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Richardson: Turning trash into treasure, but at what expense?

Opinion

Remember that old advertising slogan for John West tuna that insisted it was the fish “John West rejects” that make the brand the best?

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The idea being, of course, that so fastidious was the company in its seafood selection that tuna the rest of us would deem perfectly acceptable wouldn’t make the cut.

But it appears the Weatherill Government has cunningly adapted that slogan for its 2018 policy platform.

For it appears that it’s the policies other states reject that pass South Australia’s test.

Hell, we could even use that as the new state logo.

Either that, or: “South Australia – your trash is our treasure.”

For there is a definite political trend emerging, highlighted by Tom Koutsantonis’ shoutout last week to gas exploration companies burned by the Victorian Labor Government’s decision to ban fracking outright.

(Incidentally, in the days since, tentative UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also announced he would ban fracking, invest heavily in renewable energy and scrap all coal-fired power stations – which is not altogether surprising, but does make the Labour Left’s ’80s-era war on Thatcher for closing uneconomic coal-pits somewhat ironic in hindsight.)

“I encourage any exploration companies affected by this decision to consider coming to South Australia, where the assessment and approval of projects is left to expert regulators,” Koutsantonis spruiked after the Victorian decision.

Fair enough. As Energy Minister, attracting business is his bag, baby.

Beggars can’t exactly be choosers, can they? That’s why it’s the industries other states reject that pass SA’s test

But then, one of this week’s political stoushes seems to continue the theme.

On Monday, animal rights activists PETA Australia weighed into the impassioned debate over a planned new $6 million greyhound racing track at Murray Bridge.

The Development Assessment Commission approved the venture – including a 620m track – despite acknowledging that the majority of responses it received were opposed to it, mostly on ideological and animal welfare grounds.

Greyhound dogs race at the Wentworth Park stadium in Sydney, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Greyhound racing has returned to Sydney's Wentworth Park and other NSW tracks for the first time since the state government announced plans to ban it. Last week Premier Mike Baird announced plans to shut down the sport in NSW following a Special Commission of Inquiry report that found "chilling" evidence of systemic animal cruelty within the industry. (AAP Image/David Moir) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Greyhound dogs race at the Wentworth Park stadium in Sydney. Photo: David Moir / AAP

Of course, now that the Baird Government has outright banned greyhound racing in New South Wales – stung by a Special Commission of Inquiry by former High Court judge Michael McHugh that highlighted the slaughter of up to 68,000 dogs in the past 12 years – SA’s new racetrack is looking like an even more lucrative proposition.

No wonder our Racing Minister Leon Bignell was quick to reject calls from the RSPCA and others for SA to follow suit.

“Obviously it’s a very big step from Premier Baird and it’s something we won’t be following suit with here,” Bignell said back in July.

“We’re very close with the industry here … and we’ve all worked very hard over the past two years to ensure we do have a good, clean and safe greyhound racing industry here and I want to back them.”

He went on to point out that the industry is, after all, responsible for $50 million a year in economic activity in SA.

And beggars can’t exactly be choosers, can they?

That’s why it’s the industries other states reject that pass SA’s test.

The big one, of course, the shining symbolic pinnacle of turning proverbial trash into literal treasure, is the mooted high-level nuclear repository.

The Nuclear Waste Dump, if you will.

There are, obviously, compelling arguments to pursue the venture, detailed in the findings of the Scarce Royal Commission.

And the notion has had its fervent supporters for some considerable time.

But it’s fair to say that if we reach what the advocates are wont to call a “social consensus” on the issue, it will be because the broad balance of the population can be convinced that the state’s options are sufficiently limited as to warrant embracing an industry that we otherwise would rather not countenance.

For most, that acceptance will involve a degree of either ideological compromise or willing suspension of knee-jerk NIMBY-ism.

How else can we explain the fact that – egged on by a ferocious anti-nuclear Rann Government campaign – the prospect of a low to medium-level nuclear waste dump was universally howled down only a decade ago.

And yet, now we’re inviting po-faced academics to brief earnest citizens’ juries about the science of spent fuel storage while we dispassionately discuss the merits of becoming the final destination for the balance of the world’s nuclear waste.

Sure, there can be something noble about accepting society’s flotsam and jetsam, and every village needs a rubbish tip – even the global village.

But none of this is exactly “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, is it?

Of course, the next phrase of “The New Colossus” – the sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus that stands engraved on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty – reads: “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

And that seems more apt.

File photo dated 28/11/08 of the Statue of Liberty which is one of the famous heritage sites threatened by climate change, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), UN heritage body Unesco and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned.. Issue date: Thursday May 26, 2016. Historic and natural World Heritage sites are already feeling the brunt of increasing temperatures, with rising seas, erosion and storms hitting Orkney's neolithic coastal treasures and important tropical coral reefs "bleached" by warmer seas. See PA story HERITAGE Climate. Photo credit should read: Martin Keene/PA Wire

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” Photo: Martin Keene / PA Wire

Yes, come to South Australia, you ousted greyhound trainers, purveyors of unconventional gas, pedlars of unwanted nuclear refuse – we want you all!

If it’s one jurisdiction’s trash, it’s our treasure.

And it all makes perfect economic sense, of course.

It’s just that this zeal for industries that our nearest neighbours – of both political hue – view with populist disdain could make us look a tad… well, undiscerning.

And countering that will take a deft political hand.

Or at the very least, a new state slogan: “It’s the industries the others reject that pass SA’s test.”

Tom Richardson is a senior reporter at InDaily. 

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