Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) has grown in stature as a key component of many national natural resource and rural development governance systems. Despite their growth, the integrity of CBNRM governance systems has rarely been analysed in a national context. To enhance dialogue about how best to design and deploy such systems nationally, this paper analyses the Australian system in detail. The Australian system was selected because the nation has a globally recognised and strong history of CBNRM approaches. We first contextualise the international emergence of national CBRM governance systems before analysing the Australian system. We find that a theoretically informed approach recognising regions as the anchors in brokering multi-scale CBNRM was applied between 2000 and 2007. Subsequent policy, while strengthening indigenous roles, has tended to weaken regional brokering, Commonwealth-state cooperation and research collaboration. Our findings and consequent emerging lessons can inform Australian policy makers and other nations looking to establish (or to reform existing) CBNRM governance systems. Equally, the research approach taken represents the application of an emerging new theoretical framework for analysing complex governance systems.