SRI and former senior water bureaucrat involved in ‘ugly’ Twitter exchange

By Country News

A Twitter exchange about the Murray-Darling Basin between Southern Riverina Irrigators and former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder David Papps has been labelled "appalling" and "disgraceful" by the irrigator group.

The two accounts were exchanging tweets about a number of scientific reports into South Australia's Lower Lakes when tensions rose.

Mr Papps described the SRI as "idiots" and "morons", and tweeted ‘‘you don’t have a clue’’, ‘‘is English your second language?’’, ‘‘you are so dumb it is breathtaking’’ and ‘‘did you finish primary school?’’.

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 the exchange raised a bigger issue of how Australian bureaucrats and regional communities and advocacy groups engage with each other and has called for educational programs to be implemented to address the issue.

‘‘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,” Mr Starritt said.

‘‘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.

‘‘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 food producers and rural communities were committed to a healthy environment, but said there was a growing rural and city divide, with those involved in decisions sometimes not having practical experience in the communities they're making policy for.

‘‘They lack lived experience but tell us what to do and how to do it, and they develop policy for largely city-based governments,” he said.

“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 had angered locals.

He said communities didn't blame environmental water for the issues, but blamed 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 Papps was contacted for comment.

- with Deniliquin Pastoral Times