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'.
The Attorney-General administers the PMCH Act, through the Museums Section, Ministry for the Arts, Attorney-General's Department. Under the Act, the National Cultural Heritage Control List establishes the criteria for Australian protected objects, separating them into:
- Class A objects which include objects which may not be exported: Indigenous human remains and secret sacred objects, Victoria Crosses awarded to Australian recipients and Ned Kelly's armour.
- Class B objects which may be exported if granted a permit under Australia's PMCH Act.
Under the PMCH Act, provision is made for illicitly imported cultural property to be returned to its country of origin, if a request is made by the foreign government. It requires the foreign country requesting the return of illegally exported heritage objects to provide evidence of the following:
- The object is a protected object of the cultural heritage of their country; and
- It was illegally exported from their country in contravention of a law of their country relating to cultural property.
There are penalties in the PMCH Act, including fines and imprisonment, for persons who are aware that the objects they are importing into Australia have been illegally exported from their country of origin.