Michels Warren PRopaganda

- South Australians dumping on South Australia.


Jim Green

Campaign Against Nuclear Dumping

June 15, 2004.


Ph 8227 1399.



Precise references for comments/quotes in the following statement are available - use the above contact details.




June 2004 marks the fifth anniversary of PR company Michel Warren’s involvement in the federal government’s plan to establish a national nuclear waste dump in South Australia. A great deal of information is now available about the role of Michels Warren in this controversy thanks to documents released under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.


Parts of the FoI material were discussed in a media release from the SA environment minister John Hill on May 5, 2004 (included below), but a closer reading of the FoI documents reveals much else of interest - including proof that federal science minister Peter McGauran has misled the Parliament.


Misleading statements by the federal government


While this paper focusses on the role of Michels Warren, it should be noted that the FoI material reveals evidence of the federal government misleading the Parliament and the public.


The FoI material reveals that the dump could be 25 times larger than the government has ever publicly acknowledged. A February 10, 2000 email from a senior government official, Rosemary Marcon, says that the “actual disposal area is a 500mx500m” (250,000 square metres) and she repeats that statement in a March 22, 2000 email. Yet public statements from the government refer to a 100mx100m disposal area - 10,000 square metres (e.g. Environmental Impact Statement, p.11.) Had the reference to a much larger dump been made once, and/or had it been made by a junior official, it might be passed over as an error. But the statement is made twice, and it is made by a senior government official.


In response to a Question on Notice, federal science minister Peter McGauran asserted unequivocally that departmental officers had not developed a list of ‘experts’ to make public comments in support of the proposed nuclear waste dump. (Senate Hansard, October 27, 2003, p.16471, Question No. 2134, full text copied below.) However, the FoI material makes it clear that such a list was indeed developed. A July 6, 2000 email from Caroline Perkins, a senior government official, lists four “technical experts ... who have agreed to assisting us in general”, though their names are blanked out. McGauran’s unequivocal assertion that departmental officers had not developed a list of ‘experts’ to comment on the dump was clearly false - and he was clearly misleading the Parliament and the public.


A 2002 government document released under FoI legislation (and previously leaked), titled “Communication Strategy for the National Radioactive Waste Repository Project”, states that: “An Adelaide based communications consultant, Michels Warren, has been subcontracted ... to assist with the development, implementation and refinement of this strategy which has entailed the following: ... enlistment of a scientific liaison officer and other willing experts”.


A 2003 document written by Michels Warren discusses plans to organise eminent Australians and members of South Australian medical and science community to participate in the ‘communications’ program. Michels Warren states: “This would involve a concerted program of letters to the editor of The Advertiser and responding and participating on talk radio programs.”


The government and Michels Warren seem to have struggled to find “willing experts”. For example, Mike Duggan from Michels Warren said in a July 6, 2000 email that it would be a “great idea” to gather experts for a media conference, “if possible at one of the universities or hospitals where waste is held”, in support of the dump - but no such media conference eventuated.


Those ‘experts’ that have been enlisted have been error-prone. For example, the FoI material contains a summary of a May 2000 radio interview with Dr Leon Mitchell of Flinders University, who falsely claimed the dump would be lined with an impermeable layer to isolate it from the underlying earth (the dump trenches will be unlined). Mitchells also said the dump was for things such as watch dials not nuclear power plants and reactors. In fact, dismantled nuclear reactor components will be sent to the dump (if it proceeds), and that reactor waste will amount to up to 5,000 cubic metres, which is greater than the entire existing stockpile of 3,700 cubic metres of waste destined for the dump. Michels Warren was involved in organising radio interviews with Mitchell, the FoI material reveals. Other enlisted ‘experts’ have falsely claimed that the dump is only for low-level waste, and one ‘expert’ even claimed that the waste would not be buried!


McGauran misled Parliament on another point. He asserted unequivocally in a response to a Question on Notice that no ‘experts’ were provided with media training by consultants to the department. The FoI material reveals that McGauran’s claim was false. On July 12, 2000, Michels Warren charged the government $240 to provide a written briefing to one of the enlisted ‘experts’, Dr. Gerald Laurence, in preparation for media interviews. On July 7, 2000, Michels Warren briefed another enlisted ‘expert’, Dr. John Patterson, for a radio interview. Then on July 12-13, 2000, Michels Warren billed the federal government $800 for media training with the government’s scientific liaison officer on the dump project, Dr. Keith Lokan.


Why Michels Warren would be conducting briefings about the dump is anyone’s guess. The FoI material is replete with factual errors. For example, a draft letter to a newspaper, states: “Unequivocally, it [the dump] will only ever contain low-level waste.” Yet the dump will take both low- and intermediate-level waste, including (according to the EIS, pp.45-46) long-lived intermediate-level waste. The draft letter also states that “Australia produces no high-level waste ...” Yet the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, operator of the reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney, acknowledges that its spent nuclear fuel meets the heat and radiological criteria for classification as high-level waste, and the New South Wales Environment Protection Agency has also acknowledged that the Lucas Heights reactor generates high-level waste.


