Trust has been fractured. That was the worst outcome of the program. As with any other relationship it is much more difficult to heal broken trust, than to establish it in the first place.
The sort of reckless, smug, indifference so evident on the part of the few identified and accused in the footage is damaging. The money promised in the Plan was always going to lure a handful of sinister souls, unprepared to speak on camera, more likely to communicate with staccato text messages and threats.
Some of them were big names. We’ve seen the likes of them before intruding into regions and communities. They see opportunities to grab big bucks, oftentimes working within a hair’s breadth of the law. They have the resources to exploit loopholes but worse, they exploit the good nature, the hard work, the initiatives, the best practice, the innocence of the true custodians all in the name of business. Their methods are manipulative and corrosive. They undermine, devalue and disregard the vast tranches of great work done by politicians, bureaucrats, irrigators and the grassroots, salt of the earth communities of the Basin and then they move on.
It was Melbourne Cup Day of 2007 when Prime Minister Howard proclaimed a single Authority would be established to ensure the future integrity, sustainability and sheer beauty of the entire network of Murray-Darling Basin rivers and tributaries. Since then there has been much pain and sacrifice, mostly within the Basin communities. Some was inevitable. Some was probably avoidable but whatever the case; reasonable levels of trust had been achieved.
These can be restored but only after full, frank, fair, firm and utterly transparent investigations. Politicians will need some real ticker and soon. The longer doubts linger about whether or not irrigators and the environment have been dudded, the harder it will be to restore trust. Questions about the downsizing of compliance teams must be explored urgently. If the compliance regimes cannot fulfil their roles, the sinister souls will be rewarded and encouraged and investments of many custodians will simply dry up and blow away. It’s not acceptable to deflect the allegations saying the program only revealed flaws in one small part of the entire system. The system is linked. The program revealed the thin end of the wedge!