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Nuclear fight isn't over, vows Business SA

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Business SA has vowed to continue the nuclear waste dump fight after the next election, with boss Nigel McBride slamming the state’s politicians for killing off the debate because of populist politics.

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McBride also slammed Jay Weatherill’s citizens’ jury, which he says tried to shoehorn years of detailed debate into “a few weekends”, effectively derailing the community engagement process.

InDaily reported yesterday that the final report of a parliamentary inquiry established to review the findings of former Governor Kevin Scarce’s Nuclear Royal Commission recommended that the State Government “should not commit any further public funds to pursuing the proposal to establish a repository for the storage of nuclear waste in SA”.

The recommendation received majority support, with Labor, Liberal and Greens MPs backing it and the Australian Conservatives MLC dissenting.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell went further, pushing to reinstate laws that would prevent any Government consulting publicly on the merits of a nuclear waste storage.

But McBride today hit out at the political consensus, warning it set a dangerous precedent of shutting down mature debate on complex issues.

“Parliament has shut the door on ever taking it forward,” he told InDaily.

“That kind of thinking when we’re concerned about something – ‘let’s legislate so we can never discuss it again’ – will shut the door on any kind of detailed economic investigation of anything going forward.”

He said the state had already spent at least $14 million of taxpayers’ money on the Royal Commission – let alone subsequent community consultations.

“Our view was that [the Commission] was highly credible and went as far as it could go in establishing options to proceed with a more informed investigation,” he said.

“The sad thing is, we haven’t even begun the investigation – why would you shut something down that in global terms hasn’t even begun?”

McBride said it was a cautionary tale that difficult economic debates can be effectively silenced “if fringe groups make enough noise”.

“It’s disappointing it became a political football,” he said.

“We never said we had enough information to say whether this should proceed or not… what the Royal Commission said was this warranted further investigation – that process hasn’t even begun.

“I personally think that’s a real tragedy… for parliament to talk about coming to a conclusion on that seems to indicate we’ve properly explored the issues – we haven’t.

“We’ve gone nowhere near them.”

He said it was the “tragedy of living in a populist electoral system”, and set a “terrible precedent for parliament to actually halt intellectually honest debates and investigations”.

“If we take this approach to everything we think can’t get popular support, we’re going to have a state with a very nervous future,” he said.

But he reserved particular scorn for Weatherill’s bid to hasten the decision process through a series of citizens’ juries.

“The sad thing for us was that it was put to a citizens’ jury at that stage in the process, whereas in advanced western countries that have got nuclear industries of any kind, these processes took at least a decade.

“So we compressed the process – highly complex, highly emotive issues – into a few weekends with members of the public.”

McBride was among those who spoke at the jury sessions, and described the jurors as “intelligent, thoughtful, questioning, decent members of the public”.

“But complex issues like this baffle even experts,” he said, “and you can’t squeeze a process into a few weeks.”

Despite being a long-time advocate for exploring nuclear waste storage in SA, McBride was among the first proponents to declare the plan “dead” after the state Liberals last year withdrew bipartisan support.

At the time, the Business SA boss lamented “realpolitik” would not allow any further investigation of the plan – which the royal commission had estimated would pump billions of dollars into the state’s economy.

“I wasn’t happy about it, but we had to recognise the reality of that,” he said today.

However, he now intimates Business SA plans to continue to agitate to restore the debate to the political agenda.

“Frankly, we don’t think there’s any point in raising it till after the next election,” he said.

“We’re hoping there may be a more fertile environment for the debate.”

He said the “very credible Royal Commission findings” warranted further investigation “out of respect for the fact we’ve paid for it, to make sure we haven’t missed something”.

“To shut the gate before we’ve had an opportunity to do a basic investigation beyond the Royal Commission is ridiculous,” he said.

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