The publicity and noise associated with the release of the Guide to the Basin Plan must be kept in perspective. Two million people live in the basin. Not all are farmers, not all farmers are irrigators, not everyone is dependent on farming for their well being, not all regions are equally affected and not all impacts of water reform will be adverse. That said, many people living in the basin and in metropolitan areas will have an affinity with farming and also see benefits in water reform.

It is this affinity that has been heard loudly in the past couple of weeks. As the public narrative about the Guide to the Basin Plan unfolds, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the concerns of irrigators fully reflect the views of the whole community. It is not so simple.

The independent Basin Pulse survey of almost 500 people from across the basin in June this year sought a balanced perspective of community attitudes. It looked beyond the views of environmentalists and the irrigators to better understand what ordinary Australians living in the basin think is important.

It showed that people in the community are much more informed than they are given credit. 77% said they were aware of the forthcoming Basin Plan and 5% said that they had been involved in the process of developing the plan. These are significant numbers given the size of the population living in the basin.

The survey showed that there was community recognition of the need for change and support for the key reform objective. 80% of people agreed that water allocations should change so enough water is available for the natural environment. There was also a deep sense of urgency for change. 50% said that changes to water allocation should already be underway and a further 24% said it should happen without further delay.

Peter Fray

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