There are laws to regulate the global movement of cultural material. In Australia, the relevant law is the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (PMCH Act), which regulates:
- the export of cultural property from Australia
- the import of foreign cultural property into Australia.
The PMCH Act gives effect to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. If you breach the PMCH Act, you could face severe penalties, including seizure of the object, and fines or jail time.
Inspectors are authorised to conduct searches for Australian and foreign protected objects. Inspectors are appointed under the PMCH Act.
The Australian Federal Police and state and territory police are also inspectors.
The Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Federal Police have important roles in detecting illegal exports and imports of cultural property.
What happens if an object is seized?
If you own material that is seized under the PMCH Act, you will be issued with a notice of seizure as soon as practicable after the material is seized.
If you wish to dispute the seizure, you should write to the appropriate person as identified in the notice of seizure within 30 days. You will then have a four month period to take legal action.
If you are not successful, or if you have not taken any action in the 30 day period, ownership of the material forfeits automatically to the Australian Government.
Australian protected objects are normally placed in an Australian museum, gallery or library for the benefit of all Australians. Foreign protected objects may be repatriated to the originating country.