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Follow the science, not funding

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

A university paper which highlights the failings of Australia’s water reform needs to be a catalyst for change.

Speak Up Campaign Deputy Chair Lachlan Marshall says the accurate assessments of water policy highlighted by academics from two of our most reputable universities cannot be ignored.

Scott Hamilton, a Strategic Advisory Panel member at the University of Melbourne, and Professor Stuart Kells of La Trobe University have released ‘How to undo Australia’s epic water fail’.

It highlights how ‘‘the failure of the Murray Darling Basin Plan is linked to poor political decisions but also poor market decisions’’ and says ‘‘decades of water market reviews and reforms have failed’’.

Mr Marshall described their findings as ‘‘a refreshing approach from our academics’’, stating too many in academia have supported modelling and policy which rural communities knew would fail food production and the environment. 

However, with billions of dollars in government funding on the table they have not been prepared to acknowledge the mistakes which have been made.

He described this latest paper as ‘‘a step forward in repairing the lack of trust that rural Australia has developed in academia’’.

‘‘While not everyone can be tarred with the same brush, most academic institutions have ignored the value of farms as an important habitat and food source for native flora and fauna, and some have presented questionable computer-based modelling,’’ Mr Marshall said.

‘‘Yet when this is challenged, even by fellow scientists, they get defensive. 

‘‘We are aware of scientists who have allegedly been bullied for highlighting the flawed modelling in the Basin Plan. They are not prepared to publicly state their position, for fear their career will be threatened.’’

Mr Marshall said rural communities want to work directly with academia and not through a government filter, where their work is altered to meet political agendas rather than balanced triple bottom lines outcomes.

‘‘We invite them to work directly with us and not be used as government weapons against us,’’ Mr Marshall said.

He added it was also important to recognise the need for water market changes, as pointed out in ‘How to undo Australia’s epic water fail’.

‘‘The great tragedy of our water reform failure is that if academia would collaborate with our communities, Australia could lead the world in showing how food production and ecological outcomes can work together. But to do this, they need to visit our regions and get a greater understanding of our broad ecology.

‘‘There is unlocked potential in combining farming and ecological outcomes. Trees, birds, frogs and fish don’t care if they are supported by a National Park, a farm paddock or an irrigation channel, as long as they have water.

‘‘By working towards common ecological goals we can untap the potential. However, we first need an academia that is focused more on genuine outcomes and less on government dollars.’’