The context for the “willing experts” strategy is made clear in the FoI documents. Market research by the McGregor Tan company revealed: “A knee-jerk negative reaction to sighting the Commonwealth crest - it is interpreted as the symbol accompanying government propaganda.” The market research also revealed: “Cynical responses to government promises and attempts at reassurance.” And McGregor Tan found that: “Ministers’ statements are rarely believed, regardless of the individual Minister’s honourable intentions.”


Michels Warren’s nuclear dump PRopaganda


Michels Warren has been involved in the following campaigns (among others): a controversy over cadmium at West Lakes, Bridgestone tyres, bacteria in fast food, SA Water contamination, ETSA Utilities, the SA Freemasons, Telstra, WMC Ltd., and campaigns on behalf of the corporate owners of the Beverley and Honeymoon uranium mines in South Australia.


Michels Warren has been involved in the nuclear dump campaign since June 1999. Its involvement has consisted of several discrete contracts rather than an ongoing involvement. A July 8, 1999 letter from Stephen Middleton from Michels Warren states that the company is “delighted to be part of the project” and has “hit the ground running” since it started on the project in the previous month. Michels Warren has maintained its enthusiasm. A 2003 document - a tender seeking involvement in the federal government’s covert plan to seize control of land for the dump site - states that: “We are available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to provide our support to the Minister and this project.”


A September 27, 2000 email written by Stephen Middleton from Michels Warren talks about the need to “soften up the community” and “sell” the repository: “We will lose ground once again unless we can soften up the community on the need for the repository and the reasons why SA has been identified as the best location. The prospect of the Minister announcing the preferred site before we can get to the community with something that explains what it all means makes my head spin. The wider research into issues such as Lucas Heights, uranium mining, the nuclear fuel cycle etc etc can be tackled as a separate issue. It should not hold up anything we are doing in terms of selling the repository to South Australians. The rest of the country probably doesn’t care less about the repository, but it is a big issue in SA. Further delays could be potentially disastrous.”


Why on earth is a South Australian company willingly involving itself in the federal government’s nuclear dump plans? After all, Michels Warren itself acknowledges that the dump is an unwanted imposition on SA. A 2003 Michels Warren document released under FoI legislation states:


“The National Repository could never be sold as “good news” to South Australians. There are few, if any, tangible benefits such as jobs, investment or improved infrastructure. Its merits to South Australians, at the most, are intangible and the range and complexity of issues make them difficult to communicate.”


So why is Michels Warren dumping on its home state? Money, of course. The federal government has acknowledged making the following payments to Michels Warren (in response to a Question on Notice from Senator Bob Brown - copied in full below):

* $359,000 in financial years 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03 (Senate Hansard, October 27, 2003, p.16471 - copied in full below).

* in 2003, Michels Warren and the federal government signed a $107,000 contract for work connected to the government’s compulsory seizure of land for the dump. At least $26,000 of that amount was paid (and quite possibly the entire $107,000).

* undisclosed payments to Michels Warren in 1999-2000.


The 1999-2000 payments amount to at least $102,000 up to May 31, 2000, according to a document included in the FoI material (Progress Payment Certificate, Number 12, August 24, 2000).


So in total, Michels Warren has been paid at least $487,000 to dump on SA ... and possibly much more.


Michels Warren staff have been paid at rates up to $192.50 per hour (GST inclusive) for their work on the nuclear dump campaign.


The detailed breakdowns of payments to Michels Warren raise further concerns about whether tax-payers are getting value for money. For example:

* $160 to draft a letter to editor of Mt Barker Times

* $894 for Michels Warren employees to attend a public meeting organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation and for preparatory and debriefing work surrounding the meeting (a full house at the Adelaide Town Hall, with approximately 1000 people attending).

* $225 to draft a letter to a constituent.

* $240 to schedule talk-back radio interviews.


Michels Warren is not the only company in receipt of government funding for PR and research in relation to the nuclear waste dump, e.g.

* $61,369 paid to Worthington Di Marzio in 2003 for market research. (Senate Hansard, October 29, 2003, pp.16681-2, Question No. 2139.)

* $72,000 paid to Hill & Knowlton in 2002-03. (Senate Hansard, October 27, 2003, p.16471, Question No. 2136.) Hill & Knowlton is well known for its involvement in the imaginative ‘babies in the incubator’ fiasco in Iraq in 1990-91, and for its work with tobacco companies, Enron, etc.


