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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2507

Senator MASON(4.35) —The Australian Democrats agree with much of what Senator Sir John Carrick has said. There should be a further inquiry into this matter and it should take as much time as is necessary to cover the material that is available, including material which might not have been covered previously. I was pleased to see that on page 16 of the report of the Expert Committee on the Review of Data on Atmospheric Fallout Arising from British Nuclear Tests in Australia, the Kerr Committee, the Committee confirmed a matter which I raised a fortnight ago concerning work which went on between the 1956 and 1957 tests. The Committee says:

There was a planned intrusion into a contaminated area to facilitate construction for the Antler series in March 1957.

That was the incident to which I have referred and on which I have had reports. If one looks carefully at the maps of the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council one will see that the preparations for the Antler series of tests were carried out on the Maralinga firing range at distances of not more than a kilometre from areas where one kilotonne bombs had been exploded in the previous Buffalo tests as late as November 1956. There has been no hedging by the Kerr Committee in saying that this was a contaminated area, although I would say that that was one of the great understatements of the century. If one gets within one kilometre of an area in which a nuclear weapon has been exploded only months before and carries out extensive earthworks by using jackhammers, bulldozers and things of that kind, one will certainly be in a contaminated area. If there were no other reason for a further inquiry that statement by the Kerr Committee in its report would certainly be it. The Committee had only 16 days in which to report. It was a pity that it was given such a short period in which to report, although I gather that may well have been done so that it could report to this session of Parliament. The Committee concedes on page 17:

The Committee was in no position to carefully interpret such claims, but believes that in some instances, and assuming that identifications of the circumstances can be made, sufficient data are available to provide reasonable estimates and hence risk.

The Committee does a fairly good hatchet job on the survey of the Department of Health entitled 'Health of Atomic Test Personnel'. I am looking at page 20 of the report. The Committee concludes:

. . . the study cannot be regarded as providing definitive information on the relationship between participation in the nuclear test and current health status .

Paragraph 41, which also appears on page 20-this is of interest to me in relation to the earlier incident I mentioned regarding the working parties whereby quite an extensive number, perhaps up to 400 people, on my information, were sent in to work in contaminated areas after the Buffalo tests, in preparation for the Antler tests-states:

An excess of cancer was found among the nuclear participants but interpreted as not being related to radiation exposure.

This is agent orange all over again. One can say that it is unfortunate and regrettable that there should be a higher cancer rate among these people but one cannot prove that it was connected with the tests. I believe that is a view that any future inquiry will have to look at very carefully, because I think it can be carried too far. Page 21 of the report states:

The Committee was informed that many individual accounts of illness or death ascribed to radiation from the British nuclear tests were lodged in government departments.

The Committee does not say much more about that. I would like to know whether all of those were correlated and brought together. A dozen or so people, possibly more, have been in touch with me. Those people will also be referring to a further inquiry for precisely the same reasons. I note, as Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, did, that the Committee does not wish to give the impression that it found evidence of wide scale incompetence, negligence and disregard for human health and safeguards. I do not think anybody feels that. I definitely think that the view of nuclear radiation and the view of what is contaminating and dangerous is probably different now from the view that existed in 1956 and 1957. This factor itself makes some further inquiry necessary. The Committee does not like AIRAC report No. 9. The report states:

The Committee found many examples of this obfuscating use of language especially in those parts of AIRAC 9 which dealt with matters of political and public sensitivity. There are also significant omissions of highly relevant data . The Committee concluded that AIRAC 9 could not be regarded as an authoritative scientific account nor as an informative public record of important aspects of the British nuclear tests.

I trust that any future inquiry will take those words to heart. I would certainly like to see the inquiry into that issue expanded on.