Back in 1990 at Adelaide Uni a student organisation (from memory a fundamentalist Christian one) decided for some reason to protest the content in the Uni newspaper, On Dit, by burning a pile of the papers. Incidentally it was co-edited at the time by a young David Penberthy (no stranger to controversy even then), and in the final issue of the year there was a photo of the burning being done with the brilliant line (at least for a student newspaper) of “Where they burn On Dits they will eventually burn people:”
It was a line that struck a chord with a young first year Economics student at the time (me), and whenever I see any vision on TV or in a newspaper of someone burning a book, I immediately think of that line.
There is something about burning the written word that just jars with my consciousness. I don’t know why – perhaps it is the connotations of the act being associated with the Nazis, perhaps it is because as a lover of knowledge and literature it is an act that to me is a pure anathema.
Which brings me to today and the vision of people in Griffith protesting the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan by burning copies of the plan.
Now I grew up in a small town in South Australia on the Murray, so I can say I have some understanding of the issues at play – and certainly the feelings. I may have left the town as soon as I could, but were I to hear it was on the verge of being killed because of some plan I could well imagine feeling some of the anger that many in Griffith are now feeling.
Small towns are important, farms are important and so too is the river.
Now I know little enough about the issue though to know I need to know more. And I want to hear the arguments of those in Griffith, but I’m sorry guys, you lost me as soon as I saw you burning the report.
Burning a report just because you don’t like it is utterly foolish. Tell us why it is wrong – if it is so awful, then use the report’s words against it. Read it out and then explain why it is wrong. Persuade me you are right and it is wrong: if it is so bad it should be an easy thing to do.
But burning it? Well sorry, but you just come across as thugs who lack the wit to make a proper argument. If that is all you got, then you don’t have much of a case. I don’t care what you’re burning, whether it’s the MDB Report, Mein Kampf, the Koran or the Bible you’ve lost me the moment the first page ignites.
I don’t envy the Murray Darling Basin Authority one bit. Neither do I envy the Government who must be wondering why the governments over the last 50 years have decided to leave them this impossible problem in its lap.
I know too little about water policy to comment on whether or not the cuts need to be 3000 gigalitres or 7000. I would be loathe to say – and I would just be guessing. Clearly though this is an issue that is open for exaggeration and abuse. The easiest thing in the world would be for the opposition to go in hard and talk up the death of towns and the death of the food industry. Even easier would be for the media to play along – nothing like photos of an angry mob to make life simple for the 6pm news.
Fortunately there is some sanity on the opposition's side. South Australian MP Jamie Briggs, came out with this excellent observation on Tuesday:
“There is going to be pain - there's been pain through the basin in the last few years through this horrific drought and the over-allocation. My communities have faced enormous pain. So, we've been suffering enormously. We don't want to have those situations again, so that's why you need to have a plan."
You see calm, non-extremist debate is the epitome of Australian democracy. It’s one thing I absolutely love about this country.
There may be some in the media who think we need a dopey Tea Party movement, but I tell you the last thing we need is to move in a direction like the US politics, where pathetic campaign adverts like this are being featured in the coming US Congressional election:
The issue of the Murray Darling has the power to send Australian politics a little bit off kilter if some sections of the political landscape wish it to – and even more so if some section of the media want to encourage it.
Let’s hope cool heads prevail, and fires are put out.