Monitoring protesters


An August 16, 2000 “high priority” email reveals that Caroline Perkins, a senior official in the Department of Industry, Science and Resources - at that time under the direction of Senator Nick Minchin - was asked to compile information on protesters. "[T[he minister wants a short biography of our main opponents in the Ivy campaign by about 11am our time (pre-rally)”, the email said. The rest of the email is blacked out under FoI provisions. The email refers to a Michels Warren employee - no doubt Michels Warren helped compile the biographies.


In 1999 Michels Warren was working hard “obviating the impact of campaigns by opponents and the ‘I’m With Ivy Campaign’ run by Ch 7.”


The Michels Warren worksheet for February 2000 includes the following: “Liaise investigator re green planning. Liaise R Yeeles [from WMC Ltd.] re updated intelligence.” Was Michels Warren employing a private investigator as that comment suggests?


And on March 28, 2000, $150 for activities concerned with a “Protest at South Australian Parliament”, and $160 four days earlier to “Liaise WMC, Police and media re weekend protests.”


And in April 2000: “check re new protest activities”, “liaise SA Police re same”, “internet search re protests”, and “update intelligence re OHMS Not Boms protest group”.


In March 2000, Rosemary Marcon, a government official, asked Michels Warren for the details of  an “activist website which we should monitor”. She was advised by Michels Warren that the site is <www.lockon.org>. Evidently that piece of ‘intelligence’ was off-beam - the website advertises streaming live shows from nude male dancers in Montreal!


The FoI documentation is frequently contemptuous of opponents of the planned nuclear waste dump (about 80% of the South Australian population). The option of displaying the Environmental Impact Statement in the Conservation Centre of South Australia is treated as a joke. Opponents of the dump are described as “anti-nuclear anarchists”. Michels Warren co-founder Daryl Warren refers in a July 14, 2003 email to protests and “demons”. On July 10, 2003, Warren stated that: “It has become apparent during the week that people seem to have lost the plot on the repository as it becomes embroiled in a political fight.”


In response to an invitation to the federal science minister to attend a conference at Adelaide University in March 2000, Michel’s Warren employee Stephen Middleton recommends against attending the conference. Middleton wrote: “The better option is to:

(i) dismiss the gathering as nothing more than a stunt

(ii) attempt to discredit it with counter media measures before, during and after.”


Doctoring photos


The FoI material suggests that photographs have been doctored to suit the government’s ends. A February 14, 2000 email from a senior government official to Michels Warren’s graphic designer refers to a photo “with the sandhills removed.” The rationale was explained in a December 13, 1999 email by the same government official: “Dunes are a sensitive area with respect to Aboriginal Heritage.”


The February, 2000 email also asked: “Can the horizon be straightened up as well.”


Scare campaign


A recurring theme in the exchanges between the federal government and Michels Warren is the attempt to justify the dump by mounting a scare-campaign in relation to existing storage facilities. Yet they get their lines muddled up. One document released under FoI includes that statement that “none” of the waste “is stored satisfactorily” in existing stores. That is in direct contradiction to a June 2000 document document under Senator Nick Minchin’s name (“Radioactive waste: the eight biggest myths”), which states: “The safety of the storage of radioactive waste is proven by the fact that there are fifty stores around Australia housing radioactive waste and there has never been an accident exposing a person to unsafe levels of radiation.”


And in a May 17, 2000 media release, Minchin said: "South Australians have nothing to fear from radioactive waste. The fact is that waste is already stored in downtown Adelaide in complete safety." Anyone claiming otherwise was merely trying to "whip up anti-radioactive waste hysteria", Minchin claimed. So by his logic, Michels Warren and the federal government itself are guilty of trying to whip up hysteria.




Senate Hansard, 27-10-03, p.16471

National Radioactive Waste Repository

(Question No. 2134)


Senator Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 18 September 2003:


With reference to work by the department on the proposed nuclear waste dump in South Australia:

(1) Did departmental officers develop a list of ‘experts’ that were used to make public comments in support of the proposed nuclear waste dump; if so, when was this list first developed.

(2) What was the proposed nature of the relationship with the ‘experts’.

(3) Were members of the media and/or ‘media commentators’ proposed to be included as part of the expert panel; if so, why.

(4) What tasks were each of the ‘experts’ required to perform.

(5) Were formal contracts entered in to with each of the ‘experts’.

(6) Were any payments made to any of the ‘experts’; if so: (a) to whom; (b) what amount; (c) what were the payments for; and (d) when were the payments made.

(7) Was it a requirement that these ‘experts’, including members of the media and/or ‘media commentators’, be required to disclose these payments when making any public comments.

(8) Did departmental officers consider the need to undertake media training of the ‘experts’ selected to support the proposed nuclear waste dump.

(9) How was the expert panel formed.

(10) Were any of the ‘experts’ provided with media training by consultants to the department; if so: (a) who received training; and (b) what was the cost.


