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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 177

Mr MOSSFIELD (7:40 PM) —I rise tonight to inform the House that this year is the 50th anniversary of the first British atomic test on Australian soil. These tests took place on Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia on 3 October 1952. I wish to advise the House that a number of Australian citizens are still suffering ill health as a result of these tests. A commemorative service is being arranged by the Atomic Ex-Servicemen's Association on 3 October this year at HMAS Creswell naval base at Jervis Bay in honour of those ex-servicemen who have since died or who are suffering ill health as a result of these tests.

During the 1950s the British government conducted atomic weapons tests at Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia, as well as Montebello. More than 15,000 Australians were involved with these tests in some capacity. In all there were 12 atomic bombs detonated in Australia between 1952 and 1957. The Australian servicemen directly involved with the tests were exposed to harmful radiation from contaminated ships, aircraft and other forms of military equipment, including backpacks and webbing, which were recycled to other servicemen not directly involved in the tests. There is general dissatisfaction by the Atomic Ex-Servicemen's Association about the way governments of both persuasions have failed to fully assist ex-servicemen involved in the atomic tests.

I have been campaigning to get the government to recognise all ex-servicemen who were directly involved with the tests as veterans under the Veterans' Entitlements Act so that they can be entitled to medical treatment for any illness that they are currently suffering from. I have been conducting this campaign on behalf of all atomic test ex-servicemen, but in particular a resident of western Sydney, Mr Keith Harrison, who was involved in the atomic test aboard HMAS Hawkesbury. When I first wrote to the first Minister for Defence, Mr Moore, in December 2000, I was advised that, although Mr Harrison had served a total of six years in the Navy, he did not serve in an operational area during `specified dates'; therefore he is classified as an ex-serviceman and not a veteran. Mr Harrison has advised me that during the test the men aboard the Hawkesbury were not given any protective clothing or breathing apparatus and were not informed of how to protect themselves during the explosion. Mr Harrison has suffered from a plethora of health problems since that time.

Another ex-serviceman involved in the atomic tests whom I would like to refer to is Victor Herman. Victor was conscripted into the compulsory six months national service training in August 1952. Vic was posted along with other national servicemen to HMAS Murchison. These servicemen were not informed that they were being sent into a nuclear testing area at Montebello. On the day of the nuclear blast the crew were assembled on the upper deck, informed about the impending test and told to turn their backs to the blast area and not to turn around until after the blast was over. Victor Herman advises that when the crew turned around the telltale mushroom cloud was beginning to form and the crew watched as the cloud spread across the sky. The Murchison continued to patrol the eastern side of Montebello Islands for another two days. Victor has suffered a number of health problems as a result of his exposure to radioactivity during these atomic tests. The government, however, refuses to accept that these national servicemen were in a war zone but only on a normal training exercise.

The government has for years claimed that these ex-servicemen have adequate access to medical treatment, provided they can prove the illness is related to the tests. This is the problem. Each new illness requires a new round of doctors' reports—the patient's doctors, the government's doctors, experts and specialists. It is very complicated, drawn-out, expensive and distressing for those patients involved. If they were classified as veterans, the treatment would be immediate. These ex-servicemen do not want compensation, they simply want to be treated for the illnesses they have. They want to be treated with dignity and not have to go through a complicated rigmarole every time they get sick. They simply want peace of mind and a recognition that what was done to them was both wrong and hazardous. I do not think that that is too much to ask.

I believe that, in this 50th anniversary year of the first atomic blast on Australian soil, the federal government should be compassionate enough to amend the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to include those Australian servicemen involved in the atomic test so that they can receive full medical treatment for their ongoing health problems.