Given the public outcry over Brian Martin's conflict of interest as head of the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the NT, Noel Wauchope asks why Kevin Scarce's suitability as head of SA's Nuclear Fuel Cycle RC wasn't questioned.

I'm not the only person who can conduct this Commission effectively and competently and it is critical that whoever is appointed has the confidence of those who are vitally concerned with this matter.

Rightly or wrongly, in this role I would not have the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community which has a vital           interest in this inquiry.

That was Brian Martin ending his role as head of Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the Northern Territory, just four days after his appointment as reported in Reuters World News 1 August 2016.

Martin seemed an excellent choice for the job, when appointed on 26 July. He has a strong legal background, as a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia, later as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in 2004 and acting Judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2012.

Brian Martin did not think that he had a conflict of interest in relation to his previous role as a Northern Territory judge. He did not doubt his "capacity to be both independent and competent in the role of the commissioner". However, he recognised that a community perception of his having a conflict of interest would compromise the Royal Commission and its results.

As Mark Kenny wrote in The Age on 2 August 2016:

'Indeed, Martin acknowledged this [public confidence] was the crucial factor — irrespective of the facts. He observed if any public doubts about the impartiality or commitment to the unvarnished truth were allowed to “fester” during the commission’s long months, its outcomes would be compromised.' 

Why no outcry about the conflict of interest in appointing Kevin Scarce as head of SA's Nuclear Fuel Cycle RC?

Apparently, while it's not OK to have a conflict of interest in a National Royal Commissioner, this has not yet been a problem for a State one.

On February 9th 2015, the South Australian Government appointed Rear Admiral the Honourable Kevin Scarce as head of its Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC). This royal commission, which ran until May 2016, has been kept very off the radar of the wider Australian public, but touted strongly by the South Australian media, notably by The Adelaide Advertiser. Nobody in the mainstream media seems to have noticed the conflict of interest in the appointment of Kevin Scarce and in the appointments of his advisers.

Unlike the situation with Brian Martin, this is not a case of a perception of conflict of interest by some special sections of the community. It looks more like a choice of a royal commissioner that is unusual and inappropriate and involving a much more obvious conflict of interest.

The general practice in royal commissions is to appoint a serving or retired judge, due to the quasi-legal nature of the process. Brian Martin appeared to be well qualified for the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the Northern Territory. Yet, as he had dealt with Aboriginal cases in his previous role as justice in the Northern Territory, this could raise questions about his impartiality.

Kevin Scarce with no legal background, was a most unusual choice as royal commissioner for South Australia's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. Furthermore, his military career and close involvement with defence agencies, raises questions about his impartiality. The nuclear industry has undoubted connections with nuclear weapons and this has always been a vexed question for Australia. Nuclear powered and nuclear armed ships are allowed to visit Australian ports but for short stays only and under stringent conditions.  

There is a strong defence lobby pushing for Australia to acquire nuclear powered submarines. Kevin Scarce was previously the head of Maritime Systems at the Defence Materiel Organisation.

Kevin Scarce is a  shareholder in Rio Tinto Group, the owner and operator of Ranger and Rossing uranium mines in Australia and Namibia   

Prior to his appointment as Royal Commissioner, Kevin Scarce advocated a nuclear industry for South Australia. Speaking in November 2014 at a Flinders University guest lecture, Scarce acknowledged being "an advocate for a nuclear industry". 

He enthused about a compact fusion “reactor small enough to fit in a truck”, that “it may be less than a decade away” and could produce power “without the risk of Fukushima-style meltdowns”. 

These claims have been dismissed even by the nuclear industry itself, as well as by nuclear friendly scientific experts. All of which indicates that this Royal Commissioner is low on science knowledge, as well as legal expertise, and raises the question?  Who has been influencing Kevin Scarce?

 Scarce appointed an Expert Advisory Committee comprised of:

  • Professor Barry Brook, an active advocate of the NuclearvIndustry. He is the author of, or contributor to several pro-nuclear publications such as; Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation, Australia’s nuclear options and An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy.
  • Dr Timothy Stone, an advocate for nuclear power generation and nuclear industrial expansion in Australia. In the UK Dr Stone has held the position of Expert Chair of the Office for Nuclear Development and he is currently on the board of Horizon Nuclear Power as non-executive Director. 
  • Director John Carlson, a former Director General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office. In part 6 of the introduction to Mr Carlson’s paper “Nuclear power for Australia”— an outline of the key issues he claims ‘Nuclear has a major advantage over other energy sources’.
  • Dr Leanna Read, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, which advocated for nuclear power in Australia in August 2014.
  • And, for a more sceptical opinion, just this one – Professor Ian Lowe – a former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Kevin Scarce thanks his expert panel, consisting mostly of pro-nukers.

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission reported its findings in May recommending that South Australia develop a nuclear waste importing business, (with the potential for later introduction of advanced nuclear reactors, such as Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs).

Will the outcome of the SA nuclear RC be compromised, given the criticisms so far?

Kevin Scarce has continued to be dismissive of criticisms of the plan. The Australia Institute crunched the numbers presented in the Commission's interim report and wrote a detailed factual rebuttal.

Scarce responded on ABC radio on 31 March 2016, (7)  by saying that the RC “will take apart” the Australia Institute’s report “piece by piec’e.

When asked if such an aggressive attitude was appropriate, Scarce said: 

I’m a military officer, what would you expect?”

The selection of pro nuclear advisers and speakers continued through the Royal Commission's year-long proceedings and subsequent Citizens' Jury sessions, as Independent Australia has shown in recent articles.  

Numerous well researched criticisms sent to this Royal Commission seem to have been ignored. Kevin Scarce has dismissed opposition as based on emotion or opinion, rather than on facts, saying: “The debate has been formed upon fear…”

In the case of the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the Northern Territory, critics may still find problems, such as the narrowness of scope in the terms of reference, and the involvement of the Northern Territory government (more or less investigating itself). But at least Brian Martin's swift action has avoided the "festering" effect of having a royal commissioner who is perceived to be biased. 

Meanwhile in South Australia, the outcome of its Nuclear Royal Commission may well be compromised, as public confidence in Kevin Scarce might fester amongst Australians in general, and even amongst South Australians, despite that State's government now bombarding them with pro nuclear propaganda. 

Read more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.net and follow Noel on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.

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