Senator Vanstone—The Minister for Science has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1) No.

(2) Not applicable.

(3) Not applicable.

(4) Not applicable.

(5) Not applicable.

(6) Not applicable.

a. Not applicable.

b. Not applicable.

c. Not applicable.

d. Not applicable.

(7) Not applicable.

(8) Not applicable.

(9) Not applicable.

(10) Not applicable.

a. Not applicable

b. Not applicable




Senate Hansard, October 27, 2003, p.16471

National Radioactive Waste Repository

Question No. 2140.


Senator Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 18 September 2003:


With reference to the public relations consultancy work undertaken by Michels Warren in relation to the proposed nuclear waste dump in South Australia prior to December 2002:

(a) When did this consultancy work commence and conclude;

(b) what was the cost involved in each financial year that it ran;

(c) what was the objective of the consultancy;

(d) what were the key tasks the consultants were required to perform; and

(e) what was the nature of the ‘issues monitoring’ work undertaken by

the company.


Senator Vanstone—The Minister for Science has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(a) Michels Warren was engaged to work on the national repository project by the Department of Education, Science and Training from 21 May to 1 August 2002 and from 6 September 2002 to 6 December 2002, and by the former Department of Industry, Science and Resources from 30 June 1999 to 31 December 2001.

(b) The cost was as follows:

Financial Year Amount paid to Michels Warren inclusive of GST

2000-2001 $219,083.46

2001-2002 $113,781.79

2002-2003 $26,576.86

The figures for 1999-2000 are not readily obtainable from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources.

(c) The consultancy under the various contracts consisted of:

* issues management to promote balanced reporting and community understanding of issues surrounding the national repository;

* production of an information newsletter (The Monitor);

* providing information on Adelaide and regional community views on the project; and

* maintaining a watching brief over Adelaide and regional media coverage of the project and responding to media coverage as required.

(d) The key tasks undertaken under the 30 July 1999 – 31 December 2001 contract with the former Department of Industry, Science and Resources were to:

* launch the 1999 Report on Public Comment to the Adelaide and South Australian media;

* maintain a watching brief over the South Australian media to determine when the national repository project was likely to become the subject of media attention;

* respond to media coverage;

* produce a newsletter and fact sheets;

* manage a subcontractor undertaking market research work; and

* assist the Department in drafting relevant material on the project.

The key tasks under the 21 May to 1 August 2002 contract with the Department of Education, Science and Training were to produce and distribute an edition of The Monitor newsletter in central-north South Australia to inform the community about the release of the Environmental Impact Statement on the national repository.

The key tasks under the 6 September 2002 to 6 December 2002 contract with the Department of Education, Science and Training were:

* media monitoring;

* preparation and distribution of information for the media and community;

* liaison with the media; and

* provision of advice about relevant issues.

(e) The issues monitoring work undertaken by Michels Warren consisted of monitoring Adelaide and regional South Australian media for coverage of the national repository project to establish when an issue associated with the project was likely to become, or had become, the subject of media attention.




Federal govt still looking at high and medium level nuke dump?


News Release    

John Hill

South Australian Minister for Environment and Conservation

May 5, 2004


Environment Minister John Hill says information discovered under a Federal Freedom of Information search shows the Federal Government may still be keeping its options open about establishing a high and medium level nuclear waste dump in the outback of Australia.


"This was revealed in FOI documents obtained on behalf of the State Government which shows the Federal Department of Industry, Science and Resources, under its Minister Nick Minchin, engaged researchers to conduct polling in SA and Australia-wide to gauge community attitudes to the Pangea Resources's proposal for a high level nuclear dump.


"It is well known that Pangea wants to establish a high level radioactive waste dump in Australia and import tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic nuclear waste a year from around the world.


"Polling was conducted in December 1999, June 2000 and again in February 2001 by McGregor Tan Research which asked questions about community attitudes to the low, medium and Pangea radioactive waste dump in our outback.


"The polling, according to McGregor Tan, "aims to provide important input into shaping and refining the communications strategy" for the Department's Radioactive Waste Management Section.


"It says: "The desired end product is to develop an integrated, national communications approach that appropriately addresses community concerns related to nuclear issue and thereby provides… an effective means of informing and influencing the public debate."


"This was done despite the fact that in February 1999, Nick Minchin categorically ruled out ever changing the Federal Government's policy on banning the importation of high level nuclear waste into Australia.


"If the Pangea proposal was dead and buried in 1999 – why was the Federal Government still wanting to track community opinions two years later?


"This raises serious questions about Senator Minchin's similarly categorical assurances that the Federal Government would never place a medium level radioactive waste dump in South Australia."


