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SA Premier coopts democracy for nuclear nefariousness



I was trying to think what the invitation reminded me of. It took me a moment, but then I had it: the Project for the New American Century, the neo-conservative think tank and 'educational' organisation that went on to play a key role in shaping the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration.

Maralinga Painting, by artists Mima Smart, Tjunkuna Rita Bryant and othersIt's a different time and different circumstances, but there was something about this invitation — a joint missive from the Premier of South Australia and the newDemocracy Foundation — that seemed to resonate with that ominous American institution; a sense that democratic ideas such as consultation and partnership were being co-opted for nefarious ends. In the address section of the envelope, in beautiful script, the partnership was emphasised: 'An Invitation from the Premier and the newDemocracy Foundation'.

The gold and black lettered document was an invitation 'to take part in the Citizens' Jury of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's report'. This Citizens' Jury will take place now that Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce has handed down his final report, with the primary extraordinary recommendation that South Australia invite high-level radioactive waste from overseas.

According to the invitation, there will be 'a stratified random selection to finalise a jury of 50 citizens right across South Australia'. These 50 will be selected from those who accept the original invitation sent to the sizable number of 25,000.

Participants will be sent a reading list with 'access to information and experts and given the time to reach an informed consensus decision'. The commission has a track record of refusing access to main environmental groups with nuclear expertise, and it seems likely that this tight control will continue.

Just how strictly controlled the process is becomes obvious when it emerges that the task of those 50, during two weekend meetings in June and July, will be to produce 'a short independent guide to help every South Australian understand the recommendations raised' by the report. How such a stringently controlled process can be named 'independent' is anyone's guess. At a later date, once the 'guide' has been set by the first jury, the second, of another 350 people, will be asked to provide feedback.

ABC news dubbed this whole process the Premier's 'public relations exercise', and surely they're not wrong. Scarce has said many times that international evidence has shown that such a project will be able to go ahead only with community support. Yet what we are witnessing has the hallmarks of little more than the pretence of consultation.

The Premier is urging all South Australians to remain 'open' about the proposal. But are they, including the Citizens' Jury, allowed to be open to refusal?


"During the commission, the community consultations I witnessed turned out to be simply reports of process with no formal room made for any discussion or contributions."


The royal commission report is fraught with omissions and lack of knowledge. I wonder is it Providence or serendipity that South Australia is the one state where 'everyday citizens' have direct experience and knowledge of the disastrous effects of high-level radiation, and continue to proclaim these effects? 

This month Yalata Community artists launched their Maralinga Painting showing the former beautiful country, wildlife and rockholes in the shadow of the gigantic nuclear explosion — the result of nuclear tests conducted by the British government in the 1950s and 1960s — which has changed it forever.

It seems likely that no such contemporary evidence will be heard — or seen — by the Citizens' Jury; although, rather ominously, there is to be a 'program to engage with Aboriginal voices'. During the royal commission itself, the community consultations I witnessed turned out to be simply reports of process with no formal room made for any discussion or contributions. Interruption was the only possibility — with absolutely no guarantee of being recorded.

In announcing the process on 10 May the Premier used the words 'mature' or 'maturity' three times. One of these references was in regard to his hopes for Federal Labor, whose policy is holding 'to the prohibition of ... the importation of foreign nuclear waste'. On 18 May the Shadow Environmental Minister Mark Butler, Member for Port Adelaide and National President of the ALP, reiterated, 'Our position ... is that no case has been made to change our longstanding platform about this issue.'

Lately I saw a documentary on Nelson Mandela's life in which a jovial looking Prime Minister Verwoerd explained that 'apartheid can be better described as good neighbourliness'. How, I wonder, will our softly spoken Premier describe the risks of high-level waste so obvious to the people of Yalata/Maralinga and elsewhere when he meets with the 'everyday' South Australian Citizens' Jury? Will notice be taken of the growing alliance against the dump of everyday and not-so-everyday citizens?

Or is that not how things are to work in the newDemocracy times?


Michele MadiganMichele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of South Australia and in Adelaide. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.

Main image: the Maralinga Painting, by artists Mima Smart, Tjunkuna Rita Bryant and others. Used with permission.

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, South Australia, nuclear waste, newDEMOCRACY



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Existing comments

thank you Michele.Enjoyed reading your well informed article.As an Australian citizen I am totally opposed to any Nuclear Waste Dump/Nuclear Industry.Perhaps studied as subject in Australian schools.Immense credit to you and Dr.Caldicott.

Laurin Patience | 25 May 2016  

Thank you for speaking the truth to power Michelle. Political powers at the Federal and the State level are increasingly overstepping the mark. Witness recent draconian NSW laws to try to prevent opposition to its environmental destruction - and draft Federal Government laws to restrict environmental activists. No such laws against fossil fuel companies etc. Where is the principle of subsidiarity?

