If you missed it just ponder this for a moment. In South Australia the Labor Party is sticking by its leader's commitment to press on with investigating the viability of hosting the world's used nuclear fuels and associated waste. While the Liberal opposition is happy to employ rhetoric usually only uttered by the local Greens and anti-nuclear activists in opposing Premier Jay Weatherill's vision.
Where this will end is anyone's informed guess but it speaks to a larger issue in contemporary politics, namely the contest between rising populism and the hope of genuine political leadership capable of evoking a narrative associated with a vision.
Deciding to fight the opportunism of Opposition leader, Mr Steven Marshall, when he broke with bipartisanship on the 'nuclear dump' question, Mr Weatherill is gambling that in coming months he will find evidence to support the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission finding that significant economic benefits were in the offing. With the Liberals and the Greens opposed, and many of his colleagues decidedly uncertain, he may be gambling his leadership ahead of the March 2018 State election.
Labor seeks an almost impossible fifth term against the background of relatively high unemployment and depressed sentiment due to the closure of automotive manufacturing and the announcement two years ago that BHP Billiton was mothballing plans to dig the largest open-cut mine in the world, the Olympic Dam project.
Royal Commisioner and former SA Governor, Kevin Scarce, handed his report to the South Australian Government in May this year and, as noted above, it pointed to a potential economic bonanza should the State entertain hosting other countries used nuclear fuel. Any prospect of progressing this debate rested squarely on two key factors, bipartisanship and a reasonable degree of public consent.
The Premier now finds himself engaged in a game of brinksmanship with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, who, until last week, took a bipartisan position on the question of whether or not the state should entertain hosting a repository for used nuclear fuel. Certainly, Premier Weatherill surprised many commentators, and shocked the Opposition and the anti-nuclear lobby, with his decision to keep the issue alive. Aware that there have been no protests of thousands, and that the Citizens' Jury process was flawed, he sees strategic advantage in exposing Mr Marshall as opportunistic and out of step with the Liberal Party's business constituency. Mr Weatherill's aim is to encourage the Liberals back to bipartisanship, and this is the necessary prerequisite for any future referendum.
Both in Parliament and in a recent opinion article, Mr Weatherillstressed the dimensions of the opportunity identified by the Royal Commission when he observed:
…our State could benefit from projected revenue of $257 billion. If we were to invest this into a State Wealth Fund, this could accumulate to $445 billion for South Australia. This is the equivalent of $260,000 for every single person in our State. As Premier, it is my duty to explore such an opportunity.
It is the prospect of an economic bonanza that keeps this issue alive. The new challenge for Mr Weatherill is to find proof that the Royal Commission's financial modeling is not fundamentally in error as some economists argue.
This will not be easy, as I explain below, now that bipartisanship is broken. However, Mr Weatherill knows that if he can demonstrate the robustness of the modeling that social consent, including the consent of Aboriginal South Australians, will more than likely follow. The reason is simple: South Australians know their economy is in deep trouble and are looking for viable means to arrest its de-industrialisation.
In Parliament, Mr Weatherill said, 'There will be no referendum until bipartisanship is restored. At the heart of bipartisanship will be the policy processes that occur inside the Liberal Party.' [Hansard Tuesday 15 November 2016 p.7758]. The Premier aims to foster division among Liberal MPs and Party supporters and expose Mr Marshall as shallow and opportunistic. No doubt these machinations befuddle many on-lookers as prominent local radio host and columnist David Penberthypointed to a recent column:
When it comes to the question of nuclear waste storage, this is how the politics currently shapes up in this confusing little state of ours.
The one political leader who believes there may yet be merit in the proposal is a lifelong member of Labor's Left Faction, the same grouping which brought us the half-pregnant "three mines" policy on uranium mining, and which has historically opposed any further expansion of the nuclear fuel cycle.
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