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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2858

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(12.16) —I am happy to try to accommodate Senator Sir John Carrick again, as I tried to do during the Estimates committee hearings. I think I can say some useful things, but I am not sure whether I can go as far as he wants me to go. The debate about black mist, I suppose, has always been in two parts: First, whether there was any such phenomenon or whether, rather, it was a figment of imagination; and, secondly, if there was some phenomenon describable as black mist, whether it could have caused any illness or injury to person of a kind that ought properly to be compensated.

As to the first question, there is now a reasonable body of evidence, both anecdotal and as a result of the scientific modelling exercise to which Senator Sir John Carrick referred, that would enable us to answer the question in the affirmative. It is likely that something did occur, that some kind of cloud emanated from the test, which is reasonably describable as black mist. As such, the use of the definite article by the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia in the reference to the black mist and so on is probably justified.

As to the second question-whether any likely damage, injury or illness may have been caused by it-it is the case, to my knowledge, that the only evidence we have on this subject is the scientific modelling exercise to which Senator Sir John Carrick and I have referred. That study is not such as to encourage any confident belief that anyone is likely to have suffered as a result of it. Beyond that, I am not sure what I can say. On the one hand, I do not want irresponsibly to generate or reinforce expectations that there is a case to be made for compensation, if only someone can get a case before the court or an appropriate tribunal. Equally, however, on the other hand, I do not want irresponsibly-and I think it would be irresponsible to do so-to pre-empt or prejudice someone's chances of making a claim before a tribunal or at common law if he can persuade such a tribunal that the evidence already to hand justifies such a claim being made or if, as Senator Sir John Carrick said, he can somehow-God knows how, after the passage of time-dredge up new information and new evidence. This is the difficulty that one has had with this phenomenon.

One small example of the larger problem of illness or injury arising from the atomic tests is that one does not want to generate expectations or beliefs that one has only to make a claim for it to be reasonably honoured. On the other hand, while dampening down, as I think we have tried to do, some of those expectations, I do not think it is fair to rule them out altogether. Personally, I am not sufficiently confident as to what the state of the evidence is on this matter to be so arrogant as to pre-empt that sort of judgment. I think that is what Senator Sir John Carrick wanted me to say. I cannot go any further than that.