Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: Preventing further waste of taxpayer money on nukes

June 21st, 2017

On the 21st of June 2017, Mark introduced a Greens Private Members Bill, Nuclear Waste Storage (Prohibition) (Public Money) Amendment Bill 2017

In November last year the Citizens’ Jury emphatically rejected the idea from the Nuclear Royal Commission that South Australia cold host an international nuclear waste dump.  More than two thirds of juries said “No” – this was not a good idea for South Australia and should be abandoned. Shortly afterwards, the Opposition leader Steven Marshall, came out saying that the Liberal Party would oppose the dump.  In so doing, they lined up behind the Greens, who have consistently opposed this ridiculous project that had the potential to cause so much harm to our state, including financially and through reputational damage.

The Government responded by dumping on the opposition and the Premier called for a Statewide referendum, even though he had previously opposed such a move.  The Premier also conceded that a referendum had no chance of success.  He wouldn’t be drawn on a date, but accepted that would be at least a decade.

Mr Weatherill was quoted in the media as saying: “I believe it’s a matter the South Australian public should continue to discuss, and I am framing up a way for those discussions to continue.” “We won’t be pushing ahead with a referendum until there’s bipartisan support. We will not pursue a change to our policy, but if the mood in the community shifts and bipartisanship is re-established, we will remain open to this question.”

So, this was the situation of limbo that the Government left us in for the last 6 months.

It was only in the last few weeks that the Premier has expanded on where this issue is going.  Following his answer to a question from a member of the public at a public meeting in Victor Harbor earlier this month, he declared the dump dead.  Subsequent media interviews resulted in a spate of headlines:
“Weatherill Rejects Nuclear Waste Dump Plan once and for all” – the New Daily
“Nuclear Dump idea dead in SA” – News.com
"There’s no foreseeable opportunity for this": Jay declares nuke dump "dead" – InDaily
“South Australia’s Nuclear Dump Proposal Abandoned” – ABC news

But do the headlines reflect what the Premier has actually said?
"This is a matter that requires inter-generational support over decades and decades, if you don't have both major parties behind this, it's never going to go anywhere, I've always said that," Mr Weatherill said.
"And the other day when I was asked about it I just simply repeated the same thing."
"So my position hasn't changed and this was never advanced as a short or even a medium-term proposition for South Australia. It was a discussion I believed should occur and that's why we had a royal commission, and that's been a valuable source of evidence."

So, until very recently, the official Government line was that this debate was not yet over.  It might be parked for a while, but the government’s official position was to bring it back onto the agenda at some future unknown time if circumstances change.

I would like to think that the dump is dead and buried, but what has escaped most commentators is that the door has been left wide open for the Government to again spend millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money re-invigorating the nuclear dump project.
The door that has been left open is a result of the changes that were made last year to the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000.

The Act contained section 13, which read:

"Despite any other Act or law to the contrary, no public money may be appropriated, expended or advanced to any person for the purpose of encouraging or financing any activity associated with the construction or operation of a nuclear waste storage facility in this State."

The amendment made by Parliament was to add an exemption to that general prohibition.
The exemption reads:

"Subsection (1) does not prohibit the appropriation, expenditure or advancement to a person of public money for the purpose of encouraging or financing community consultation or debate on the desirability or otherwise of constructing or operating a nuclear waste storage facility in this State."

What this means is that without any further reference to Parliament, the Government of the day can bring this matter back and they can use our money to again spruik the case for a nuclear waste dump.  Whilst sub-section 13(2) remains, the Government can bring back the debate over the dump.  It would need to be in the guise of public consultation, but we know from experience that there is no requirement for consultation to be fair or balanced.  The bottom line is that this legislation gives the Government the ability to bring back the nuclear dump debate at any time.

So what’s the solution?

It’s simple.

We need to re-instate the Act to its pre-2016 state.  That is, with a general prohibition on spending public money and with no wriggle room or escape clause that allows the Government to spruik a dump whilst claiming that the money was only being used for consultation.

The amendments made last year were designed to ensure that the Government spending program on the nuclear waste dump consultation program was lawful.  The Government wanted protection that it’s nuclear dump “Consultation and Response Agency” CARA, it’s market research, its Citizens Jury and even the Royal Commission itself could not be regarded as infringing s.13.

So Parliament gave the Government that protection.  There was some debate about whether it was really necessary, but the Govt insisted that it was.  It needed the law changed to undertake its consultation program.

Now that the consultation is over, there is no need for the exemption to remain.

This Bill removes the exemption. It re-instates the Act to its pre-2016 state. It removes the wriggle room for the government to bring this debate back – using public money.
On my calculation, they’ve wasted over $13m on this folly so far and I want South Australians to now be able to draw a line under this matter and to move on with projects and programs that deliver real benefits to the people of our State – not this ridiculous get rich scheme that was a disaster-in-waiting from the outset.

Whilst I always reserve the right to be dismayed at how matters are resolved in this Parliament, I fully expect this amendment Bill will pass, because if it doesn’t, those who vote against it will have some explaining to do.

Which part of the nuclear waste dump isn’t dead and buried and which part do they want to bring back?  That will be the question.

The Labor Government should support it because they want us to believe that this issue is dead and they won’t be bringing it back any time soon, including in the next term of Government if they are lucky enough to win the next election.

Similarly, if the Liberals want people to believe that they too have ditched any idea that they might have had about supporting a nuclear waste dump, then they too will vote for this Bill.  If they don’t, the people will quite rightly wonder whether former Senator Sean Edwards, one of the most vocal backers of the dump is in fact running the South Australian liberal Party.

Some people might be happy to just trust the word of the old Parties’ leaders that the dump is dead.  I don’t. 
We know that there are prominent people in both the Liberal and Labor Parties who want to keep this going.  We know who they are.

So, we need to close the door on this chapter now.

We need to get rid of the wriggle room and make sure that if any government of any persuasion wants to re-activate the idea of an international nuclear waste dump for South Australia, then they need to come back to Parliament to do so. That’s the effect of this Bill. It takes both Liberal and Labor at their word and invites them to put their votes where their mouths are. If they fail this test, then they are making the nuclear waste dump an election issue for 2018. 

For more information see a copy of the Bill

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