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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1109


Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. The Minister will be aware of my longstanding concern over mustard gas experiments involving service personnel in North Queensland during World War II, any subsequent ill effects suffered by these servicemen and whether they are receiving proper treatment and fair compensation for the ill effects. Can the Minister advise what progress has been made in identifying those who have experienced medical problems arising from the tests, and how many claims for compensation have been accepted?


Senator GIETZELT —It is true that about 40 years ago the chemical warfare unit of the armed forces carried out experiments associated with mustard gas in Proserpine, Queensland. As the records are old it is rather difficult to be precise in this respect, but about 387 ex-servicemen were exposed to gas or liquid contaminants and of that number at least 137 have submitted claims to the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

It is becoming a bit of a practice for volunteers to be called for in wars, whether they be major or minor ones, to take part in experiments. Many young men volunteer, as they did in that period, as they did again in the 1950s for the atomic tests in South Australia and as they did in Vietnam in the 1960s, not appreciating the effects that their actions may have on their general health. Subsequently claims are then submitted to the Department of Veterans' Affairs in which these men seek to show some relationship between their health and war service, requiring not only medical treatment but benefits. But of the 137, only 24 have so far been accepted as having health problems related to those particular experiments in Queensland, although many others are still within the system, which we are trying to improve as a result of the adoption of new determining legislation that has been passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.