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Lake Eyre Basin

The information on this page was sourced from the official Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum website which you can visit for more information and related links.

About the basin

The Lake Eyre Basin covers about 1.2 million square kilometres, almost one-sixth of Australia, and is among the world’s largest internally draining river systems. Lake Eyre itself is the fifth largest terminal lake in the world.

The basin includes large parts of South Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and some of western New South Wales. About 57,000 people live and work in the basin, which supports a range of nationally important natural, social and economic values. It includes wetlands such as the Ramsar-listed Coongie Lakes and national parks supporting many rare and endangered species of plants and animals and preserving Aboriginal heritage sites.

Intergovernmental agreement

The Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement was signed in 2000 between the Australian, Queensland and South Australian governments in recognition of the need to maintain the important environmental, social and economic values associated with the Lake Eyre Basin. The Northern Territory became a party to the Agreement in 2004.

The agreement area originally applied to the Cooper Creek system (including the Thomson and Barcoo Rivers) and the Georgina-Diamantina catchment systems within Queensland and South Australia. The area extended to include the Hay, Neales, Finke, Georgina and Todd River catchments when the Territory joined the agreement. Later, it was expanded again to include the catchments of the Finke, Hay and Neales Rivers and Douglas Creek in South Australia. This extension also includes Witjira National Park, Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve in South Australia.

The agreement provides for the sustainable management of the water and related natural resources in the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin to avoid adverse cross-border impacts on associated environmental, economic, cultural and social values.

It incorporates a number of guiding principles that recognise the significance of the Lake Eyre Basin for ecological, pastoral, cultural and tourism reasons, and the need to make decisions which will foster ecologically sustainable development using a precautionary approach and take account of the significant knowledge and experience of local communities.

The agreement does not affect the state’s constitutional rights to manage their own natural resources. However, the states have agreed to use their best endeavours to ensure such statutory processes are consistent with the spirit and intent of the agreement.

Institutional arrangements

The agreement established the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum, which is the decision making body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement.

The Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Hon. Ian Hunter MLC, represents South Australia on the Ministerial Forum, which has established the following:

  • Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to ensure Ministers have advice from a wide range of community and industry sectors with an interest in the Basin
  • Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to advise on scientific and technical issues related to the sustainable management of the Basin
  • Senior Officers Group (SOG) comprising a senior public servant from each jurisdiction. The role of the SOG is to oversee the provision of information and advice to the Ministerial Forum, and the implementation of Ministerial Forum resolutions and decisions.

The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources provides support for the agreement through the SOG, CAC and SAP.

The jurisdictions, as parties to the agreement, provide their support on a cost-sharing basis in implementing the agreement. The Lake Eyre Basin Secretariat within the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in Canberra liaises and coordinates the activities across the jurisdictions to implement Ministerial Forum’s decisions.

Implementation of the agreement

To meet the purpose, objectives and principles set out in the agreement, the Ministerial Forum develops and/or adopts policies and strategies dealing with matters including:

  • river flows
  • water quality
  • management of water and related natural resources (floodplain, riparian vegetation)
  • catchment management
  • existing and new water resources development
  • research and monitoring requirements.

The Ministerial Forum has adopted six policies and 12 high priority strategies to ensure sustainable management of the basin’s resources.

The agreement must be reviewed five years after the date it became effective and thereafter on a 10 yearly basis. The first review of the Agreement was undertaken in 2007.

The agreement also required a review of the condition of all watercourses and catchments within the agreement area after the fifth anniversary of its effective date and then after every 10 years. The first report of this review was published as State of the Basin 2008: Rivers Assessment. A second report on the condition of the Lake Eyre Basin and a summary document have now been prepared and are available at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website for public feedback until 30 June 2017.

The Ministerial Forum has now established the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers Assessment as an on-going project to provide information for the next assessment due in 2018. The Ministerial Forum also adopted a Five Year Action Plan 2009–2014 which identifies the key issues, and priorities for action in this period.