Anne Lanyon | 26 May 2016  

The premise of your article seems to be that genuine openness to a controversial proposal is what we should expect and aspire to. On that basis the pivotal phrase seems to be, ' ... allowed to be open to refusal'. If openness is the benchmark, are you 'open to acceptance'? If not, then you are 'closed' and if you are 'closed' you're really not in position to criticize the alleged 'closedness' of others. I think it's better just to stick to arguing the case on its merits even if you're cynical about the process.

Tony | 26 May 2016  

Agreed Tony that it's important to argue for or against the case on its merits. Please see several previous articles with strong arguments against the case. Mainstream media and the Royal Commission itself presents constant arguments for the case- the Royal Commission refusing to admit key environmental antinuclear experts and Traditional Owners as witnesses. This next stage, announced just last week by the Premier, is of the process of consultation Hence the current article.

Michele Madigan | 26 May 2016  

I understand the skepticism about Govt and business appearing to consult with the community. However, from what I know of the New Democracy Foundation, their methodology for a) selecting a representative sample and b) facilitating the Citizens Jury to produce a well-informed recommendation by the jury, appears to be sound, and nothing like the whitewash that large corporates engage in during their so-called community consultations. The piece does however highlight the importance of ensuring access to a spectrum of experts during the Citizens Jury meetings. That would have been worth investigating with the nDF before writing a piece that insinuated that the experts would be one-sided. Opinion pieces, though not strict journalism, should still still adhere to some standards of investigation and fact-checking, and not rely on innuendo. Opinion pieces, especially those written by respected individuals for a respected publication, can have enormous power to shape the opinion of those who are new to the topic. Though I agree with the position taken on nuclear waste, I was disappointed with the absence of objectivity in this piece.

Anne Marie | 26 May 2016  

I don’t understand why anyone would be willing to take nuclear waste from another country. If this waste is accepted for storage in Australia, then the makers of the waste need take no responsibility for producing it or increasing the waste levels. This too is a matter of living within our means.

Jane | 26 May 2016  

The whole process smells rancid. Every social evil has its vested interests. This particular South Australian Claytons consultation is simply push polling. To pretend it is genuine is laughable. These companies which advise business and governments on how to pretend to genuinely engage in deliberative democratic processes with the community are the new enemies of democracy. If you know someone who works in one of these parasitic companies or owns one please ask them to explain their ethical framework and keep them off your Christmas card list.

Michael D. Breen | 26 May 2016  

Another excellent and truly significant article Michele - thank you. May it be ready by many!

Christine Nicholls | 26 May 2016  

These next moves along SA Premier's road and intent for a nuclear industry and dump site are indeed very concerning. This has been a sham of a process from the outset and increasingly a means unto an end. A public relations exercise ahead- indeed! Consultations! If the people , living in the propose area, have said no then that is it! "New democracy foundation" Democracy by definition must include the whole population. Do people not matter? Does evidence not matter? Do accidents not happen? Nuclear is costly and belongs in the ground. If missed I urge readers to also consider the 'real' costs.-in ignoring peoples knowledge and concerns, in lives lost , and in years of clean up at the cost of billions.... WATCH . "Revisiting Fukushima: Five years on." (May 2016 ) . Cut and paste this link to view. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-22/japan-tsunami-fukushima-meltdown-five-years-on/7424898

George | 26 May 2016  

Yep ! OK just come and dump your garbage in my backyard.

David | 26 May 2016  

In reply to Anne Marie. Like many South Australians I suppose, I realised that in the consultation period proposed by the Premier it would not be easy to get voices heard against the primary recommendation of the Royal Commission to import international high-level radioactive waste. However I hadn’t yet heard how tightly that formal process would be controlled. But even when I first read that Citizens’ Juries–while the numbers seemed hardly to constitute reasonable numbers for such an incredibly long term and dangerously risk laden proposed project- I was still encouraging those receiving the Invitation, to respond. Perhaps, if chosen, they could bring other facts than those promoted by the Royal Commission. On careful study of the actual Invitation however, I saw it names that the task (as the article states) ‘will be to produce a short independent guide to help every South Australian understand the recommendations raised by the report.’ Where is the space for disagreement of these recommendations? The framework is set so firmly on explaining the recommendations of the RC that it seems clear any partner (as in newDemocracy Foundation- link provided within the article) can only act within that.

Michele Madigan | 26 May 2016  

There are only two reasons I can find for considering a waste dump. The first is compelling: We mine uranium and sell it to other countries for their use, so we have some responsibility for the long term management of the waste, The second is economic: perhaps there is a buck to be made here. This is highly speculative, and I'm not sure stands up to basic common sense examination. While a country who has a pile of waste might be willing to offer a lucrative long term contract for us to store the stuff, what happens in 50 or a 100 years time when they decide they no longer want to pay? Do we put it on a ship and send it back? Do we send in the gun-boats to collect the debt? So its reason one or nothing for me. And on that I'm open-minded.

