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Liberal policy guru urged SA to go nuclear

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The state Liberal Party’s new policy director is a long-time nuclear advocate who personally called for the establishment of a nuclear waste dump in a submission to the Scarce Royal Commission.

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Steven Marshall’s Opposition has staunchly rejected any further investigation of a potential high-level repository.

But Richard Yeeles, a former corporate affairs manager with BHP Billiton and Western Mining Corporation who has recently run his own advisory firm, struck a very different tone when the State Government sought submissions on its royal commission proposal early last year.

“I commend the South Australian Government for initiating this inquiry,” wrote Yeeles, who has also previously worked as a chief of staff for Liberal leaders Dale Baker, Dean Brown and John Olsen.

In his lengthy 270-plus page submission to the subsequent inquiry, he urged the Government to “offer to host a national facility for storage and disposal of Australia’s own low and intermediate-level radioactive waste with the ultimate aim of securing Federal Government support for hosting an international radioactive waste management facility in South Australia”.

This, he said, would be “a first step” to “demonstrate its strong interest in, and commitment to the further development of, a safe and sustainable Australian nuclear industry”.

“At present, it seems to me that the greatest potential for further South Australian involvement in the nuclear industry is in hosting an international repository to dispose of waste generated in the nuclear power industry overseas,” he wrote in his initial submission, which emphasised his credentials working “in the nuclear industry in Australia for almost 20 years”.

“South Australia, in particular, offers… significant local nuclear industry knowledge and expertise [and] suitable geological and environmental conditions in remote areas of low population,” he wrote.

“The opportunity to lead international participation in radioactive waste management would make a significant contribution to expanding Australia’s global influence.”

Yeeles continued by speculating that “as any international radioactive waste management repository established in Australia would likely be located on land in which Aboriginal People have an interest, there would be the opportunity for income generated by the facility to support the community development of Aboriginal People in areas such as education and health as well as offering significant employment opportunities”.

Yeeles started working in Marshall’s office as the Opposition’s senior policy director only this month, replacing long-time advisor Andrew Coombe.

Marshall last week unilaterally abandoned any further support for exploring the nuclear waste dump option ahead of yesterday’s partyroom meeting, where he said the position was universally endorsed.

A spokesman for Marshall said he was aware of Yeeles’ submission, arguing it was consistent with the Liberal leader’s stance of examining the evidence for a repository before forming his current view “that economics of a high-level nuclear waste dump don’t stack up”.

“The State Liberals were prepared to engage in a serious, informed debate about the prospects for greater involvement in the nuclear industry,” Marshall said in a statement today.

“That debate has taken place and the public have rejected the Premier’s plans.”

Premier Jay Weatherill today told InDaily that “it’s just complete nonsense, this idea that [the Liberals] are actually opposed to this thing”.

“They support it,” he said.

“There’s genuine opposition on my side – it’s not genuine opposition on their side.”

Weatherill said he had “permission from my colleagues” to allow the public debate to continue with a view to a referendum if and when a broad consensus is reached – albeit with no timeframe on that being achieved.

He said he believed there was majority support in Labor’s caucus – and the broader party – for a nuclear repository “and that’s why I had the numbers to do what I did”.

“The Liberals are trying to paint themselves as the party that’s anti-nuclear – I don’t think anybody’s going to buy that,” he said.

“There’s hardly a person in the Liberal Party that doesn’t support this [waste dump].”

But when confronted with the fact that the public and media backlash seems to be broadly endorsing the Liberals’ rejection of the plan, he said: “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

“The day-to-day news cycle is one thing, but people’s considered view about this is they don’t know much about Steven Marshall… this has defined him as somebody that doesn’t stand for anything.

“He had a very clear public position of support, and then sees a very clear political opportunity to oppose… [that suggests] someone that doesn’t know what he believes and has no convictions.

“Personal integrity is pretty fundamental for any political leader… I guess he’s found his wanting,” he said, likely anticipating the rhetorical tone he intends to strike in the lead-up to the March 2018 state election.

But the Liberals’ shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas said the party had been convinced that storing high-level nuclear waste was “not a goer”.

“I went into it with my eyes wide open, prepared to look sensibly and seriously at it, and I’ve come to the conclusion from an economic and financial viewpoint – and a risk viewpoint – that it’s unsustainable,” he told InDaily.

“The more we’ve gone into this, it’s clear that [it won’t work] unless the Federal Government – Labor or Liberal – are absolutely committed to it… there’s no prospect at all [Bill Shorten is] going to go to the next federal election campaigning for a nuclear waste dump in SA.”

Nonetheless, the parliamentary committee investigating the royal commission’s report – on which Lucas sits – will continue hearings this month and hand down its final report in coming weeks.

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