The prosperity of northern Australian communities rests on the expansion of current industries and new enterprises. For best outcomes, and to be sustainable, planning for this economic development must include careful consideration of people, the economy, and the environment.

Despite ongoing government commitment to a sustainable-development agenda, a range of challenges and obstacles have so far limited the ability of private and public decision-makers to make headway.

Approach and findings


By analysing regional planning processes and practices in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia, this project built a better understanding of the challenges and obstacles, and recommended a way forward. It examined current planning frameworks; interviewed planners and others with specific interests; identified information deficits; assessed data storage and access issues; and, reviewed planning case studies.


Barriers to best-practice development planning were identified as:

  • limited emphasis on the development of durable, adaptive, planning partnerships;
  • poorly defined planning and regulatory processes and lack of alignment between agencies;
  • ill-defined outcome standards at the national scale;
  • planning and development assessment laws that are not always fit-for-purpose;
  • inadequate capacity among government agencies, stakeholders, developers and researchers;
  • large gaps in the data needed for decision-making; and
  • limited data sharing between agencies and stakeholders.


Analysis of these barriers allowed the identification of the following ‘preconditions’ necessary for successful development planning:

  • aligned standards and aspirations: Commonwealth, State/Territory and local government;
  • consistent, strong and well-defined national development planning process standards;
  • clear national standards for social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes;
  • the development of stable, long-term, place-based partnerships between stakeholders;
  • well-managed, maintained and integrated knowledge and data management systems.
  • information support systems at national and state/territory scales; and
  • independent monitoring of governance systems for improved place-based partnerships.

The project team are now in a strong position to progress the evolution of these factors though: events and activities that build a community of practice and generate knowledge; collaborative design, participation in, and analysis of sentinel case studies; consultation with practitioners and stakeholders to collate ideas and experience; and, by providing input into the design of knowledge management systems.


  • A roadmap to improve regional planning.
  • Innovative planning approaches developed.
  • Improved outcomes for northern communities supported.

Project location