Jay Weatherill launches a nuclear propaganda juggernaut

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Jay Weatherill (right) with Kevin Scarce. (Image via abc.net.au.)

Noel Wauchope examines Jay Weatherill's elaborate publicity campaign featuring so-called "citizens' juries" ahead of a nuclear waste dump in South Australia.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN Premier Jay Weatherill is launching an all out campaign to inform the public about the recent Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission's plan for a global nuclear waste importing industry. 

This is all going to be terribly democratic, we are told. There will be "citizens' jury" meetings on 25-26 June and 9-10 July. 

I am, in fact, in favour of the citizens’ jury idea. Instead of us being "talked down" to by experts (who are likely to have a vested interest in the nuclear waste import plan), ordinary non-experts hear all the evidence and opposing opinions, discuss these and come up with a sensible verdict.

After all, that is what we expect in a criminal trial. We do not trust the verdict to “experts” although we do expect their opinions to be heard.

My first problem with the South Australian citizens’ juries on nuclear waste importing is that the first jury isn't given a true jury role.

The letter sent to potential jury participants says that their task will be to:

'... produce an independent guide to help every South Australian understand the recommendations raised by the Royal Commission’s report.'

This jury will not produce a verdict on whether or not the jury thinks that the nuclear waste import plan should go ahead.

The organisation running the process, newDemocracy, define the term as:

The Citizens Jury convenes diverse groups of citizens to study an issue deeply, discuss different perspectives on the issue, and recommend a course of action or craft their own solutions to address the issue at hand.

So, Weatherill's first "Citizens' Jury" is not going to act as a jury at all. It is going to provide material for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's information campaign. And how will this jury gather this information? Well, it will presumably be informed by the newly created Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency — about which nobody seems to know anything. Who are the members?

The second jury does appear to have a greater role. This second and final jury will perform a jury role in that it will resolve a direction for the Premier and the government and answer the question, 

‘Do we have your consent to continue to pursue opportunities related to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle?’

There are other questions as to its role. A citizens' jury is supposed to have an independent advisory panel. Who will be on this panel? It's also supposed to have an independent monitor supervising its meetings. Who will this be? The jury will hear expert witnesses. Who will they be? And where will the jury get its documentary information? How transparent will this citizens' jury be?

One comforting thought is that newDemocracy's reputation is at stake if their jury process is seen to be unfair. However, will they be able to withstand the pro-nuclear pressure from the Weatherill Government and Kevin Scarce's Royal Commission crew?

NewDemocracy have set out a fulsome 21-page account of the whole community consultation process as an attachment. This process has been studied and "blessed" by the following "community engagement professionals: as indicated in the report:

  • Prof. Lyn Carson, University of Sydney, Board member of newDemocracy 
  • David Kahane, University of Alberta & Convenor, Alberta Climate Dialogue (ABCD)
  • Lucy Cole-Edelstein, Principal, Straight Talk Communications & Former Board member, IAP2 
  • Kathy Jones, Chief Executive, KJA, Board member of newDemocracy 
  • Mary Pat MacKinnon Vice President Hill + Knowlton Strategies Canada 
  • Professor Peta Ashworth, Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures, University of Queensland

Meanwhile, Jay Weatherill has wasted no time in setting out the rest of the process that will follow this first Citizens' Jury meeting:

Teams from the newly formed Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency will begin visiting communities from late July, travelling across the State to explain the Royal Commission’s report and gather feedback from the community.

All major regional centres, more than 50 remote towns and all Aboriginal communities will be visited in a dedicated program to ensure all South Australians can get involved in the conversation about the State’s future involvement in the nuclear industry.

Major suburban shopping centres and events, such as the Eyre Peninsula Field Days in Cleve (August), and the Royal Adelaide Show (September) are also included.

This again raises those questions about just who will be informing the public, with what materials and so forth. And there's another great question that nobody seems keen to answer.

How much is this nuclear publicity juggernaut going to cost taxpayers? 

[EDITOR’S NOTE (2/6/16): A previous version of this article suggested that both citizens’ juries involved in the community consultation process would not be true juries. However, after discussions with newDemocracy, we can advise that the first jury’s role is only to provide material for the Nuclear Royal Commission information campaign and other community engagement activities. In fact, a second and final jury will perform a jury role in that it will resolve a direction for the premier and the Government and answer the question, ‘Do we have your consent to continue to pursue opportunities related to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle?’.

This has now been corrected in the piece. We apologise for this mistake.

The author’s wishes to state she is supportive of the principles of participatory democracy underlying the work of newDemocracy in this process. More information about this is available by clicking HERE.]

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

You can sign the change.org petition to Prime Minister Turnbull, 'No Nuclear Waste Dump in South Australia' here

Read more about the history behind the Coalition's nuclear waste dump plan here

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