Diversification in the northern economy

Diversification in the northern economy

This is a broad reaching program of work that aims to develop an economic framework for, and pathways to, a diversified sustainable land sector across North Australia, building on new carbon farming and related ecosystem services (ES) economies and creating significant new investment, employment and enterprise opportunities, particularly for remote Indigenous and pastoral residents. The program focuses on 1.2m km2 of fire-prone savannas mostly with limited pastoral potential receiving >600 mm rainfall, where registered carbon projects are already established over >25% of the region.

Beef cattle pastoralism is the predominant land use over as much as 90% of this region. Based on long-term data sources and industry reports, the pastoral industry in this focal area annually generates ~$600M gross value from ~650 pastoral enterprises; many enterprises are recognised as being economically marginal given a variety of factors. The regional pastoral industry employs ~100 Indigenous people whereas ~650 Indigenous residents currently are employed through mostly government-funded ranger programs, and developing market-based carbon projects. Diversification is clearly needed to ensure longer-term viability of pastoral enterprises, and to unlock the potential of large Indigenous landholdings and the remote population base.


Jeremy Russell-Smith, Howard Pedersen, Glenn James, and Kamaljit K. Sangha (eds). 2018.

Sustainable Land Sector Development in Northern Australia: Indigenous Rights, Aspirations, and Cultural Responsibilities.

CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. Boca Raton, FL 33487-2742

Ecosystem services sector development

Internationally leading research since 2000 has developed ‘savanna burning’ greenhouse gas emissions abatement accounting methods applied to fire-prone savannas with >600 mm annual rainfall. Those methods are included in Australia’s carbon farming legislative framework. Current research extends those methods to include carbon storage (sequestration) in coarse woody debris and living tree biomass (in-progress) pools. Both accounting methods are anticipated to be ready for market application by 2022, providing significant new economic opportunities for the North Australia land sector. However, associated regulatory requirements (e.g. maintaining ‘permanence’ for 100 years) pose significant policy challenges, especially dealing with differing tenure and carbon rights frameworks across jurisdictions. The project will address such issues through an economic framework developed in partnership with regulators.

Carbon markets provide a tangible example of the potential of ecosystem services (ES) markets generally, including valuing core social and cultural benefits (also incurring significant government expenditure savings), and sustainability and productivity gains to be made from enhanced biodiversity, land condition, and water quality management. These diversified ES market opportunities currently are undeveloped, despite recognition that North Australia’s relatively unmodified savannas already support a ~$2.8b nature-based tourism industry. Building on international and national (e.g. Reef Rescue; QLD pasture condition) precedents and experience, the project will develop robust, measurable ES accreditation and offsets policy frameworks for these additional products.

Over a proposed 3yr project timeframe, in a broad collaboration, we aim to develop a robust framework to assist implementation of a diversified land management and ecological services sector, based on extension of current carbon markets, and significant progress towards development and acceptance of new ES market products.

Cooperative Research Centre for North Australia (CRCNA)

Enhancing the prosperity and resilience of Indigenous communities requires diversified use of their lands and seas. Commercial incomes today come mostly from extractive industry and land and sea management. Extractive industries generate royalties or equivalents but are few, time-bound and often create little local employment: benefits captured locally are discontinuous and patchily distributed. Land management activities are well matched to local skills and cultural obligations and bolster landowners’ confidence about managing other activities to maintain cultural and environmental values. But on their own, land and sea incomes can’t sustain robust local economies.

Landowners seek to expand options for diversified commercial land use, as set out clearly in propositions for inviting investment (the Indigenous Prospectus). No industries or activities are a priori excluded from consideration. Traditional Owners (TOs) often lack access to technical and business support to: identify the best mix of uses; compare benefits, costs and constraints; access capital; work out how to manage multiple enterprises to support each other; and reinforce capacity to meet obligations to country. This proposal addresses these critical gaps in information and analysis. Specifically, it:

(a) creates a network of Indigenous landowners/managers (ILUEN) to share understandings of opportunities and constraints, supported by research partners with technical and business skills;

(b) drawing on analysis of commercial land and resource uses, confirms TO-preferred approaches to whole-of-country planning and decision-making for diversification;

(c) on 3 Indigenous estates develops new approaches to managing interactions among biophysically-determined opportunities and constraints and important cultural and natural values requiring protection;

(d) supports TOs to draft whole-of-estate land use plans (LUPs);

(e) where sought by landholders, applies LUPs to draft investment invitations;

(d) frames a Business on Country Diversification strategy to direct future investment.

Four of 5 CRCNA objectives are addressed: increased GDP; increased investment; more jobs; and improved capabilities and well-being.