Drought in recent years and recognition of potential impacts of climate change on water availability in southern Australia led to renewed interest in the development of northern Australia.
The Australian Government established the Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment to provide information needed to inform the development and protection of northern Australia's water resources, so that development is ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable.
The assessment was a multidisciplinary program delivered jointly by the then Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and the former National Water Commission, in close collaboration with the Office of Northern Australia and state and territory government agencies.
The assessment was comprised of 4 components:
- Water Resources program (the CSIRO Northern Australian Sustainable Yields project)
- Ecological program
- Cultural and Social program
- Knowledge Base program.
Under Water for the Future, up to $13 million was made available from 2007-08 to 2011-12 for approved projects. The assessment brought together existing information and commissioned work where a clear need for additional information was identified for key basins in northern Australia.
The geographical area considered by the assessment stretched more than 3000 km, from Broome in the west to Cairns in the east. The area included 3 drainage divisions:
- Timor Sea
- Gulf of Carpentaria
- part of the North-East Coast, north of Cairns.
The assessment focused on those catchments identified by jurisdictions as likely to experience hydrological change due to water resource development or climate change.
The assessment was completed in June 2012 and the findings made available for decision-makers and the community.
Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce
The assessment also supported the work of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce, which was established in 2007 to examine the potential for further land and water development in northern Australia. The taskforce's work concluded in 2009, with the delivery of its final report, Sustainable development of northern Australia. The report identified opportunities for development in northern Australia that could proceed in a manner that was ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable. The taskforce received secretariat support from the Office of Northern Australia.
The National Australia Sustainable Futures (NASF) program was developed as an initial Australian Government response to the final report of the taskforce. The NASF aimed to build a collaborative broad based economic development strategy for northern Australia and guided by the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum. The NASF program was implemented by the Office of Northern Australia and was due for completion in 2013.