In 1990 the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments agreed on a framework to manage the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. They decided to establish a small agency based in Cairns which would be responsible for managing the Area. The Authority was officially established under the Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993.
Under the primary goal of the World Heritage Convention, the Authority must provide for the implementation of Australia's international duty to protect, conserve, present, rehabilitate and transmit to future generations the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.
The Authority is responsible to both the Australian and Queensland Governments through the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council and has an independent Board of Directors appointed by both governments. Administratively the Authority is a unit within the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
The Authority administers the Queensland Government's Wet Tropics legislation and sets policies and procedures which govern activities and land use within the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.
In 2017 the Authority has about 52 staff and works in partnership to manage the Area with a range of government agencies, land managers and landholders, Rainforest Aboriginal people, research organisations, local governments, tourism and community groups. The Board has appointed range of committees and liaison groups to provide it with advice on community issues, scientific matters and sectoral interests. The Authority has a Strategic Plan 2013-2018 to guide its operations.
The Authority is responsible for policy and the coordination of on-the-ground management to ensure the World Heritage Area is properly protected. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and other land managers are responsible for day-to-day management issues such as maintenance, routine permits, and enforcement activities. The Authority's main functions are to: