The outstanding natural universal values of north-east NSW’s rainforests have long been recognised, though have only been partially protected for political reasons. As noted by the Department of the Environment (2014):
Although rainforests cover only about 0.3 per cent of Australia, they contain about half of all Australian plant families and about a third of Australia's mammal and bird species. The Gondwana Rainforests have an extremely high conservation value and provide habitat for more than 200 rare or threatened plant and animal species. The distributional limits of several species and many centres of species diversity occur in the property. The Border Group is a particularly rich area with the highest concentration of frog, snake, bird and marsupial species in Australia.
Since 1986 rainforest has been added to the World Heritage List in an incremental political process, with Governments only willing to add rainforests protected through other processes. There are still numerous qualifying rainforests protected over 1995-2003 that are yet to be added, and the commitment to incorporate eucalypt forests with universal values by 2002 has yet to be progressed.
In order to entrench the protection of national parks created as an outcome of the 1982 Rainforest Decision, the ‘Subtropical and Temperate Rainforests of Eastern Australia’ were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986 for their outstanding natural universal values:
as an outstanding example representing major stages of the earth's evolutionary history
as an outstanding example representing significant ongoing geological processes and biological evolution
containing important and significant habitats for the in situ conservation of biological diversity.
When a renomination was being proposed in the early 1990’s NEFA proposed a greatly expanded property based on protecting rainforest, oldgrowth and wilderness. Our proposal was ignored. In 1994 Queensland reserves, along with Oxley Wild Rivers National Park (93,220ha) and 16 generally small and disjunct flora reserves on state forests in NSW, were added to the renamed Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia.
The NSW and Commonwealth Governments initially committed to undertake an assessment of World Heritage values as part of the Comprehensive Regional Assessment process. The outcome was meant to be a renomination to complete the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia. A World Heritage Expert Panel identified that World Heritage values of north-east NSW’s forests related to rainforest and Eucalyptus dominated vegetation, with supporting values including representation of passive marginal swells and Aboriginal ceremonial sites.
The required assessment of the values was not done. The March 1999 Forest Agreements committed NSW to undertake studies of rainforest and to nominate additional qualifying areas of reserves for World Heritage Listing as extensions by 1 April 2001. They also agreed to identify qualifying eucalypt and Aboriginal dreaming sites by 2002. In 2007 the name of the world heritage property was changed to Gondwana Rainforests of Australia.
In 2009 the rainforest assessment was finally undertaken, though other values were not considered. In 2010 the NSW, Queensland and the Commonwealth Governments submitted a Tentative List of 459,739 ha of NSW national parks to the World Heritage Centre which were proposed, along with Queensland reserves, for future nomination as additions to the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage area on the basis of rainforest values.
No further progress has been made. There has still been no assessment of the values of Eucalyptus dominated vegetation, passive marginal swells or Aboriginal ceremonial sites. An expansion of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage property will increase recognition of these reserves’ values, provide another layer of protection, attract tourists, and require the Commonwealth to assist in management costs. It is long overdue. (see Assessing World Heritage Values)