Collaborative Water Planning in the Gulf of Carpentaria


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Publication Title

Collaborative Water Planning in the Gulf of Carpentaria

Publication Type

Case Study Report

Volume 4.1 Collaborative Water Planning Project TRaCK - Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Project 1.3


John Mackenzie

Publication Date

July 2008


Publication URL

Available for download at Water Planning Tools




This report reviews the water planning process in the Gulf of Carpentaria undertaken between 2003 and 2007 by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water. The context of the water planning process for the region is briefly summarised, through reference to the social and economic profile compiled as part of the planning process and other profiling processes for the region. The history of cultivation of water resources in the Gulf is then examined. A description of the water planning process is also provided. This process is then evaluated in section four against a series of criteria based on the literature review in Volume 1 of this report (Tan et al 2008).

These criteria, derived from recent literature on the evaluation of collaborative processes, examine the effectiveness of collaboration:

  • as a mechanism for improved decision-making, including governance arrangements, due process and the reconciliation of competing knowledge claims;
  • as a facilitator of social process; including improved relationships, conflict resolution
  • as a means of obtaining improved outcomes, including efficiency, equity, and wider social perception of the process; and
  • as a pathway for catalytic changes in the community.

The analysis found that water resource planning in Queensland is conducted according to a clear, transparent and well-articulated framework that is defined by both the legislation and supporting policy documents. After more than a decade of an adaptively managed planning program which has been subject to internal and external review, current water planning attempts to accommodate the best available scientific and technical analysis, comprehensive information provision and policy considerations to the production of water plans.

Through this planning program, the scope of public participation is delineated, and considerable effort is made by the state agencies to render the outcomes of the stakeholder input apparent to all stakeholders. In the conduct of the Gulf water resource planning process, the legislative requirements for public participation and due process were observed, and in a number of facets the planners involved in the preparation of the water resource plan exceeded the requirements of the legislation to facilitate public involvement and stakeholder contribution.

However, due to the fact that the WRP process has been developed primarily to address issues of water resource planning in the southern regions of Queensland, the planning framework itself is less suited in application in Northern Australia. This created a number of issues with regards to its effective application to the distinct environs of Northern Australia. Firstly, effective participation was constrained by the scope of the planning area and the logistical difficulties in undertaking a planning process for an area larger than the State of Victoria, with limited human resources.

Secondly, the different hydrology of Northern Australia meant that heavy reliance upon hydrological modeling and other technical assessments as decision-support were not as suited, particularly in the notable absence of appropriate data and information upon which to make apposite planning decisions.

Thirdly, the water planning framework had been developed to correct the legacy of over-allocated systems and state investment in water resources. In the Gulf, where there has been limited cultivation of water resources, and where the majority of the major water supply infrastructure has been privately funded, the application of the framework was not as appropriate.

In the Gulf region, the planning process was less about correcting the legacy of past water development, and more about providing a platform for the aspirations of the region for future development within ecological limits. The resulting plan, in using historical development as a framework for determining future directions of the region, is seen by a number of stakeholders in the region to inadequately incorporate the aspirations of the community for the future of the region. There is a demonstrable reluctance on behalf of the State government to articulate a water resource plan as a catalyst for the future development of the region. Notably, the impact assessment process was insufficiently developed for the planning process, and failed to assess the impacts of the conduct of the planning process itself – particularly the impact of the moratorium on the region in terms of demand for water resource cultivation and industry development.

In response to previous review processes, administrative limitations and requirements to meet the obligations of the National Water Initiative, the water resource planning process in Queensland had been streamlined. This has led, in turn, to an expedited role for public participation in the process, and a reduced role for the key community engagement mechanism, the Community Reference Panel. As a result, significant elements of effective collaboration and community involvement, such as the development of trust and greater understanding of the values of participants in the process, were not given sufficient opportunity to be fostered.

Given the high degree of emergent interest in the water resources of the Gulf, and of Northern Australia, there was significant opportunity to build wider community capacity in understanding and contributing to decisions about the future of region’s water resources. There remains a high degree of divergence in the vision of the future prospects of northern Queensland, with significant opposition between visions of environmental preservation and economic development. The water resource planning processes presented a useful opportunity for these competing visions to be mediated, but this was not pursued. In turn, residual tensions between the competing visions persist, and these tensions will continue to permeate through a wider range of policy-making and community engagement initiatives in the region.

Water planners have expressed a desire to better incorporate community knowledge, aspirations and values. However, the opportunity to do this is limited within the existing scope of the planning processes as applied in Queensland. Embedding local and Indigenous knowledge, expressed community values and socio-economic information into the decision-support and prioritisation systems, and providing greater clarity to the community about the relationship between the public participation and the production of the WRP all remain key impediments to the effective collaboration. This is coupled with increasingly high demands on both regional and central water planning staff to effectively facilitate community engagement practice, in conjunction with a myriad of other legal, compliance, licensing, implementation, monitoring and policy development roles, with limited training and support in the practice of community engagement.


1. Introduction

2. Gulf Country and Its Water Resources

2.1 About the Gulf Region
2.2 Water Resources in the Gulf

3. The Water Planning Process

3.1 Community Reference Panel
3.2 Public Submission Phase
3.3 Informal Participation

4. Evaluating Collaboration in the Planning Process

4.1 Collaboration as a Pathway for Improved Decision-Making
4.2 Collaboration as a Pathway for Social Process
4.3 Collaboration as a Pathway to Improved Outcomes
4.4 Collaboration as a Pathway to Catalytic Change

5. Barriers and Enablers for Improved Planning

6. Conclusion


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See also

External Resources


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