Mr Hill says the FOI documents also reveal that the Federal Government engaged local PR firm Michels Warren at a total cost of more than $320 000 for several months over 1999/ 2000 and again for two months in 2003, to change South Australian's attitudes to the low level radioactive waste dump.


"Polling obtained by Michels Warren showed South Australians were overwhelmingly opposed to the waste dump.


"Michels Warren was engaged by the Federal Government to turn that opposition around – and "soften" our attitudes to the dump.


"The PR company won the second contract on the basis that it had a good working knowledge of the issue, having "played a major role in countering the "I'm with Ivy Campaign" orchestrated by Channel 7,"


The 'I'm with Ivy' campaign opposed the low level nuclear waste dump proposal.


"According to our information, Michels Warren set about changing community attitudes through a letters to the editor campaign, talk back radio, and even mini-scare campaigns.


"According to the documents, one letter to the editor cost Federal taxpayers $160, one letter to a constituent cost $225 and scheduling talk back radio interviews was $240.


"On one occasion that we know of a Michels Warren consultant personally voted '4 or 5 times' on an ABC internet poll about the dump.


"Documents show the PR company had concerns about Adelaide's media being opposed to the radioactive waste dump proposal and suggested that if the editor of The Advertiser couldn't be convinced to report the issue in a "balanced" way, "the issue should be taken to higher levels of News Ltd".


"Documents also includes an admission from Michels Warren that 'The National Repository could never be sold as good news to South Australians. There appear few, if any, tangible benefits such as jobs, investment or improved infrastructure. Its merits to South Australians are at the most intangible.'




PR hard-sell for nuclear dump

By Catherine Hockley

The Advertiser

January 31, 2003


A MULTINATIONAL public relations company will promote the merits of a national nuclear waste dump to South Australians - using up to $300,000 of taxpayers' money.


Meanwhile, a green coalition has pledged 1 per cent of that figure from its comparatively small funds to launch a "counter-offensive".


Hill and Knowlton, a "global communication company" which boasts 66 offices in 35 countries - including two in Australia - has won a Federal Government contract to "sell" a planned low-level nuclear waste repository to SA.


The company, which will run the campaign from its Melbourne office, is charged with "increasing awareness" about the dump, which is almost certain to be sited near Woomera.


The general manager of the company's Melbourne office, Rod Nockles, refused to comment on the campaign.


"We don't confirm or discuss our clients," he said.


Federal Science Minister Peter McGauran, whose department is the proponent of the dump, said the campaign had not been determined.


"Hill and Knowlton are carrying out media monitoring work," he said.


"The Government will constantly tailor the campaign so as to provide the public in SA with all the facts to dispel the constant misinformation and distortions being circulated."


With backing from the Australian Conservation Foundation, the green coalition has planned a three-month grassroots campaign to lobby against the dump.


Led by Sydney anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Jim Green, the coalition will promote its message at community events through information stalls and a public debate.


Dr Green said the "Campaign Against Nuclear Dumping" was aimed at providing "the truth" about the dump, which will take waste from around Australia.


He said South Australians were still missing vital information on the project, particularly on the Federal Government's plans to claim pastoral land for the dump.


"The Federal Government is going to acquire the land to build the dump," he said.


"It will be ripping a bit of SA out and calling it Commonwealth land."


Senator McGauran defended the Government-funded campaign, saying there were already "campaigns of misinformation and distortions by opponents of the project".


Federal Environment Minister David Kemp is expected to make a decision on the dump within two months.




Waste and political manipulation - South Australia' s nuclear waste dump


Media release

Kelvin Thomson

Federal shadow environment minister.

October 30, 2003


The Howard Government is giving up to $300,000 to a public relations company to spy on Adelaide radio stations and the Rann Government as part of its campaign to force a nuclear waste dump on the people of South Australia.

The secret contract's details have been revealed as a result of a Freedom of Information request by Federal Shadow Environment Minister, Kelvin Thomson.

The contract reveals a sorry tale of waste of taxpayers'  money and political manipulation surrounding the Federal Government's plan to place the nuclear waste dump in South Australia against the wishes of the people and government of South Australia.

The FOI request reveals that under the contract, multi national public relations company, Michels Warren 'will be required to maintain a watching brief over Adelaide radio, particularly the ABC and talk-back radio ... in addition the consultant is to monitor State Government views on the national repository'.

Of particular concern is that the contract further indicates circumstances in which the consultant should report directly to Minister McGauran' s Media Adviser, Darren Chester.

This is taxpayers money being used to spy on the ABC and the democratically elected South Australian Government.  The Howard Government already has media advisers who should be doing any legitimate monitoring, and departmental officers who can prepare responses and put the Government' s case.

Part of the contract involves accessing Rehame Media Monitoring firm, to which the Government already has access.

The consultants are also being paid $176 per hour in order to manipulate South Australian public opinion, with the FOI request revealing that one of the tasks given to the consultants is to ' facilitate supportive media coverage' .

