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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2291


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(9.23) —Will the Minister ascertain how the plutonium was measured, whether it was in fact two grams of metallic plutonium and, in due course, the grade of the plutonium? This is of considerable significance in terms of its capacity for radioactivity.


Senator Walsh —Yes.


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —During the Estimates Committee hearings I asked a number of questions regarding the health survey which was initiated under my Ministry to cover the whole of the Maralinga, Emu and Monte Bello tests. I want to make some general comments and then ask some questions. I make it perfectly clear that the instructions given in that survey were aimed at finding out every possible detail that could be found out about the tests and human association with them. It aimed to find out if any living person could offer a verbal or written record and whether, by analysis of death certificates, or by access to defence records, material could be provided relating to the areas that a person was involved in, together with the searching of dosimeters to determine the registration of radiation. The important point was that we wanted to find out from every one of those 15,000 people who were there what in fact they believed happened and what the records showed happened.

I do not believe there has ever been a survey of such intensity. I do not want to be party political but I remind the Senate that under the previous Labor Government, in the years from 1973 to 1975, there were claims by people that they had been irradiated. All sorts of statements were made about Maralinga and Emu but no real detailed search was made. The important point is that by team work between the then Department of National Development and Energy and the Department of Health an attempt was made to locate the 15,000-odd people and, if they were dead, to get their death certificates and, if they were alive, to locate them, give them a questionnaire, invite them to be medically examined and , if they had any belief at all that they suffered any ill health for whatever reasons to lodge a claim with the Office of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation.

I make it perfectly clear that in recent years a massive attempt was made by the Fraser Government to find out in every way it could what happened in those tests. Indeed, the Department will recall that I attempted to get the British Government to adopt a similar protocol, a similar basis of approach for its people. There is on record the report on the epidemiological study which was expertly carried out and, from my memory, found a very high percentage of persons still alive who were involved in those tests. The attempted survey was undertaken and the death certificates examined. That document is available and it states that on the evidence that has come forward there is no evidence of any impact of radiation from the trials. I say that in no defensive fashion. I make the point that as the then Minister I wanted to find out whether there were persons who believed that they had suffered radiation or some damage. I wanted to know whether a person had lodged a claim for agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces, because he saw an atom bomb blast. The point was that that person could come forward.

What we have before us is a massive opportunity to find out what happened. An attempt has been made to crystallise all the rhetoric and the allegations. The results that have been given here by the Minister and his Department show that in the course of that journey, in the stirring up of virtually everybody who had been at Maralinga, there had been virtually no increase in the number of people coming forward and saying: 'I want a medical check. I want to test compensation' . In fact it is said that 'there would seem to have been no significant increase in the number of applications to OCES as a result of the report'. I think that is pretty important.


Senator Walsh —What was that quote from?


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —It is a quote from the answers to questions given by the Department. The Minister will have them. It relates to atomic weapons tests questions from myself, a series of questions and a table. That information, which I take it has been incorporated in Hansard, shows that on 12 September 1983 130 claims had been received. By 30 April 1984 the total had risen to only 146. There had been an increase of 16. It then shows those whose claims had been dealt with and those outstanding.

It is important that the Senate and the public should know that the Fraser Government had one very significant goal. It had heard over the years, and during the Whitlam Government period, all sorts of allegations that individuals were suffering and not receiving compensational redress. Our aim was to find every such person and offer them the opportunity to get such redress. The aim was also to examine death certificates for cause of death. From memory, I think there were some 1,200 death certificates. We wanted an expert study carried out to determine whether there was any undue incidence of neoplasms, of malignancies , and whether those neoplasms could have been caused by the particular kinds of ionising radiation. Indeed, the report which is available indicates quite clearly that there is no such evidence.

Again I do not say this in any defensive fashion because I think the Minister is taking the responsible position, which I commend and which we have adopted, that there ought to be no occasions on which individuals are exposed unnecessarily to levels of ionising irradiation, however small they may be. It is true that we do not know whether, in extrapolating downwards the dosage of radiation, we get a mathematical correlation of effect. It may well be that low doses have no effect at all. I did want to put on record that in fact in a massive search of Department of Defence records involving something like two years, every record of every civilian and soldier that could be found was found, every dosimeter that could be found was found and every location and journey of individuals was found and from them contacts were made. It would be silly for me to say that that means that nobody was hurt. It would be quite wrong. In a massive undertaking involving some 15,500 Australians and no doubt thousands of British, there were bound to be some incidents in which something happened. All I can say is that the best endeavours on earth were made to prevent any accidents.

I have risen on this matter to ask the Minister whether he would agree to repeat publicly the invitation made to people by public advertisement, and which has been made a number of times, that if they have any information they should come forward. I separate that from the question of the Aborigines. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding the existence of Aborigines in the area. I cannot tell the truth or otherwise of that. I am aware that the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council in a more recent report suggested that one of the reasons for deaths might well have been that during that time there was an epidemic of german measles in the area generally, that tribalised Aborigines were very susceptible to such diseases and that what may have been taken to have been the effects of radiation could have been that disease. However, that may not be the case so let us pursue it, let us look at it and obtain a result. I look forward with eagerness to the reports of both Dr Symonds and the other survey being undertaken. I have risen to put that on record and to ask the Minister whether he would be willing to underline and re-emphasise what has been done by making another appeal to individuals who have information to come forward.