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Deplorables 1 - Elites 0

Opinion

South Australia's nuclear citizens' jury is another example of ordinary people fighting back against politically influential elites, argues economics commentator Richard Blandy.

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Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election in the United States is an astounding socio-political event. Despite every effort at making himself personally unelectable, Trump’s economic message was so attractive to those who have lost a lot as a result of globalisation and technological change that he won the day against a Hillary Clinton representing a continuation of policies derived from elite thinking and associated with a large increase in economic inequality.

Clinton’s regrettable description of Trump’s backers as a “basket of deplorables” (for which she subsequently apologised) only went to underscore the patronising view she (and the political forces she represents) hold of people whose views are not those of the “politically correct” (PC) – or more accurately – “politically influential” (PI) elite.

The vote in Britain in favour of Brexit in the face of all the PI groups – including President Obama, as well as both main political parties and people from the City urging a “remain” vote – represents a similar defeat of mainstream ideas derived from elite thinking.

The political success at the recent Australian Federal election of populist groups associated with Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson is a further evidence that the continuing dominance of the PI elite is under threat.

What does this mean for South Australia?

David Penberthy hit the nail on the head in The Advertiser on Friday when he wrote of the Second Citizens’ Jury’s decision to reject the proposal for a nuclear dump by an overwhelming majority:

… the jury’s report drifted well beyond its brief to issue a damningly blunt statement about the issue of government trust…

A majority of the jurors made it clear that they did not trust the information they had been given by the Government or its Royal Commission, and did not trust the Government to manage or regulate a waste storage facility.

Penberthy concluded that the citizen’s jury had declared, through their report, that “government itself is the problem”.

As I wrote last week, I was invited as an expert economics witness to present evidence to the jury on 29 October at the Convention Centre. I was not surprised by the decision that they reached after hearing the evidence presented about the economics of the dump proposal. Some have argued that the selection of witnesses was biased in that four of the five witnesses were highly critical of the economics of the proposal. The jury had the Royal Commission’s Report which strongly advocated in favour of the dump, of course. So it was not unreasonable for them to choose people who would question the report.

But, in addition, the second citizens’ jury followed the first, in whose deliberations I was also invited to participate back in July. That jury was concerned about the economic viability of the dump, too, and called for more analysis of the business case underpinning the dump – which, in typically arrogant PI fashion, did not happen before the second citizens’ jury rolled around nearly four months later.

In addition to myself, by the way, there was only one other expert economics witness seriously questioning the economics of the dump: Rod Campbell, Research Director of the Australia Institute in Canberra. All the other expert economics witnesses supported the dump proposal, at least to some extent.

Some of the expert witnesses supporting the economics of the dump in the first citizens’ jury had been involved in undertaking the economic/financial analysis of the dump for the royal commission.

The idea that the proponents of the dump did not have a fair go in the citizens’ jury process is nonsense. They were the ones who did the analysis on which the royal commission based its findings.

The first jury operated as a free-flowing discussion rather than with set pieces presented by the witnesses followed by questions from the jurors. The issues are, of course, difficult and technical. But the jurors (like the jurors in the second jury) were great. They were sensible, common-sense, people, who could see that the proposed dump was not a business proposition that any person in their right mind would invest in. They, too, quite properly insisted that the business case for the dump should be made watertight – or the dump abandoned.

Finding out if the business case for the dump was watertight, or not, would not come cheap. Jacobs Engineering Group project manager, Tim Johnson, who was added, by DemocracyCo, as an expert witness to the economics panel at the second jury, testified to the State Joint Parliamentary Committee investigating the project that it would take six years to firm up the business case before deciding to proceed, at a cost of $300 million – $600 million.

In other words, it would cost up to $600 million to find out if the project was dud, or not! That is $600 million not available to be spent on hospitals, schools, or roads – or solving our electricity crisis. And that would come on top of the $10 million that this exercise in fantasy has already cost.

South Australians can see that they are being taken for suckers, in the hope that they will support a Government that does not have a sensible strategy for the economic development of the state. The considered opposition of the second jury to the dump has been “reduced in significance” by the Government in comparison with other community “evidence” to which the Government has hastily given new prominence.

South Australians do not want to be reformed by our State Government according to the ideas of its PI elites. We want sensible ordinary people running things for us, as we are and as we want to be. We don’t want to be organised and told how to behave by fancy people with reformist agendas looking to make us conform to their idea of a better society.

We are OK just as we are, thanks. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore. We want them to listen to us – not the other way around.

That is what was promised to the Citizens’ Jury – until the Jury came up with the “wrong” answer (insofar as far as the Premier and his PI elite advisers were concerned).

Furthermore, the idea that the proponents of the dump did not have a fair go in the citizens’ jury process is nonsense. They were the ones who produced, and/or vetted, the analysis on which the royal commission based its findings. They were well-represented as witnesses in the proceedings of the first citizens’ jury. And they were well represented by the person in charge of preparing the business case for the dump in the proceedings of the second jury.

Now we are to have a referendum on the dump. There is no way known that a straightforward referendum can pass if Marshall, Xenophon and the Greens are opposed to the dump after two juries have overwhelmingly rejected it. This must mean that some sneaky political manoeuvre is afoot that the PI elite believe they can use to manipulate us.

Richard Blandy is an Adjunct Professor of Economics in the Business School at the University of South Australia and a weekly contributor to InDaily. He is a member of the No Dump Alliance.

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