Furthermore, in their pitch for the job, Michels Warren state that they began working on the issue of the national repository in mid 1999 and “assisted in obviating the impact of campaigns by opponents.”

These comments show that this exercise is not about the presentation of facts, or about 'balance'. This company has been chosen to neutralize opponents and manipulate public opinion. A Labor Government would not override South Australian community views or waste taxpayers' money on such a green washing campaign.




Media release

Kelvin Thomson

Federal shadow environment minister.

January 31, 2003


Revelations today that the Howard Government will spend up to $300,000 of taxpayers money to promote the merits of a national nuclear waste dump in south Australia is nothing more than a costly and cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion.


A multinational public relations company has been given the job of selling a planned low level nuclear waste repository in South Australia that the community and state government have overwhelming rejected.


This Orwellian approach to manipulate public opinion rather than respect it, reinforces the contempt the Howard Government has already shown for South Australia by indicating its willingness to place the dump in South Australia regardless of public opinion.


It is deeply ironic that a Liberal government, which has always claimed to be strongly supportive of states' rights should show such contempt for the views of local communities.


Labor believes the Howard Government needs to work with local communities and have regard to their views rather than seek to impose a waste dump on an unwilling community.


A Labor Government would not be overriding those community views, or waste taxpayers money on a green-washing campaign.




Michels Warren Makes Money From Muck


Dr. Dennis Matthews

Nuclear Information Centre - SA

NICSA Newsletter, October 2003



Adelaide public relations firm Michels- Warren has been using public funds to sell the Federal Government’s nuclear waste dump to South Australian’s (The Advertiser, 13/9/03).


The $100,000 consultancy was for two months from July 4, with the possibility of an extension.


Michels Warren publishes a pro-nuclear newsletter for US-based Heathgate Resources. The newsletter called "In-situ" promotes the environmentally hazardous Beverley in-situ leach uranium mine.


Apparently Michels Warren supports the dumping of radioactive waste into the ground-water at the Beverley uranium mine. Michels Warren’s role in the promotion of environmentally hazardous in-situ leach uranium mining does little to enhance the credibility of its PR campaign promoting the Federal Government’s nuclear waste dump.




Nuclear dump plans leaked

Jim Green

November, 2002


The federal government's plan to build a national nuclear dump in South Australia has hit another hurdle with the leaking of document outlining plans for a $300,000 propaganda campaign in the coming months.


The Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) document, titled "Communication Strategy: Announcement of Low Level Radioactive Waste Site in SA", outlines the government's plans to "strategically manage" its announcement of a dump site near Woomera in the first quarter of 2003.


The dump issue is "highly sensitive and emotive in many circles", the document notes, and "careful management of a broad range of sensitive issues will be required". It points to a July 2002 Cabinet decision to implement a communications strategy including a media campaign.


The government intended hiring a public relations agency to assist in the implementation of the propaganda campaign (and has probably now done so). The government and the successful PR agency are to monitor the media and respond to selected media "to encourage reporting of the rationale behind the Commonwealth Government's approach to the site selection"; use reports, media releases, media conferences and other tactics to assist in effectively managing issues around the site selection process; monitor and respond to "emerging 'hot issues' around the site decision in all locations" (hot issue: someone's leaking sensitive government documents!); and continue producing a newsletter called The Monitor.


'Willing experts'


Another task will be to use the "Minister and other agreed willing experts to provide facts about site selection issues in media interviews and on radio talk back programs and other media environments". Science minister Peter McGauran will no doubt be flattered at being described as an 'expert' since he's nothing of the sort - the Australian Financial Review carried a cartoon depicting him with a Pinocchio nose for telling lies about the Maralinga 'clean-up' on August 20, 2002.


Other experts have proved themselves rather too willing. For example, during the Maralinga 'clean-up', the head of the technical advisory committee asked a senior bureaucrat if the government would "welcome" advice to terminate vitrification of plutonium-contaminated debris and instead bury it under 10 metres of soil. Expert committees ought to issue expert advice not "welcome" advice. (The technical committee later agreed to burial of the debris just three metres below grade, while the puppet regulator, John Loy from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), went one better and described the 'clean-up' as "world's best practice". Not to be outdone, McGauran insisted that the 'clean-up' exceeded world's best practice!)


Other 'experts' have proven themselves willing but inexpert. A case in point is John Patterson from Adelaide Uni's physics department, a vocal supporter of a dump in the centre-north of SA (perhaps because of his own interest in getting rid of waste stored at the university). In a letter to the Adelaide Advertiser (28/8/02), Patterson warned of the risks associated with highly radioactive sources stored in Adelaide which might be vapourised in a fire - but surely Patterson knows that highly radioactive sources won't be sent to a low-level waste dump even if one is built.