Vin Victory | 26 May 2016  

How can we even consider doing this to our beautiful Australian outback? Didn't we learn anything from Maralinga and its on-going disastrous consequences? Keep us aware, Michele. Gen

Genevieve Ryan | 26 May 2016  

Thank you Michele for that clarification. I now understand the concern about the limited scope that the Citizens Jury will have to work within and that their participation could be seen as 'co-opting democracy' to rubber-stamp what the RC already recommended. I do hope that those who attend voice their concerns to their fellow jurors and take full advantage of the process to explore all angles as fully as possible.

Anne Marie | 27 May 2016  

please join me in a public protest on June 1st. Scarce is talking up his Dump "Plan" and also his Nuclear State "Vision" at the Bob Hawke Centre at 55 North Terrace Adelaide on Wednesday June 1st (530pm for a 6pm start) - I hope that there will be some protest action there from 515pm onwards. The event is already fully booked, and is likely to receive media coverage, so a protest outside before the event would seem the way to go. I have an open letter to Scarce which I intend to copy and distribute. Any volunteers to help distribute would be most welcome. QUOTE: So you do not disclose the gamble involved, the huge potential financial risk. If this was the only fault in your Royal Commission's findings, then that would be enough to make me see you as a sad tragic figure trying to pull a fast one. And there is so much else wrong with your findings. The risk of terrorist or military attack is not given the attention needed, insurance is not costed, health impacts are glossed over ignoring testimony from medical doctors, and more. Mr Scarce, shame on you. I hold you in contempt.

Brett Stokes | 29 May 2016  

"Where is the space for disagreement of these recommendations? The framework is set so firmly on explaining the recommendations of the RC that it seems clear any partner (as in newDemocracy Foundation- link provided within the article) can only act within that." Yes Michele, that is the extent of action for the Citizen's jury process. The Royal Commission had the task of examining the proposal - the reasons in favour and the areas of concern against, and producing the final recommendations; in this case, broadly to proceed. It seems to me that the only way the recommendations can be challenged is provision of radically new argument not already raised during the RC, and/or identifying serious procedural errors in the conduct of the RC. I don't think either approach is a realistic option. I haven't yet read the Commission's full report, so I might be over-optimistic in suggesting that the best response now is to work toward the Citizen's jury process developing the compromise of a dump for nuclear wastes from Australia only and absolutely rejecting any recommendation for accepting nuclear wastes from other countries.

Ian Fraser | 30 May 2016  

Sister Michele is very accurate. The supposed Royal Commission in SA on the nuclear industry was more like a PR exercise than a serious exercise to obtain facts about the nuclear industry from various perspectives. Kevin Scarce made no pretence of being a Commissioner and from the early days of the exercise was promoting nuclear energy from the rooftops. Nor did Premier Weatherill remain open minded and silent until the deliberations of the Commission were over. The amazing thing about the whole issue was that in the 21st century, a political leader held an inquiry into nuclear energy alone and ignored the other forms of energy - especially, the cleaner, least polluting and sustainable ones. Michele is also correct in highlighting the Aboriginal people of Maralinga in this discussion. In the 1950s a crime of negligence was committed against the people of Maralinga by the British government of the day with the agreement of the then Robert Menzies who did not even think it necessary to discuss the issue with his cabinet (but, of course, he was committed to democracy!!) many would consider it highly insensitive of the SA Government not to have involved SA's indigenous people in this discussion.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 31 May 2016  

@ Anne Marie Took the words out of my mouth. The notion of 'nuclear nefariousness' sets that up from the get-go. As I said in my earlier comment, if you establish 'openness' as an aspiration then you'll be judged by that too.

Tony | 01 June 2016  

The SA 'jury' process had the backing of New Democracy, an organization committed to the wider use of this consultation model for public policy. Examine the mechanisms in detail however and you find that State and local governments are required to legally privilege the process over established public service decision-making. It's a con job by the corporate sector. Google is a backer of New Democracy and Google is in the pocket of the NSA and the US State Department. It works for the US corporate state. A key backer of New Democracy is Hill + Knowlton Strategies, a global PR firm with an incredible legacy of questionable clients: union busting US companies, tobacco firms fighting health reforms, the corrupt BCCI bank exposed by the Nugan Hand Inquiry, various US fracking companies. They are a PR firm who make money acting for multinationals, miners and the nuclear industry. So naturally they are all for 'alternative' public decision making processes that reduce parliamentary oversight and enrich their clients. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill%2BKnowlton_Strategies

Damien | 14 September 2017  

back in 2016, the local boss Nuclear Jay was throwing taxpayer millions at propaganda and persuasion, pushing illegal immoral and insane plans to import nuclear waste. The use of public money for pro nuclear fraud was a failure, with the Citizens Juries rejecting the insane schemes. This article paints a picture of the process which we South Australians endured at the hands of an insane politician captured by nuclear nutquackery. Thanks again, Michele. #fraudium

Brett Stokes | 24 July 2021  

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