?