Marshall today embarked on his third regional tour since seizing office at last month’s election, visiting the South-East seat of Mount Gambier where Liberal-turned-Independent MP Troy Bell is a firm advocate for nuclear power.
Marshall and Bell broke bread this morning, their second face-to-face meeting since election day.
Bell quit the party after being charged with dishonesty offences following an ICAC investigation. He is pleading not guilty in an ongoing court case.
Marshall told InDaily he was “looking forward to a close working relationship with all the crossbenchers”, and that Bell was “the duly elected member for Mount Gambier and as such I’ll be treating him with respect”.
“I’ve always worked with Troy Bell… it’s quite obvious we share a lot of common aspirations for the people of the South-East,” he said.
One of those aspirations could yet be the establishment of a nuclear generator after Marshall last year flagged his interest in considering the industry, despite Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce rejecting it as a commercially viable option “in the foreseeable future”.
“There will be a time when it may become viable, and desperate times call for desperate solutions – and we are in a desperate situation,” Marshall told media in February 2017.
We don’t consider it viable in the short-term… that’s not to say it can’t come back onto the agenda
Bell, who spearheaded the Liberals’ South-East fracking moratorium before he left the party-room, is a strong advocate for nuclear power and told InDaily he was “absolutely happy to lead the discussion” about establishing a local industry.
Asked if he would advocate for a nuclear generator in the South-East, he said: “A small modular one – yes definitely.”
“If you want to have a manufacturing base, if you want to look at lowering the price of electricity for everybody – no option should be off the table.”
Bell said he was “very interested” in the nuclear option, insisting that “with modern technology and advancements there’s more discussions that need to be had in that space”.
“The problem is nobody wants it in their backyard,” he said.
Bell eschewed the perception of nuclear chimney “stacks”, saying: “That’s not what I’d envisage as a future for nuclear power.”
“I’d be talking about very small modular units that look like a shipping container, basically, that can power 100,000 places,” he said.
“But until you have a community that says they’re prepared to have one in their region – with cheaper power and manufacturing as the benefits – I think it’s a long-term argument.”
Asked whether voters in the South-East would be willing to contemplate such a plant in their own backyard, he said: “It depends where in the South-East.”
“My gut feel is no, not at this stage [but] that’s the work that needs to be done,” he said.
“You need to put up the model, what it will actually look like and address the safety concerns people would have… it would have to come with the resources that the community would need to make an informed decision.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to listen to your community and present their concerns and opinions onto the floor of parliament.”
Marshall told InDaily today nuclear power was “not on the short-term agenda of the Government”.
“We’ve got a very robust plan for energy [and] we’re already well on the [record] for saying we want to be neutral on that issue,” he said.
“We’ll consider every option to ensure we have lower prices and greater reliability.
“We don’t consider it viable in the short-term [but] that’s not to say it can’t come back onto the agenda further down the track.”
Bell’s position on nuclear sits awkwardly alongside his opposition to fracking in the south-east, with Marshall’s cabinet already recommitting to impose a 10-year ban.
The Mount Gambier MP says he tries to “keep an open mind” on fracking, having twice toured facilities in the US.
“I came away with ‘yes, it can be done safely’, however if it goes wrong it goes really wrong and there’s no way of putting that genie back in the bottle,” he said.
“The problem I have with fracking is I’ve seen examples where it’s gone wrong [and] you could say the same about Fukushima, but I wouldn’t be in favour of a big nuclear plant like Fukushima.”
He insisted that fracking was “not off the table for parts of SA”.
“I’m very supportive of [fracking in] the Cooper Basin and areas where there’s no agriculture and no other aspects,” he said.
Despite the fracking ban, Marshall – who in recent days has met twice with BHP executives – insists “we see a bright future for mining and exploration under the Liberal Government”.
“We’ve got a renewed focus on improving the cost of energy in SA,” he said.
Bell has not ruled out re-joining the Liberal Party before the next election, but says he will serve out the current term as an independent.
“I told my community I’ll serve the four years as an independent,” he said.
Penola and Bordertown are also on Marshall’s itinerary today.
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