Responding to media reports about the leaked DEST document, McGauran said the "information" campaign was necessary to "balance" the "misinformation and distortions by the Rann Government and other opponents of the project". The DEST document identifies "a small but highly vocal group of opponents" as one of the key issues requiring management (but it fails to mention the opposition of 76-95% of South Australians recorded in numerous polls since the Woomera region was short-listed for the dump in 1998).


The document notes the opposition to a dump of environment groups, "most notably the Australian Conservation Foundation"; the SA state government; some Indigenous groups, "most notably a group of senior Indigenous women from Coober Pedy - Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta"; opponents of the planned new nuclear research reactor in Sydney; and the Andamooka Opal Miners and Progress Association, along with some other Andamooka residents.


The DEST document says the propaganda campaign will be focused on SA but will pay attention to potential "leakage of concern into other States/Territories (eg. to towns on transport routes particularly in NSW), especially as the time of the announcement of the final site draws closer and when the announcement is made." Concern is 'leaking' left, right and centre. A number of state governments have expressed opposition to hosting a low-level dump and/or a store for long-lived intermediate-level waste (LLILW).


A 'sense of control'


The DEST document mentions market research which found that "SA people want a sense of control over what is happening in regards to the Repository... It found a strong cynicism by people towards government information."


Then environment minister Robert Hill said in April 2001 that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the dump would be "a thorough process that involves significant public participation" and that the government "is committed to a transparent and rigorous assessment process with full public involvement". However, the EIA (completed in 2003) is a farcical process in which the federal government both writes and rubber-stamps the impact statement. The leaked DEST document safely assumes that the 'assessment' will result in approval to proceed with the dump, as did McGauran in public comments in 2002. No public control there.


Aboriginal groups gave heritage clearance for test-drilling at short-listed dump sites in the late 1990s, but they did so over the barrel of a gun: they could either have some input into the process and hopefully protect significant sites, or else the federal government would use its land acquisition powers (as it openly threatened to do) and go ahead anyway. Aboriginal groups were between "a rock and a hard place" according to Stewart Motha from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement. No public control there.


South Australian legislation banning 'co-location' of a national LLILW store adjacent to the planned dump led the federal government to threaten to over-ride the legislation. More recently, a Bill being debated in the SA parliament which would also ban the low-level waste dump has led to pre-emptive threats from the federal government to over-ride the legislation. No public control there.


The task for the federal government and its PR agency is to provide South Australians with a "sense of control" - but of course South Australians cannot be genuinely empowered because they would reject the dump. To provide a "sense of control", the DEST proposes a snow-job: "To increase awareness with the target audience about the extensive consultation process which has taken place leading up to the decision about the National Repository site."


In August, people living in the Woomera region boycotted one of the government's farcical 'consultation' meetings. Andamooka resident Bob Norton was quoted in the August 23 Advertiser saying: "If you believe what the Government tells us you believe in fairies". He added: "The Federal Government has treated us in a completely totalitarian way, there is no democracy attached to this process whatsoever." Coober Pedy Mayor Eric Malliotis told the Advertiser: "The Commonwealth will do it with or without us so what's the point of going to a meeting."


Despite the government's best efforts, the South Australian public has asserted some control. Opposition to the government's furtive plan to 'co-locate' a LLILW store with the dump was so fierce that the federal government backed down and now insists to a sceptical public that co-location will not occur. That occurred despite the fact that the federal government holds the legal aces.


The federal government's quaint conception of 'consultation' was also evident during the latest, botched 'clean-up' of the Maralinga nuclear test site in SA. Nuclear engineer and Maralinga whistle-blower Alan Parkinson noted in the February 2002 edition of Medicine and Global Survival that: "Although the government claims that the project was conducted in full consultation with the South Australian Government and the Maralinga Tjarutja, ... key decisions were made without any consultation." DEST bureaucrat Jeff Harris was so 'consultative' that the Tjarutja asked for him to be removed from the 'consultative' committee.


The DEST doesn't even properly inform people let alone provide any meaningful involvement. Parkinson noted in a September 2000 submission to a Senate inquiry: "A very disturbing feature of the Maralinga project is the lack of openness about what was done. Even those who might be the future custodians of the land [the Tjarutja] have not been kept truthfully informed on the project."


The federal government has been equally determined to stamp out any prospect of public control in relation to its plan for a new nuclear reactor in the southern Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights. In April 1998, bureaucrats in the DEST (then known as the department of industry, science and tourism) wrote a briefing note - later obtained by Sutherland Shire Council under freedom of information legislation - to prepare for questioning by a Senate committee. It said there is "no point in consulting with potential/hypothetical recipients of a new reactor. It was discovered through the course of inquiry into the new airport [proposed for Holsworthy in south-western Sydney] that such a course of action serves only to inflame the communities for no good reason."




