Jay Weatherill: Nuclear waste and citizens' juries

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Jay Weatherill has announced the establishment of "citizens' juries" to debate the Royal Commission's recommendation in favour of a nuclear waste dump for SA — and angered both sides of politics in the process. Noel Wauchope reports.

NEITHER the Left nor the Right is happy with the South Australian Premier's plan for "citizens' juries" on the question of importing nuclear waste.

Jay Weatherill will surely be remembered as the quintessential flip flop Premier. In past years, Weatherill was a Labor Left faction opponent of the nuclear fuel cycle and a strong supporter of renewable energy. In the face of the collapse of the car industry in SA and the uncertainty around the shipbuilding and submarine contracts, he was enticed by the nuclear lobby to do an about turn on the nuclear industry.

He went off to the Paris climate summit, preaching about “low carbon electricity” — which is nuclear lobby code for nuclear energy, not "renewable" energy. However, he had earlier described nuclear power as not being viable.

Weatherill went on to set up the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, led by pro-nuclear Kevin Scarce and with a team in which nuclear power experts predominated. It produced – no surprises here – the recommendation for South Australia to set up a nuclear waste importing industry, in the words of Kevin Scarce, 'as soon as possible'.

So, the hasty programme for nuclear waste importing is underway. The first step is to be citizens' juries. In a process run by New Democracy, 2,500 invitations are being mailed this week to potential participants — 50 will be selected for the first meeting in a month's time and 350 for the next one in October. There are other initiatives too. The Government is launching an advertising campaign entitled, NuClear, with advertisements to be run on radio, television, print and social media. They also have a consultation website, YourSAy. All very good for the nuclear waste import plan.

But now, the plan does seem to be running into a bit of trouble. The Advertiser ran a poll early last week.

A survey of Adelaide Now readers gave the following results:

Are you in favour of a nuclear waste dump in SA?

No: 61.04% (1,648 votes)

Yes: 35.63% (962 votes)

Undecided: 3.33% (90 votes)

There must be sufficient anxiety in the South Australian Government and the Liberal Opposition to warrant consideration of a referendum on the subject:

The prospect of a referendum ... is not being ruled out at the highest levels of either major party ... The next six months — with two citizens’ juries and a statewide consultation process — will shake out some of these questions and may even formally recommend a nuclear referendum. ~ The Advertiser

Previously, a referendum was not considered an option. Of course, Weatherill and the nuclear lobby might now be taking the optimistic view that the publicity campaign will be so successful, that a referendum would endorse the plan.

Meanwhile, the immediate trouble lies with this citizens' jury plan.

Spruiking about citizens' juries, Jay Weatherill sounds like an old style Liberal:

The use of "experts" — scientists, specialists in particular fields of knowledge and bureaucrats who come up with ‘rational’ answers to issues that they decide are the problem the community should think about ...

Rather than being a threat to established institutions and reform, our citizens’ Juries have demonstrated that the involvement of citizens in public decisions enables change and helps to restore faith in the political process. Independent evaluation has shown that the cynicism and suspicion people had felt towards government decreased as a result of being involved in the citizen jury process, with a strong interest in participating again.

In his press release about the nuclear waste plan, Weatherill said:

'This first Citizens’ Jury will guide the debate by identifying the key issues that need to be considered during the state-wide consultation phase.'

This is not to the liking of today'sLiberals, nor today's pro-nuclear Laborites, nor even the anti-nuclear camp.

The pro-nuke response was best expressed by Chris Kenny, in Adelaide Now:  

'Forget the citizens jury, Mr Weatherill — just make a decision. That’s what you were voted in to do!'

Liberal Opposition Leader Steven Marshall fumed:

'This is the largest decision in the history of the state, and Jay Weatherill’s plan is to outsource it to 50 randomly selected individuals. It’s just outrageous.'

I wrote an article, suggesting that the citizens' juries were a good idea. To my surprise, it was quickly followed by 16 comments from pro-nuclear people, all damning the idea.

Meanwhile, on Facebook pages, and in some comments on other sites, the anti-nuclear people were up in arms, certain that the process would be stacked with pro-nuclear experts and participants would be brain-washed with nuclear advertising.

It looks as if Jay Weatherill started out on all this in socialist mode — with political and technical experts running the show. Then he aberrated into old "wet" style Liberal mode, towards participatory democracy. In the process, he seems to have pleased nobody.

We await the next incarnation.

You can sign the change.org petition to Prime Minister Turnbull, 'No Nuclear Waste Dump in South Australia' hereRead more about the history behind the Coalition's nuclear waste dump plan hereRead more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.netYou can follow Noel on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.

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