John Howard didn’t want to spend most of yesterday fending off questions on a nuclear power plant, but that’s what happened.

And talk to various power players around the place, and it appears as if things unfolded something like this: the Melbourne Herald Sun was talking to Ron Walker about the Grand Prix – and he couldn’t help himself and had to mention his little nuclear notions, as well.

The story ran, and Walker – or sources close to him – couldn’t help talking a little bit more. Then, presumably, the Prime Minister – or, more likely, people close to him – called Walker and told him that he’d talked enough. But the PM had plenty of talking to do in Question Time. Talking about talking:

One Saturday morning, Ron rang me. It was not about racing tips – neither of us is very interested in racing – but it was about something else. It was about the middle of last year. He said that he, Hugh Morgan and Robert Champion de Crespigny had decided to register a company that could be interested in nuclear power. I said, “That’s a great idea, Ron, because you know my view on it.”

Few of us can call Kirribilli to talk through our business plans with the PM, but, hey, few of us are Ron Walker.

But since we’re talking about talking, what do little people have to say about this matter?

Port Augusta, in outback South Australia, has been tipped as a possible site for a nuclear plant. Earlier in the week, the report by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia, Dropping off the Edge: The distribution of disadvantage in Australia, named the former rail town as one of the most disadvantaged towns in the country.

Port Augusta used to be a rail centre. A power station that uses low grade is about the only local industry left – other than the Baxter Detention Centre and a slightly less threatening looking jail.

SA Premier Mike Rann has worked very closely with Walker’s colleague Robert de Crespigny, but he was decidedly unenthusiastic about the project yesterday.

But the Port August Mayor, Joy Baluch, said air pollution caused by brown coal was dangerous and nuclear power was a good alternative.

“We as a community must look to nuclear energy,” she told the ABC. “Anything has certainly got to be better then what we as a community are suffering at the present time due to the usage of brown coal.”

Peter Fray

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