Science delivers raw ingredients needed for Northern Food Bowl

THE nation’s most ambitious assessment of Northern Australia water and soil resources has been completed and is being released today.

The world leading initiative provides the data and knowledge base needed to help unlock Northern Australia’s economic potential and to inform planning to become Australia’s next major food producing region.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the Northern Australia Water Resources Assessments (NAWRA) delivers a wealth of new data to help inform future policy and investment decision-making by all levels of government and industry.

Initiated via the Developing Northern Australia White Paper, assessments were undertaken for the Mitchell (Queensland), Darwin (Northern Territory) and Fitzroy (Western Australia) River catchments.

The studies identify the best sites within the best catchments for potential irrigated agricultural development which is profitable, productive and sustainable.

The work reflects the potential for 387,000 hectares of crops such as cotton and sugar cane which could potentially generate more than 15,000 jobs and $5.3 billion in annual economic activity throughout northern Australia.

Mr McCormack said the expert assessments provide the best possible evidence base to sustainably manage and allocate water resources in the three catchments which is a key step in developing the North as the nation’s next food bowl.

“Water is critical to the wellbeing of our nation and these assessments will enable governments to develop science-based land and water management plans that could see up to double, even triple, the current water allocations being made available to underpin new economic growth in these regions,” he said.

“Western Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland regional communities and industries all stand to benefit from this $15 million Australian Government investment that is likely to draw widespread investment in agricultural production and processing.”

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan said the assessments could help make Australia stronger and unlock our untapped water resources.

“Around 60 per cent of Australia's rainfall falls on the 40 per cent of the country that makes up Northern Australia,” Senator Canavan said.

“So most of Australia's rainfall falls in the north, yet most of our dams and water infrastructure is in the south. Clearly, harnessing the rivers of our north should be our next great nation building initiative.

“Previous CSIRO research has helped expand water use in the Gulf region and these new reports will let us take the next steps in growing more food, establishing new manufacturing industries and creating more jobs in Northern Australia.”

Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud said the study could lead to thousands of jobs and billions of dollars being invested in the North.

“Expanding our North will let us feed more of Asia’s growing population,” Mr Littleproud said.

“It could create up to 2,845 jobs around Darwin and boost the local economy by up to $2.62 billion.

“The Mitchell catchment could end up with 7,250 new jobs and a $1.5 billion boost to its economy, while the Fitzroy catchment could support another 180,000 hectares of irrigated farmland and produce $840 million of crops.”

Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Country Liberals Senator for the Northern Territory Nigel Scullion said all Territorians, including pastoralists, rural family businesses and Aboriginal land owners had an interest in developing our water resources.

“The potential benefits of unlocked investment for all Territory communities are huge and will deliver more jobs, higher incomes, and longer-term prosperity particularly in key industries such as agriculture and tourism,” he said.

“The CLP in the Territory and the Federal Liberal and Nationals federally remain the only parties serious about developing the North and investing in projects to unlock the north’s potential.

“For all of Labor’s bleating the fact remains that they never invested a single cent in Northern Australia in their six years in government.

“To make matters worse, Bill Shorten’s current policy platform to ban live exports will see the wholesale destruction of the Northern Beef industry and the thousands of jobs this sector underpins.”

CSIRO project leader Dr Chris Chilcott said the study provided unprecedented data for northern Australia’s development.

He said it was also what investors needed to understand the real potential of Northern Australia and de-risk commitment to large-scale infrastructure development, as well as providing opportunities for smaller scale investors.

“It’s delivered what those investors need in order to determine the nature and scale of opportunity for agriculture and water resource development in these areas,” he said.

“It’s also what communities need to feel confident in future development decisions.”

The NAWRA final reports can be viewed or downloaded from

The Australian Government provided $15 million to fund the Northern Australia Water Resources Assessments.

Shane Manning