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Trust comes at a price, but it's money well spent


Trust comes at a price, but it's money well spentAfter many months in dispute with Victoria's Bracks Government over the details of its $10.5 billion strategy to rescue the Murray-Darling river system, the Federal Government announced plans this week to use its external affairs powers to override Victoria's constitutional power to manage its own water resources.

It has been widely criticised as policy on the run. On the one hand the Federal Government is taking a ham-fisted approach to a very complex problem. But its defenders say that at least they're taking decisive action. Such a glib responses serve no useful purpose when there is a much more fundamental sticking point.

This can be illustrated by a comparison with the Government's strategy to tackle the problem of child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory.

In this issue of Eureka Street, Brian McCoy presents a considered response to the NT intervention. McCoy is a Jesuit priest who is NHMRC Fellow for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research at La Trobe University's Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. He has spent most of the past three decades living and working with indigenous Australians.

For all the complexity of his argument, McCoy's analysis comes down to one word — trust.

He says: "As this Government exercise develops, the experience of trust between all involved is central. When people experience being shamed and blamed, their trust in themselves and those criticising them can easily be further eroded."

The Victorian irrigators believe their water management practices have been more responsible than those of their counterparts interstate, and that the federal plan fails to give them credit for this. According to their perception, they are sharing equal blame and shame for the sorry state of the river system, when it is more the result of the bad practices of others.

Federal Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull thinks they are deluding themselves, and there is a good chance that this is in fact the case. But the point is that a relationship of trust must be established between the Federal Government and the Victorian irrigators before any plan can be put into action.

Resources must be invested in demonstrating to the the Victorians that they are deluding themselves. This involves properly listening to the Victorians, and maintaining a genuinely open mind to the possibility that their recalcitrance is justified. Turnbull would say that this is exactly what he has been doing all year in trying to convince the Victorians to come on board. But without the hearts and minds of the Victorians, the strategy is unlikely to succeed.

If 50 per cent or more of the $10.5 billion is spent on securing the trust of the Victorians, it will be money well spent.



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Existing comments

As Victorians do not know what the Federal Government is proposing in relation to their water management plans why should we trust them.

Kath Raymond | 26 July 2007  

It seems that the Commonwealth has determined the amount that is needed to solve the problems without setting out clearly the principles that are to be used ,obtaining the information from all of the users of the water system to enable a clear picture of the facts to underpin the negotiations or convincing the stakeholders that the resulting benefits from the distribution will be fair and equitable and most importantly, result in a solution that is implementable. The free market solution does not take into account the social costs or benefits which are an essential & integral part of any meaningful solution.

Graham Holmes | 30 July 2007  

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