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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2230


Senator REYNOLDS —I ask the Minister for Veterans' Affairs whether he recognises that veterans who served this country in some situations, such as international peacekeeping forces and nuclear testing, were exposed to as many, if not more, dangers as those who served this country in times of war? If the Minister does recognise this, will he extend repatriation benefits to those veterans?


Senator GIETZELT —I think we recognise that the situations mentioned by Senator Reynolds can be described in some circumstances as being more hazardous than the conditions of veterans who served in times of war and who did not actually see front line active service. For example, a veteran who served in World War II may not have experienced actual hostilities, but nevertheless is still eligible for repatriation benefits under the Repatriation Act. It was because of those who served in peacekeeping forces that I previously told the Senate I took the step of recognising the anomaly and announced the gazettal of nine further international peacekeeping forces that had not been eligible previously for repatriation benefits. The responsibility rested with my Department to do just that. So all known peacekeeping force members and their dependants are now covered by the repatriation legislation, and that includes those who served in such places as the Balkans, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Congo, Yemen and the Middle East.

The other part of the question raised by Senator Reynolds regarding people who served in areas where there may have been exposure to nuclear tests is a very complex one. It probably can be conceded that the people involved would have experienced more hazards as a result of such exposure than would many ex- servicemen who are currently covered by the Repatriation Act. That, of course, applies not only to the veterans but also to Australian civilians, as we have found out in more recent weeks. That is why the Government has been prompted to take the step of establishing the Kerr Expert Committee on Fallout Arising from British Atomic Tests in Australia, following the new and disturbing information that has come to light in more recent weeks, and some questions on that have been directed to my colleague Senator Walsh.

When this evidence has been examined and the Kerr Committee has had an opportunity to look at all the factors associated with that nuclear weapons testing, the Government will perhaps set up a special compensation scheme, with a view to paying adequate compensation to those involved, whether they be veterans or civilians. We are dealing with a problem that is specifically related to those involved in the testing at Maralinga, Monte Bello and other places about which until recently we knew neither the circumstances involved nor the people affected.