Symposium speakers spark hot debate 


An opportunity to hear some of Australia’s leading water and climate change experts has attracted hundreds to a symposium at Charles Darwin University (CDU) on Friday 30 May.

The symposium - Water in the Top End: opportunities and constraints - drew together the region’s leading researchers, academics from CDU’s own ranks, and experts from across Australia.

Scenarios for the future, conservation, resource realities and climate change were just some of the topics discussed during the day’s program.

Visiting climate change expert, Professor Will Steffen from the Australian National University, said he was delighted to be part of the Charles Darwin Symposium as it presented a diverse range of ideas and perspectives.

“If we are to move forward on these important environmental issues that will shape our future, we need that broad perspective,” Professor Steffen said.

“The future of water in the Top End is currently very topical, and is likely to remain so. There are competing interests, expectations, exciting opportunities, and even fears about plans for the future use of water in the Top End.”

Symposium convener, CDU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Bob Wasson said the forum has been a real success, attracting more than 200 registrations.

“The high level of interest and participation is a clear indication of the importance of these issues to people from all walks of life, including industry sectors and government agencies, community groups and the general public,” he said.

“CDU has an important role to play in raising the level of debate on issues of national importance and to provide a forum where the wider community can share the expertise and research findings of the region’s leading water experts.”

The day’s program kicked off with prominent CDU environmental scientist, Professor Stephen Garnett and Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines’ Director of Crops, Forestry and Horticulture, Matt Darcey, exploring the potential opportunities, limitations and trade-offs of the north’s water resources as a part of the latest wave of developmental enthusiasm for the Top End.

Environmental/ecological economist, Dr Adam Drucker, and General Manager of One Harvest, Felicity Robson, presented differing views in relation to the role large-scale agriculture could play in the Top End.

Dr Drucker suggested that with the Northern Territory contributing less than one per cent of Australia’s total agricultural production, it was debatable that we would ever develop into the food bowl of Australia as predicted.

“The Territory is not a resource frontier,” Dr Drucker warned.

Ms Robson was more optimistic however, in her view of the role the Top End could play.

“There is a market for growing premier quality fruit and veg in the Territory,” she said.

“We respect and value the place that this part of the country has in the business calendar, and it is largely an untapped resource.”

The forum heard from a variety of speakers addressing issues surrounding the future uses of water resources, including climate change and water, social and cultural dimensions of water, and results of the Northern Australia Water Use Summit.

The focus of discussions intensified during the afternoon panel discussion.

“The audience started to probe and from time to time it developed into a real arm wrestle between the informed audience and the panel members,” Professor Wasson said.

“The informed dialogue is out there and debate continues to rage. There’s a lot more to talk about.”

Audio presentations from the Symposium can be downloaded from the presentation page on the Symposium website at