Australia’s first ever attempt to involve members of the public in development of nanotechnology policy is hopelessly compromised, Friends of the Earth said today. The Queensland state government has invited in industry representatives who have a financial interest in the outcomes and shut out civil society critics. Yet the public "dialogue" is slated to inform nanotechnology policy development in Queensland.

The Queensland “Nanodialogues”, initiated this week, involves 12 members of the public in “dialogue” with 8 nanotechnology scientists – some of them employed by industry groups with a financial interest in the outcomes of the “dialogue”. One social scientist has also been invited to participate, but there is no representation from nanotechnology stakeholders who have been critical of nanotechnology policy to date, eg environment, health, civil liberties and social justice groups, unions or ethicists.

Friends of the Earth emphasises that it will be extremely difficult for “Nanodialogues” participants to develop informed recommendations for nanotechnology research funding and policy priorities when they are presented with only one, pro-nanotechnology, point of view.

Nanotechnology industry representatives are unlikely to draw “Nanodialogues” participants’ attention to recent findings that carbon nanotubes present similar health risks to asbestos. Industry representatives are similarly unlikely to tell participants about calls from some of the world’s poorest people for a moratorium on nanotechnology in food and agriculture, because of their concern it will further threaten their food security.

In contrast to the Queensland “Nanodialogues”, the UK “Nanodialogues” after which this program was named had equal industry and NGO representation. Friends of the Earth is concerned that the Queensland “Nanodialogues” are simply a public relations exercise. This is not a “dialogue”, just a free ride for nanotechnology promoters to shore up support for their industry.

Friends of the Earth Australia strongly supports public participation in nanotechnology policy development and decision making (eg see our 2006 joint submission with several other NGOs to the federal government calling for public participation in nanotechnology decision making). But the Queensland "Nanodialogues" is a clear example of how not to do it.

If you have any thoughts or feedback about how genuine public participation should take place, please get in touch with us or leave a comment here.

Better yet, why not email Ms Desley Boyle, Queensland Minister for Tourism, Regional Development and Industry, whose department is funding the "Nanodialogues", and let her know that you won’t accept this biased process.