For more than a century, Australia has been setting aside national parks as protected areas to conserve biodiversity. Australia's first national park - and the second in the world - is Royal National Park in New South Wales, established in 1879.
1992: Convention on Biological Diversity
The National Reserve System has its origins in the Rio Earth Summit of 1992.
Australia played an active role in developing the Convention on Biological Diversity - the groundbreaking international treaty which links sustainable economic development with the preservation of ecosystems, species and genetic resources. When the Rio Earth Summit adopted the Convention in 1992 Australia was one of the first of 167 nations to sign and to ratify.
On signing the Convention, Australia agreed to develop a National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biodiversity and a system of protected areas.
In his Environment Statement of December 1992, the Prime Minister stated "The establishment of a comprehensive system of protected areas is vital if we are to retain our status as a region of megadiversity. Besides being ecologically viable these areas must represent the full range of ecosystems. The Government is committed to the development of a national comprehensive system of parks and reserves. This will be achieved in cooperation with States and Territories."
To carry out its promise, the Australian Government began working with the states and territories, who have constitutional responsibility for land management. In a historic step forward, all governments agreed to build a network of land and marine protected areas.
The resulting land-based network of protected areas was called the National Reserve System Cooperative Program (NRSCP). A separate program exists for marine protected areas.
Between 1992 and 1996, $11.5 million was spent on the NRSCP. Thus, by 1996, the National Reserve System Cooperative Program consisted of more than 5,600 properties covering almost 60 million hectares.
Recognising that some of Australia's most valuable and rare environments are on land owned by Indigenous communities, the Australian Government also began working on an exciting new concept which would later become Indigenous Protected Areas.
1996: National Reserve System program
To accelerate the conservation effort, in 1996 the new Australian Government began investing millions of dollars to help the states, territories, Indigenous communities, local councils and conservation organisations buy and establish land for the reserve system. Government funding came from the Natural Heritage Trust and was managed through the revised National Reserve System program.
Between 1996 and 2007, an additional 30 million hectares were added to the reserve system, more than two-thirds of the land in the new Indigenous Protected Areas.
1999: Protected areas on private land
Many rare and threatened ecosystems exist on land that is not for sale. With the need to connect whole landscapes to help species to adapt to climate change, the Australian Government is now working with partners to expand the investment in protected areas on private land. Tasmania has led the way in this new partnership.
2005: Directions statement
In 2005, the Australian, state and territory governments re-affirmed their commitment to developing 'comprehensive, adequate and representative' terrestrial protected areas. All levels of government agreed on a strategic national approach and an action plan, laid out in a Directions Statement.
An Evaluation of the National Reserve System Program hailed it as 'a flagship in biodiversity conservation', and called for increased investment.
2008: Caring for our Country
In March 2008, the new Australian Government announced that the National Reserve System would be one of its six priorities under a new environmental initiative called Caring for our Country.
The Government committed increased funding of $180 million over five years to target areas with low levels of protection, including the sub-tropical savanna from Cape York to the Kimberley, the Mitchell grass country of north-west Queensland and arid central Australia.
The Government has also committed an additional $50 million to the Indigenous Protected Areas element of Caring for our Country.
2009: Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009-2030
In 2009, the Australian, state and territory governments released a new Strategy for the National Reserve System to build on the previous 2005 Directions Statement. This updated Strategy identifies priority actions for the ongoing development of a national system of protected areas and reserves for the next 20 years.
The Strategy acknowledges the National Reserve System as the cornerstone of Australia's efforts to protect terrestrial biodiversity in a changing climate.
The Strategy includes guidance for improved collaboration across governments and with all stakeholders to enhance the ongoing development and effective management of the National Reserve System.
Download the Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009-2030 >>