The Commonwealth, State and Territory governments laid the foundations for Australia's 10 Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) with the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS).
Through the NFPS, the governments outlined 11 broad national goals to achieve their vision of our forest estate and ensure the community obtain a balanced return from all forest uses. They developed the RFAs in four-stages.
First, they drew up "scoping agreements" to identify government obligations, regional objectives and interests, and broad forest uses, as well as the nature and scope of the forest assessment.
Nationally agreed criteria paved the way for the next stage to protect forest biodiversity, old-growth forests and wilderness areas through the creation of a world-class Comprehensive Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system. These are known as the JANIS criteria.
The third step was the scientific Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) of the environment, heritage, social and economic uses and values of the forests. The process used the JANIS criteria to identify the areas of the forest that needed protection, and which parts could be used for commercial purposes. The assessments also determined what the forests meant to the industries and people of each region, including Indigenous Australians. They drew on existing material as well as a wide range of specially commissioned studies and technical reports.
Directions, or Options, Reports containing alternative plans for forest use were prepared in the lead up to the negotiations between governments for each RFA. They contained information obtained from the CRAs and from community consultations on the assessments. Series of meetings on the reports for each region enabled community groups and stakeholders to identify issues that needed to be addressed in the RFAs. The consultations involved local government, industry, unions, regional economic development organisations, conservation groups and Aboriginal Land Councils.
In the last part of the process, the governments negotiated the final details of the RFAs, drawing on information gathered earlier, including material from extensive public consultations. The RFAs defined the tasks of forest management, established guidelines and assigned future management responsibilities.
The RFA process broke new ground along the way and added volumes to Australia's storehouse of knowledge about forest uses and values. Each RFA involved at least 50 assessment projects in disciplines ranging from biology and zoology to economics and sociology.
The social assessment process for the RFAs is another major development in land management policy. It added to the stockpile of information about how regional and rural communities use and value native forests. One of its legacies was the establishment of a national social sciences centre.