Certain activities and works are exempt from approval under the Heritage Act 1977 for heritage items listed on the State Heritage Register or subject to an Interim Heritage Order. The activities and works must have little to no impact on the item's heritage significance and support its management.  From 1 December 2020 these new standard exemptions apply so that some works will be exempt from approval without notification to Heritage NSW.  Here's how the Standard Exemptions may apply to burials and cemeteries.


  1. The information provided is sourced from the Heritage NSW website; and
  2. the NSW Government has initiated a review of the Heritage Act 1977

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Steps for using Standard Exemptions

Working through the steps below can help you to:

decide if your activities/works can be done under Standard Exemptions and comply with standard exemption requirements.

Step 1: Check the listing

Search the online heritage database to confirm the item is listed on the State Heritage Register (SHR) or subject to an Interim Heritage Order (IHO). The online database entry can also contain important information about your heritage item.

Step 2: Check if exemptions apply

Before commencing activities/works you must self-assess whether your activities/works can be done under an exemption.

Proposed activities/works may be exempt from approval if they fit the description of:

  • one or more of the Standard Exemptions.
  • any applicable site-specific exemptions for the item - you can find these on the online heritage database entry for your item.

If the proposed activities/works would not comply with the Standard Exemptions or site-specific exemptions, approval under the Heritage Act 1977 is required. See the Approval Pathway Decision Tree to determine the most appropriate pathway for you to obtain approval.

Step 3: Engage suitably qualified and experienced professionals

Anything done under exemptions must be carried out by people with knowledge, skills and experience appropriate to the activities/works. Some exemptions require suitably qualified and experienced heritage professional advice/work.

To assist landholders/owners and managers of heritage items, Heritage NSW has two directories available. A Directory of Heritage Professionals and Consultants, and a Products and Services Directory of firms providing supplies and services

Step 4: Record Keeping

It is essential that a person working under Standard Exemptions keeps a record of the decisions they made in their self-assessment, and the activities/works undertaken (‘a record of use of exemptions’).

When using an item's site-specific exemptions, you should comply with documentation requirements listed in the schedule of site-specific exemptions.

A record of the use of exemptions should include (at a minimum):

  • a reference to the item’s statement of heritage significance
  • a detailed description of the proposed activities/works and how this changes the existing fabric/item
  • an assessment of whether the activities/works impact the item’s heritage significance (following the Statements of Heritage Impact guidelines)
  • details of any advice received from a suitably qualified and experienced professional
  • other relevant records e.g. plans, copies of heritage advice received and before and after photos as attachments.

A template record form is available as a guide.

Unexpected issues and finds

If during your activities/works under an exemption, you discover an issue or find significant fabric such as relics you should stop and evaluate:

  • whether you can address the issue within the defined activities/works, relevant standards and conditions of the exemption.
  • If you are not able to, you will need to seek approval, and
  • whether you need new/additional professional advice or expertise.

You should document all issues and unexpected finds, your decisions and any advice you got which informed those decisions. Include this information in your Standard Exemption Record of Use.

Schedule of Standard Exemptions

The Minister responsible for heritage granted standard exemptions published in the NSW Government Gazette (see page 6) on the 13th of of November 2020.0


There are helpful guides for you to refer to when carrying out activities/works on a heritage item. These are listed under each exemption and the following guidelines will be useful for most activities/works:




Burial sites and cemeteries

This exemption is for burial sites, cemeteries and their elements including headstones, footstones, burial markers or monuments, grave kerbing, grave railings, grave furniture, enclosures and plantings. 

Examples of typical activities/works include:

  • excavation of a new grave
  • interment of ashes
  • erection of a monument or grave marker
  • maintenance of graves

Standard Exemption 14. Burial sites and cemeteries

General conditions (see page 6 of Government Gazette) apply to the use of all Standard Exemptions and must be complied with. 

The following specified activities/works to an item do not require approval under subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977 if the specified activities/works are undertaken in accordance with each of the relevant standards prescribed below.

Specified activities/works:

  1. Creation of a new grave or interment of ashes or continued use of existing family vaults.
  2. Erection of monuments or grave markers (excluding above-ground chambers, columbaria or vaults).
  3. Traditional maintenance activities/works in accordance with Standard Exemptions for maintenance, repairs and cleaning including:
    1. re-blacking, re-leading or re-gilding of existing inscriptions; or
    2. re-application of traditional coatings such as limewash where these were previously applied.
  4. Addition of memorial inscriptions or attachment of memorial plaques to existing monuments or grave furniture (includes grave markers, grave kerbing or grave surrounds).
  5. Excavation or disturbance of land for carrying out conservation or repair of monuments or grave markers.

Relevant standards:

  1. Existing significant fabric must not be disturbed or removed as part of creation of a new grave or interment or use of existing family vault.
  2. New monuments or grave markers must be in keeping with and not conflict with the existing character of the place, including materials, size, colour and form; however, new monuments and grave markers should be distinguishable on close inspection from the existing monuments and markers.
  3. Additional inscriptions or plaques must be in keeping with the existing size, materials, form, colour and lettering of the original monument.
  4. Additional inscriptions or plaques must not overshadow or obscure the original monument.
  5. Relettering of existing inscriptions must only be carried out to maintain appearance and legibility.
  6. Relettering must only be carried out using traditional methods and materials which are the same as the existing lettering on the monument or grave marker.
  7. Relettering of monuments must not involve re-cutting of existing inscriptions.
  8. Conservation, repair or relettering of monuments or grave markers must be directed, supervised and carried out by a suitably qualified and experienced heritage professional.
  9. There must be no disturbance to human remains, relics in the form of grave goods, associated landscape features or Aboriginal cultural heritage values.