The contempt with which rural communities are held and the way they are treated by elements of the bureaucracy in Australia must change.
A leading farm advocacy group says the issue has “raised its ugly head” again this week following some disgraceful discourse on Twitter and believes governments need to establish educational programs to address it.
Southern Riverina Irrigators, which represents 1800 farming families, wants decisive action to build collaboration and transparency, and this must start with a reset of culture within water management bureaucracies.
It came to a head when a former senior bureaucratic in water management used appalling language and insults during an exchange with the SRI Twitter account.
The former highly-paid public servant responded to comments made by SRI regarding its concerns with some scientific reports, describing SRI as “idiots” and “morons”, and tweeting “you don’t have a clue”, “is English your second language?”, “you are so dumb it is breathtaking”, “did you finish primary school?” and other foul language that cannot be repeated. The following day he tweeted “apologies to my long-term followers for my loss of equanimity in some recent conversations”.
SRI spokesman Alistair Starritt said he was disgusted with the attacks on his organisation, which was simply questioning some reports and advocating on behalf of its members for a fairer deal on water management and distribution.
“We have worked tirelessly to try and make bureaucrats understand our issues but face continual frustration at their lack of desire for collaboration, transparency and developing solutions.
“I believe the Twitter exchange highlights the appalling anti-farmer culture within our bureaucracy. It is unacceptable and emphasises why we need a royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as well as restructuring of various water management agencies.
“Unfortunately, this outburst gives us an insight into the culture that exists when anyone wants to question reports or present alternative information,” Mr Starritt said.
“We are also aware of how environmental scientists get ostracised if they say anything which might upset the massive flow of funds to those who want to bleed the public purse. This is also part of the alarming culture which governments have allowed to develop.
“No wonder there is such distrust of government departments when rural communities are treated with such contempt, as we have seen on display in recent days.”
Mr Starritt said no-one wants a healthy environment more than food producers and rural communities, because they are the ones who live it, work it and enjoy it every day.
But we have become a nation controlled by a bureaucracy in which a huge number of participants have been born in capital cities, educated in left-wing city universities and obtain environmental jobs in city offices, with little or no practical experience.
“They lack lived experience but tell us what to do and how to do it, and they develop policy for largely city-based governments. When we end up with the social, economic and environmental mess which has been created by the Basin Plan they all go into denial. Throughout the process they refuse to acknowledge local and multi-generational experience and knowledge.”
Mr Starritt said the rapid decline in wetlands and waterways in the southern system since the start of the Basin Plan has angered locals who don’t blame environmental water – which they understand has a genuine purpose – but they do blame flawed assumptions and scientific errors, and get angry when those involved in their development refuse to take responsibility.
“The Twitter comments show why it has been impossible for us to work sensibly and maturely within a system that wants to avoid the transparency and collaboration that we keep calling for.
“If governments are serious about effective water management and building a fair and balanced Basin Plan, they must demand a higher level of accountability from those charged with its implementation, including far greater respect for those whose who are being adversely affected by their poor decisions,” Mr Starritt said.