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Labor backs Greens to reimpose nuclear gag

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Labor’s about-face on nuclear waste is complete, with the State Government backing the Greens’ push to reinstate laws banning public money being spent on advancing the nuclear debate in South Australia.

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Last night in the Legislative Council, Labor backed Greens MLC Mark Parnell’s bill, which he has described as the “last nail” in the nuclear waste dump’s coffin, to effectively reinstate a section of the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act outlawing public expenditure on “for the purpose of encouraging or financing any activity associated with the construction or operation of a nuclear waste storage facility” in SA.

The Government had removed the section to allow it to conduct a broad public consultation on the findings of the Scarce Royal Commission, which found that investing in high-level nuclear storage could yield a multi-billion dollar bonanza for the state.

Labor’s support for the Greens bill not only saw it pass the Upper House, but virtually guarantees its passage through the House of Assembly into law, effectively prohibiting any further public consultation on the nuclear fuel cycle.

“I’m delighted that this sorry saga of wasted public funds is now over,” said Parnell, noting that at least $14 million of public money had already been spent on various consultations, including two citizens’ juries, a parliamentary inquiry and the Government’s now-defunct Consultation and Response Agency.

“Now that the dump has been comprehensively dumped, it is important to draw a line under any further public spending on this ill-conceived project,” he said.

Labor did introduce an amendment to Parnell’s bill, effectively to allow the state to engage in the debate on a national low-to-medium-level nuclear waste dump, with a site west of Wilpena Pound earmarked as a prospective location.

The amendment allows governments to share the deliberations already undertaken through the recent consultation “and be responsive to the community and stakeholders, including in other jurisdictions”.

Government spokesman Peter Malinauskas told parliament there were “valuable learnings to be taken from both the [Scarce] report and the community consultation process”.

“However, there is no pathway forward to pursue a nuclear waste storage and disposal facility, as bipartisan support was withdrawn by the Opposition,” he said.

Labor whip Tom Kenyon – a strong proponent of nuclear waste storage – said he would support Parnell’s bill in the lower house along party lines, but calling it “the last nail in the tragedy of the debate about a nuclear spent fuel repository”.

“The Government’s supporting the bill, so I’ll be supporting the bill… in the Labor Party we have our rules, and I knew the rules,” he said.

“Unless it’s a conscience vote, we vote as a party [and] it’s not a conscience vote.”

He said Labor had a longstanding constitutional opposition to nuclear waste storage.

“I was trying to change that policy and it hasn’t happened,” he said.

“Obviously I’m disappointed… I thought it was a good idea.”

Nuclear advocate and environmental consultant Ben Heard said the bill’s passage was “monumentally disappointing”.

“People think these little things don’t matter, but they do matter,” he said, adding he was surprised Labor backed the bill “but maybe I shouldn’t be, given the proximity to the election”.

“It seems both major parties want to clear the decks of this issue, at least until after March… I suppose it comes down to Realpolitik,” he said.

“The only thing that leaves me a little bit of hope is that [the Scarce commission report] was a comprehensive investigation, and the conversation can’t be un-had.”

He said there were many South Australians “still very pragmatically excited and who comprehend the scale of what could be achieved”.

“But we’re going to need some more courageous politicians if it is to be achieved,” he said.

Parnell said if a future government “wants to spruik the merits of turning SA into the world’s nuclear dumping ground, they can always come to parliament for approval”.

“In a democracy, that’s the right approach,” he said.

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