Multi-objective planning for northern Australia

9 December 2021

There are various development plans for the Martuwarra (Fitzroy River) catchment in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Proposals for new developments include aquaculture, irrigated agriculture, increasing livestock production, carbon farming, extraction of mineral resources, nature and cultural tourism, and many others. But can increased productivity, traditional uses and nature conservation can be balanced? In the coming years, major decisions (from local to national levels) will be made regarding the use of land and water resources of the Fitzroy. This requires a conversation about different development pathways for the region.

Fitzroy River Catchment development options (recreation/tourism, agriculture, pastoral, carbon opportunities).

There are many options for development in the Fitzroy River catchment. Photos (clockwise from top left): Jaana Dielenberg, Michael Douglas, Glenn Campbell, Michael Douglas.

 

Making good decisions requires exploring possible development options and understanding their social, economic and environmental outcomes. It also requires identifying the broader social, economic and political environment that could facilitate or hamper different development options.

To support these discussions, this project led by researchers at James Cook University and The University of Western Australia guided a participatory scenario planning exercise to construct and assess the outcomes of alternative development scenarios. Major components of this exercise included exchanging views about development, imagining possible futures, and exploring their potential outcomes.

Following the identification of key interest groups in the region and discussions with local organisations, researchers assembled a scenario planning team. The team included people with varied backgrounds who understand the perspectives of one or more key groups (e.g. Traditional Owners, pastoralists, government, mining, tourism, and environmental groups) and organisations with a stake in the region. It included people from organisations making or influencing decisions about land use and management in the catchment.

Scenario planning team photo

The project team thanks all of those who participated in the scenario planning process throughout various workshops and meetings across the Fitzroy River catchment. Photo: Karen Dayman.

 

The process aimed to facilitate seeing development from the point of view of others that may have opposite or diverging perspectives, and was a learning process for everyone. Throughout the process, participants became aware of and critically reviewed the way they think about the past, present and future of development in the region. Ultimately, the scenario planning process was about working together cooperatively and creatively to have a better understanding of how alternative futures may unfold.

Researchers asked participants to describe how people currently satisfy their wellbeing needs in the catchment including, for example, having enough food and water to drink, strong family and community relationships, and knowledge of country and culture. Then, participants scored the worsening or improvement of each wellbeing category in each scenario against the current situation.

Before the scenario assessment workshops, researchers worked with Traditional Owners and an Aboriginal interpreter to do a cultural translation of the material that was used to undertake the scenario assessment with Traditional Owners. The scenario assessment aimed to understand how changes associated with future scenarios could affect (positively or negatively) different aspects of the wellbeing of people who live in the catchment.

To inform the assessment, participants explored and discussed possible changes in governance, land and water use, and socioeconomic indicators under alternative scenarios. Participants also looked at illustrations and maps of scenarios to help assess the impacts of alternative scenarios on wellbeing.

Diagramatic representation of scenario 1 described above. Land use map of the scenario described above.

Graphical and land-use map representations of a scenario depicting: land use dominated by grazing natural vegetation; better land and water management, including cattle control in sensitive areas; better access to Country, including for recreation, subsistence and cultural activities; extensive investment in carbon farming using savanna burning (less wrong-way fire); large (17% increase in the number and extent of new conservation areas, managed through joint management; large (100%) increase in cultural- and nature-based tourism (85% Indigenous enterprises); 1 new small-scale coastal barramundi farm; similar level of resource extraction (low impact); and 6 new medium-scale irrigated agriculture based on groundwater (100 GL, 2.9% of recharge). There was no agreement or clear preference for any scenario across all groups, but scenarios with significant agricultural expansion and water harvesting were associated with the worsening of people’s wellbeing, especially by Traditional Owners. While these results do not replace adequate consultation processes, they can support the assessment of development proposals, water allocation plans, or conservation initiatives.The project team wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Martuwarra (Fitzroy River) catchment where this project took place, the Bunuba, Giniyjawarrni Yoowaniya Riwi, Gooniyandi, Jaru, Kurungal, Mangala, Ngarrawanji, Nyikina, Warrwa, Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara, Wilinggin, Yungngora, and Yurriyangem Taam peoples.

There was no agreement or clear preference for any scenario across all groups, but scenarios with significant agricultural expansion and water harvesting were associated with the worsening of people’s wellbeing, especially by Traditional Owners. While these results do not replace adequate consultation processes, they can support the assessment of development proposals, water allocation plans, or conservation initiatives.

The project team wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Martuwarra (Fitzroy River) catchment where this project took place, the Bunuba, Giniyjawarrni Yoowaniya Riwi, Gooniyandi, Jaru, Kurungal, Mangala, Ngarrawanji, Nyikina, Warrwa, Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara, Wilinggin, Yungngora, and Yurriyangem Taam peoples.

The project also produced two videos (one in English and one in Kriol) explaining the scenario planning process.

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