Michels Warren PRopaganda
- South Australians dumping on South Australia.
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
* 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
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
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
* $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
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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:
(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
(b) what was the cost involved in each
financial year that it ran;
(c) what was the objective of the
(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
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
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
* production of an information newsletter
* 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
(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
* 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?
South Australian Minister for Environment and
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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.