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Veteran's widow fights Govt for compensation -

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Veteran's widow fights Govt for compensation

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: And we invited the Veterans Affairs' Minister, Deanne Kelly, to respond to the
veterans' claims. She declined our offer. Instead tonight we talk a woman who has spent the last 15
years fighting the Government for compensation for the death of her husband, Bill Smith, also a
navy diver at the Montebello atomic tests. Bill Smith died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1990. I
spoke to Margaret Smith just a short time ago.

Margaret Smith, thank you for joining us.


TONY JONES: Could you start by telling us a little bit about how your husband Bill got involved in
these nuclear tests in the first place and what he did?

MARGARET SMITH: Well he joined the navy in 1945, when he was not quite 18. He was in there for 13
years and he was a diver in the navy.

TONY JONES: So what happened? He has obviously told you, over many years I imagine, the stories of
what happened when he was a diver at the Montebello tests. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

MARGARET SMITH: Well, I remember him saying that he was sent into radioactive waters to recover a
barge and some cable, and when that was brought on board the ship it was heavily covered in growth
and wrigglies. Someone saw it and was it was too hot and they were told to put it back in the
water. Then the deck was just covered in this heavy growth and they had to clean it all up.

TONY JONES: How long after the actual nuclear explosions was this? Do you know?

MARGARET SMITH: I can't recall, really, now. It might have been a week. I don't know.

TONY JONES: Did he tell you was he wearing any sort of protective gear, or was he wearing a monitor
to show how much radiation he was absorbing?

MARGARET SMITH: No, no, no. He didn't. I think he only had shorts on and breathing apparatus. But
the other gear wasn't suitable for where they were diving.

TONY JONES: Did he feel at the time that he might be exposed to some danger by doing this?

MARGARET SMITH: Well he didn't think at the time, but later on in years he was very concerned. He
had pains in his back and everything and they couldn't find out why, until in 1988 he was very sick
and they found he had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and he was off work for 12 months having chemo. He went
back in January 1990 and it flared up again and he died in May 1990. A terrible death, a terrible
death. He was just skin and bone.

TONY JONES: What do you think, Margaret, was the official attitude towards men like Bill who were
there as servicemen, and presumably some servicewomen, at those tests?

MARGARET SMITH: Well, they keep saying it didn't happen in wartime, but he was employed by the navy
and they are responsible for his death and all the others.

TONY JONES: I know that in the past you've referred to them as guinea pigs. Is that what you think?

MARGARET SMITH: Yes, that's right, he was a guinea pig and he gave himself a death sentence when he
went into the water.

TONY JONES: There was a class action, wasn't there, that Bill was involved in? Why did that get
dropped in the end?

MARGARET SMITH: Because he took that out in 1988, and as I said he died in 1990. I continued
because just to help the ones who were living and the ones that have died. But I have got
absolutely nowhere. I've just been absolutely stressed out over it. I've recently withdrawn the
case because I would have lost my house, and the Government said it was a waste of taxpayer's
money. I couldn't get Legal Aid because it was a waste of taxpayer's money because I wouldn't win.

TONY JONES: What sort of response have you had from the Government? I mean, I know, for example,
that you've been involved directly in this for a long time, you've even recently written a
submission to the latest inquiry.

MARGARET SMITH: Yes, that's right, and I haven't heard a word about it.

TONY JONES: You know that the inquiry that you've written a submission to is due to give its report
fairly soon. What do you expect from it? What's the best you can hope for?

MARGARET SMITH: Well I'd only get a gold card, and I think it's 15 years too late, as far as I'm
concerned, for all the stress I've gone through. As I said, it's not the money, I've been fighting
for justice for Bill.

TONY JONES: Who do you think, in the end, is mostly at fault here? I mean, do you blame the British
Government or the Australian Government, or the Australian military?

MARGARET SMITH: Well, both. I think the British are looking after their veterans, but the
Australian Government is certainly not.

TONY JONES: Do you have any hope at all that the inquiry that's going on at the moment might bring
an end to this for you?

MARGARET SMITH: I don't think so.

TONY JONES: Why not?

MARGARET SMITH: I mean it's been going on for 53 years so why change it now?

TONY JONES: Right, Margaret Smith, we thank you very much for coming in to talk us tonight.