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Dumped nuclear consultation wins international kudos

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The abandoned community engagement program for South Australia’s doomed nuclear repository has won a brace of international awards in an ironic footnote to the waste dump debate.

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A royal commission headed by former Governor Kevin Scarce found last year that investing in high-level nuclear storage would likely deliver “substantial economic benefits” to the state, including average annual revenue of $5.6 billion for the first 30 years of operation, equating to “about $3300 per person per year”, and around 34 per cent of current State Government revenue.

But Scarce was adamant the community had to be on board with the idea, with a Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency launched in the middle of 2016.

It was tasked with visiting communities to “explain the Royal Commission’s report and gather important feedback”, with sessions featuring interactive displays, models, videos and fact sheets, “as well as having members of the Response Agency team on hand to answer questions and take community responses”.

A separate specific indigenous engagement program was also undertaken.

The Response Agency was quietly wound up earlier this year, with the Opposition subsequently criticising its budget expenditure.

Freedom of Information documents released to the Opposition in August and handed to the Advertiser showed the agency’s budget blew out by $400,000 to $7.6 million, with a $182,580 catering bill coming in for particular criticism.

The agency also spent $185,477 for media monitoring, $1.04 million for photography, audio-visual and production, $152,373 for local accommodation, $256,771 for international and domestic travel, and $1.08 million on contractors.

Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas said at the time that “taxpayers should be concerned about how their money was spent chasing the Weatherill Government’s nuclear thought bubble’’.

But in a bittersweet finale for the disbanded response agency, it scooped some significant gongs at last week’s International Association for Public Participation 2017 Core Values Awards.

The organisation bills itself as “an international member association which seeks to promote and improve the practice of public participation or community engagement, incorporating individuals, governments, institutions and other entities that affect the public interest throughout the world”.

The nuclear response agency’s Aboriginal Engagement Program was named “Project of the Year” and also won the awards’ “Indigenous” category, while the broader Community Engagement Program picked up a high commendation in the “Planning” category.

The awards judges noted: “Satisfaction among Aboriginal participants was high, with 82 per cent expressing high degrees of satisfaction, satisfaction, or neutral views regarding their experience.”

“Moreover, 80 per cent of self-selecting Aboriginal participants said they had learned more as a result of their participation in the program,” they said.

Ironically, a lack of indigenous support became a major stumbling block for Jay Weatherill’s nuclear vision, with the Premier forced to concede a power of veto to Aboriginal communities before walking away from the plan altogether earlier this year.

Weatherill told InDaily in a statement: “This was the largest consultation program in our state’s history, and I’m pleased the work that went into this project has been recognised with this award.”

But opponents of the waste dump plan were less impressed, with Greens MLC Mark Parnell calling the consultation “a one-sided, biased process that tried valiantly, but ultimately failed to convince South Australians of the merits of an international nuclear waste dump”.

“It does not deserve an award,” he told InDaily.

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