A few months before the 2022 federal election I wrote a column about the qualities of an effective leader in an ever-changing and uncertain world. At the time we were still in the grips of the pandemic, and I wrote with all the anxiety and despair around the previous 12 months, when we went to the polls to elect our next federal representatives, many of us would be looking for people who reflected the qualities of passion, strength, reliability and integrity. I have been reminded of these words in the past few weeks as I've watched the debate around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and a fresh round of water buybacks unfold across basin communities and parliamentary floors. To say that I have been disappointed in our elected leaders - on all sides of politics - is an understatement. Throughout this debate I have felt the leadership we need around such a complex issue has been lacking and the people who really need a seat at the table, those whose agriculture future is at stake have once again been locked out of the room. At the time of writing this, the federal government's Restoring Our Rivers Bill had passed the Senate and was set to do the same in the lower house. The Minister for the Environment and Water said at the time the legislation cleared the Senate, that "for too long, basin communities have been let down. Delivering this water is one of the most significant things we can do to protect the environment in this country". But many opponents of this legislation argue communities have not been let down by aspects of the basin plan not being delivered - they have been let down by successive governments not listening to their concerns, the reasons for those concerns and viable alternatives for satisfying the different interests across the basin, including environmental protections and agricultural productivity. The National Farmers Federation said back in August, when a fresh round of buybacks was first proposed, that more than 1000 gigalitres (far exceeding the amount of water proposed to be recouped through buybacks) of buyback-free options that had been put forward by basin communities during a consultation period had failed to be considered. These communities, the NFF said, had done what had been asked of them, and in return had been delivered a 'death warrant'. This is strong language, but talk to basin communities and this is what they say they're staring down. Buybacks for them mean job losses, business closures, population decline and a loss of infrastructure and services as a result of this decline. They're frustrated by the fact they don't feel like they've been listened to and there's a real belief that the people making the decisions don't have a realistic grasp of the value of agricultural production across the basin, and what it takes to operate the businesses that generate so much of the wealth for this nation. And, that policy-makers don't understand the implications of sending so much more water down this system and have failed to address questions around the actual value to the environment. Not to mention the direct cost to taxpayers of buybacks - estimated in the billions - and the long-term loss of productive tax paying food production industries. None of this has been addressed by policy-makers. The messaging has been oversimplified and one-dimensional: the environment is threatened and these measures will save it. But at what cost? And, are these the best measures to secure positive environmental outcomes? The impact on basin communities - and the flow-on effect to the nation's food and fibre needs, and the economy as a whole - has been absent from the rhetoric. The many nuances and complexities around basin management reduced to convenient sound bites that gloss over future ramifications. Like so many important debates in our country today, it's degenerated into a political blame game that fails to deliver effective solutions to the issues at hand, and emphasises the absence of considered, well-informed and courageous leadership Australia needs to kick long-term social and economic goals.