Since last Sunday’s feature story ‘Australia’s Salinity Crisis, What Crisis?‘, I’ve pondered whether Wendy Craik’s claim on the program that decisions in the past were based on the best available information really hold’s up to scrutiny.
If funding is secured on the basis of the best available information, even if it is subsequently shown to be wrong, then there is no case for deceit or fraud. However, if an organisation or individual secures public money on the perception that salt levels are rising, that dryland salinity is spreading, or that an area is at risk of salinity, while withholding information that shows the opposite to be true, then there is a case for fraud. And I would suggest the culprits be treated no differently to the former Enron executives.
“I’ve spoken to people who know exactly how it happened. It was a mixture of several things: failure to anticipate the dire political consequences of defining salinity hazard in the broad way they did (although they were warned); succumbing to pressure to provide results despite a lack of data; and in at least one state, yes, a shameless determination to ride the political wave right to the money-laden beach.”
It is not a well kept secret that senior Queensland bureacrats generated maps that falsely suggested large areas were at risk of dryland salinity simply to secure money from the federal government under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. If the same individuals were heading corporations, there would probably be more interest from the Australian media and other bloggers.
That’s not to say there aren’t some companies that have pocketed money from the same “political wave”, to quote from one email received yesterday:
“The bad guys are not limited to the public sector either. Some of the worst abuses I’ve seen have been by private consulting firms shamelessly providing the answer that they perceived a state government wanted.”
But the amount these companies have received is probably minuscule relative to what state governments have pocketed.
Last Sunday on Channel Nine, Nick Farrow and Ross Colthart went further than anyone has ever gone in exposing the politics of salinity in Australia. They began the program by suggesting that:
“Things are going badly wrong in public science.”
Perhaps the next step is a judicial inquiry.