The leaked DEST document says: "In letters to the media and in media commentary there have been assertions that the alleged 'failure' of the clean up of the Maralinga atomic bomb test site does not engender confidence that there will be sufficient safeguards around the disposal of radioactive waste at the SA site."


The latest clean-up at Maralinga was done on the cheap, Australian standards for the management of long-lived radioactive waste were breached, public 'consultation' was a farce, and there were many other problems besides. In short, the DEST grossly mismanaged the project and the bureaucrats ought not be surprised that the Maralinga 'clean-up' has come back to haunt them.


Alan Parkinson, writing in the July 24, 2000 Canberra Times, made the link between Maralinga and the proposed nuclear dump: "Those with responsibility for the proposed national waste repository are the same people who have recently buried long-lived plutonium waste (half-life 24,000 years) in an unlined burial trench only 2-3 metres below ground - slightly deeper than we place human corpses. If accepted, this precedent should now allow the Commonwealth to place all radioactive waste in shallow, unlined burial trenches, with no regard for its longevity or toxicity, and no regard for the suitability of the site."


And in the August 2002 edition of Australasian Science, Parkinson wrote: "The disposal of radioactive waste in Australia is ill-considered and irresponsible. Whether it is short-lived waste from Commonwealth facilities, long-lived plutonium waste from an atomic bomb test site on Aboriginal land, or reactor waste from Lucas Heights. The government applies double standards to suit its own agenda; there is no consistency, and little evidence of logic."


Their own worst enemies


Arguably the greatest difficulty facing the federal government in pursuing its plan to turn SA into a national nuclear dump is the federal government itself, in particular McGauran and the DEST bureaucrats.


McGauran was badly upstaged in an ABC radio documentary in 1998 concerning the planned new reactor. McGauran was talking up the 'need' for a new reactor to produce medical isotopes, saying: "There's no doubt that the health issues concluded the matter beyond any doubt whatsoever ..." But on the same program, a senior government bureaucrat acknowledged that the government had decided to "push the whole health line, and that included appealing to the emotion of people - the loss of life, the loss of children's lives ... So it was reduced to one point, and an emotional one at that. They never tried to argue the science of it, the rationality of it."


Likewise, McGauran told the ABC: "We certainly believed that those who inquired of us for information should be given as much detail as was available to us. ... [E]veryone knew the decision was imminent, and if they wanted to write letters, or seek appointments and meetings with me, or other officials of the Government, they could do so." But on the same radio program, a bureaucrat was gloating about withholding information: "The government decided to starve the opponents of oxygen, so that they could dictate the manner of the debate that would follow the announcement. ... No leaks, don't write letters arguing the point, just keep them in the dark completely."


The minister also has a habit of forgetting his lines, as in February and April 2002 when he refused to rule out co-location of a LLILW store with the dump.


As for the DEST bureaucrats, Parkinson provided some examples of their incompetence in an Ockham's Razor presentation on ABC radio on September 22, 2002: "For example, in Senate Committee hearings we heard public servants declare that soda ash is neutralised by limestone, and that the limestone is rich in sodium and carbonate; no mention of calcium. We also heard that some plastic sheeting covering the plutonium debris will have a life of a few thousand years. Another strange pronouncement was that an estimated radiation dose of 1 milliSievert per annum includes the background radiation of 2.3 milliSieverts per annum. Even more astonishing is that the dose of 5 milliSieverts per annum which could be contracted on land contaminated with 3 kiloBequerels of Americium per square metre, and on which the project was based, suddenly dropped to 1 milliSievert per annum, even though no work was done where that level of contamination exists."


Parkinson added further examples in the February 2002 edition of Medicine and Global Survival: "The public servants responsible for the last years of the [Maralinga] project had no background in radiation or project management, as is illustrated by several statements they made on the public record, asking, for example, what was meant by alpha radiation, or how to convert a milliSievert (a unit of radiation dose) to a picoCurie (a unit of radioactivity) ..."


In another paper, Parkinson said: "... the Department's Representative was advised by a departmental officer that when dealing with contractors he should "always seek compromises" as though the contract and scope of work meant nothing. That same person also asked the Department's Representative how to convert a milliSievert into a picoCurie!!!"


Pity the poor PR agency that has become embroiled in this mess. Here's some advice:

* recommend that the dump plan is put on hold until a proper clean-up of Maralinga is carried out.

* revisit the wisdom of centralised, underground dumps as opposed to above-ground storage at the point of production.

* recommend that an independent public inquiry be held into the dump plan instead of the sham EIA

* recommend an independent inquiry into the benefits and costs/risks of a new reactor since that is so closely connected to the dump plan.

* recommend the creation of a genuinely independent regulatory agency in place of ARPANSA.