Brian Ramsay from Basin Pulse writes: When it comes to finding credible information on the views of the wider Basin community towards water reform and how these views are changing over time, there is an astonishing lack of credible evidence.
Basin community attitudes towards change must be a powerful force for shaping the reform agenda. This is because reform is undertaken to achieve community level social benefits. It is also because we live in a highly connected age where a community can genuinely be involved in broader change and if they are not, can bring it quickly to heel.
Governments, environmentalists and industry groups all compete to fill the void and advance their own particular agenda’s for the future of the Murray-Darling Basin. But what does the wider Basin community really think about water reform? To what extent do they think it is needed, urgent and likely? Who do they believe is responsible?
These are fundamental questions that must be understood if policy implementation is to find that elusive balance between acting on objective evidence and community support for change. They have not been well understood or harnessed to date. Instead, the emphasis has been on debates about the technical case for change and advocacy by vested interests and ideologies.
The independent Basin Pulse initiative was launched mid-year to fill the gap and gather objective evidence of the attitudes of the wider Basin community. Our position is not advocacy of a particular outcome, just that the process of change works to achieve progress from the significant effort put into a genuine area of priority national need.
So far, Basin Pulse has undertaken two surveys, the first conducted in June and again in late October. The surveys involved 500 randomly selected people who are a representative sample of the Basin community. The method used was in-depth telephone interviews with questions designed to probe people’s views and perspectives. Two public reports have now been released.
The findings are compelling and point to a resilient community perspective that is supportive of change while being realistic about the challenges it involves. The latest results show that despite the furore around the release of the guide, most people (75%) continue to want water reform, they continue to see it as urgent (62%) and surprisingly, more people believe that it is likely to happen (60%).
The clear message for all is that water reform is wanted and expected by the wider Basin community.
The community is also preparing for and seeking a real role in dealing with the issue. In the most recent survey, significantly more people (46% or almost half the population) believe that the ‘whole community’ has primary responsibility for achieving water reform. This is an extraordinarily strong response to what has been a potentially divisive process for communities and governments to date.
Responsibility for taking action on water management
Base n=937 (responses in percentages, %)
Some may find these insights uncomfortable. For policy makers in government, it provides cause for optimism and confidence that implementation of water reforms could be achieved with community backing. For all of the people deeply involved in the process it provides real positive pressure to get this reform deal done and the challenge of bringing the community into developing the strategy for the transition to better water management in the Basin.
Brian Ramsay and Jack Archer are leaders of the Basin Pulse initiative which is independently funded by Inovact Consulting. Their aim is to better connect decision makers and government as a driver of successful reform. Both Basin Pulse reports can be downloaded at www.basinpulse.com.au.
This is part of a Rooted series from different interested parties — farmers, lobby groups, environmentalists, etc — discussing their reactions to the guide of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the community consultations surrounding it, called Murray Murmurings. If you’d like to contribute your thoughts, email [email protected]