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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4318

Senator LUDLAM (12:31 PM) —I will make some brief remarks on the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (2010 Budget Measures) Bill 2010 and related bill. Veterans of British atomic weapons testing that occurred in Australia between 1952 and 1963 at Maralinga, Emu Field and the Monte Bello Islands have been calling for compensation for a very long time. Some of them have joined a class action in Britain now that the EU high court has ruled that they deserve a day in court so that they can make their case.

Former opposition Labor spokesman, now Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, acknowledged, during the 2006 election campaign, that Australian members of the armed services were used as guinea pigs in its tests and that the strategic ambitions of the UK were given priority over the safety and wellbeing of people that the Australian government should have been protecting. That was a very clear acknowledgment of responsibility and perhaps even liability. The bills we are debating today address the neglect that these people have endured for decades. Of course, the Greens welcome this. I add my comments to those of Senator Parry that these bills have been held up, for some reason that we simply do not understand, in the House of Representatives. We believe that the compensation is clearly insufficient but it is welcome that these bills are with us today.

We believe that given these people were exposed to ionising radiation and that there are severe health impacts arising from this, they should get full comprehensive health care, in particular at a gold card standard, as many of their advocates have been claiming. I understand that in this legislation as it is drafted there is no automatic access to the gold card for British nuclear test participants. However, if they become eligible for a disability pension of a rate equal to or greater than 100 per cent of the general rate, my understanding is that, as the bill is written, they will receive a gold card. Widowers of nuclear test veterans and participants who become eligible for a war widow or widowers pension will receive a gold card.

The Greens believe that it is not too much to ask to simply extend this protection further and extend the gold card as a matter of routine to these participants in the tests. There is strong evidence internationally of genetic effects of nuclear tests on children and grandchildren of those exposed, that the damage wrought by ionising radiation affects the very DNA that makes us human, and that these effects are carried on through the generations. For families and particularly the children of nuclear veterans, we believe the government should be taking great care to recognise if second and third generations have been affected by their parents’ or grandparents’ exposure to this radiation and, if they have been, then we have an obligation to care for them.

While this legislation does not address this issue, the belated acknowledgment of the health impacts on veterans should lead also to acknowledgement of effects still being endured by Aboriginal people. Of course, this legislation is completely silent on those who were inadvertently and against their will exposed to radiation, to the fallout and to the trauma of having their lands bombed for British nuclear tests. The compensation and the recognition for Aboriginal people has been utterly insufficient. It has been a shameful and terrible story which is deserving of an apology, because these people were not warned and they were not looked after.

Senator Faulkner recently provided information to the Senate in response to a question of mine about the very small sums of money that have been paid that pale into insignificance when compared with the budget line items set aside in this and future budgets for veterans. I am of course not arguing for the funding to veterans or to service personnel to be cut; I am arguing that Aboriginal people affected by the tests should also receive just compensation and health care. To date, the government’s response has been utterly insignificant to the trauma that these people experienced. I move the Greens second reading amendment:

At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate calls on the Government to extend eligibility for the Repatriation Health Card - All conditions (known as the ‘Gold Card’) to former Australian Defence Force members in the new category of service established by this bill, the British nuclear test defence service, and to their medically-affected dependants”.