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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 10

Senator COLEMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and relates to information that Mr Ross Lonnie is to appear before the Australian Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam. The Minister would be aware that Mr Lonnie is a Perth lawyer who represents numerous Vietnam veterans in the agent orange class action in the United States of America and has been granted leave to appear before the Royal Commission. Has the Minister given consideration to, or will he give consideration to, granting financial assistance to enable Mr Lonnie to appear before the Royal Commission?

Senator GIETZELT —The Senate will recall that one of the early decisions of the Hawke Government was to establish a royal commission, following a request by the Vietnam veterans for such an inquiry into the use of chemical agents in that country during the war in the 1960s and 1970s. The Government decided that, in order that evidence may be placed before such a commission, the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia would be given adequate funds to present its views to the Commission, not in an adversary way but in the presentation of evidence that the Association believed would be of assistance to the Royal Commissioner. However, it has come to our notice that Mr Lonnie, a lawyer in Western Australia , had been acting for a considerable period before the Royal Commission began its hearings and he has had an association with the class action developments in the United States of America. Accordingly, the Government agrees that Mr Lonnie, who has acted on behalf of some Western Australian Vietnam veterans on a whole range of repatriation matters, should be given some financial assistance to present to the Royal Commission the evidence that he has assembled over the years.

I am pleased to inform Senator Coleman that the Government has favourably considered the request from Mr Lonnie and has agreed to provide an amount of up to $35,000 to him so that the Western Australian veterans he represents will not be placed at any disadvantage in putting their case before the Royal Commission. In addition, the honourable senator might recall that the Government recently approved an extension of time for the Royal Commission. Additional funds have been made available for the finalisation of the inquiry into the use of chemical agents in Vietnam. A further $278,000 has been allocated to the Vietnam Veterans Association so that it might finalise its evidence and its case before the Commission which is currently sitting.