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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2004


Senator CHIPP —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. Is the Minister aware of Department of Defence documents which show undeniable proof that large numbers of Aborigines either lived in, or passed through, the Maralinga atomic test area continually throughout the atomic tests in the 1950s and 1960s? I ask the Minister whether he is aware of correspondence dated 10 July 1959 between a Mr R. Macaulay, a native patrol officer, and the then superintendent of the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, which says:

There are natives living on the fringe of the Maralinga Prohibited Zone and in the Zone itself . . .

I ask him whether he is also aware of correspondence dated 14 September 1960 which states:

Natives have been living well inside the Maralinga Prohibited Zone continuously from before the establishment of the Atomic Weapons Testing Grounds.

Does not this hard proof indicate to the Minister that some Government departments have not been as forthcoming as they could have been on this issue and that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive public inquiry on the travesties committed by the previous British and Australian governments against the Australian Aborigines?


Senator WALSH —Senator Chipp had two quotes. The first said that the natives were living on the fringe of the zone. I am aware of a Department of Defence document ; that is, a letter from Mr Macaulay, I think on the date which he cited, from which that quotation was taken. It was published in the Canberra Times a couple of days ago. I have not been able to find the second quote in either Mr Macaulay 's letter or in the other document. A quote which was almost identical to that was published in the Canberra Times. As far as I know, that did not come from Mr Macaulay's letter. I have a copy of Mr Macaulay's letter which I am quite happy to table. I note that it is a very bad photocopy and is almost illegible. Nevertheless, I table it.

The thrust of Mr Macaulay's reports, so far as I am aware, is that Aborigines could have been in the area, not that they were in the area. However, quite independently of Mr Macauley's report there is one documented case-I believe it is a verified case-which shows that a family of four-two adults and two children -was detected by a patrol team in the Maralinga area circa 1957 and was found to be contaminated.


Senator Jessop —One was more contaminated than the rest.


Senator WALSH —Senator Jessop says that one was contaminated. My understanding is that four people were contaminated. Three of those people are still living on the Yalata reserve in South Australia. However, the possibility that other Aborigines were in the area at some time between 1953-I include the Emu test sites-and 1957 has always existed. There is, I believe, one verified report that Aborigines were contaminated. Whether they were actually in that area at the time an atomic explosion took place is not known.

The other matters raised by Senator Chipp-particularly towards the end of his question-were essentially to the effect that departments have not been as forthcoming as they could have been. I do not think that I can pass a judgment on that at this stage. Senator Chipp said that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive public inquiry. I do not believe there is an urgent need for a comprehensive public inquiry, but I have stated before, and I repeat, that it is possible that such an inquiry could be required and that the Government might conduct such an inquiry. I think that it would be premature at this stage to make a decision to do that because of a number of other inquiries which the Government has in progress: For example, the Kerr inquiry, which is to report within the next week; the Symonds inquiry-I hope to be able to table a copy of Dr Symonds's summary in the Senate before the end of this week-the radiological survey which is currently being conducted at Maralinga; and the ongoing departmental inquiries.

In addition, the British Government has been asked to supply specific details of how much plutonium in total was involved in the weapons tests which were conducted in Australia and in the trials subsequently conducted in the 1960s at Maralinga and, further to those questions, how much of the plutonium originally contained in all those tests is still believed to be on the site, either buried in pits or scattered in the adjacent area. I table the document obtained from the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence which shows the measured and anticipated yield of the atomic weapons detonated at Monte Bello, Emu Field and Maralinga.