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Compensation considered for nuclear test vete -

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Compensation considered for nuclear test veterans

The World Today - Monday, 8 June , 2009 12:45:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

PETER CAVE: A landmark ruling by the British High Court has opened up the possibility for
compensation for thousands of Australian servicemen involved in a series of nuclear tests at
Maralinga and the Monte Bello Islands in the year 1950s.

The decision on Friday found that the British Ministry of Defence had a case to answer because
servicemen were essentially used as guinea pigs during the atomic tests.

It means that servicemen now have a right to sue the British Government.

The Government here is now considering the ramifications of the judgement.

Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: The Australian Government has never awarded specific compensation or service
entitlements to those involved in the now infamous nuclear tests.

Seven atomic bombs were detonated at Maralinga in South Australia's outback, between September the
27th 1956 and October the 9th 1957.

It was part of Britain's weapons testing program, which was then considered crucial to the
continuing defence of the Commonwealth.

Ric Johnstone was a motor mechanic with the RAAF stationed at Maralinga, and his job was to
decontaminate vehicles used at the site.

RIC JOHNSTONE: Well I have had several cancers removed, and so far I'm in remission, but I have
many lumps yet to be explored. I've had two heart attacks, I've had quadruple bypass, and I'm alive
at the moment by virtue of medical science.

NANCE HAXTON: He's now the national president of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, and
he's hopeful the decision by Britain's High Court will finally open up the possibility of
compensation.

RIC JOHNSTONE: The Government have been listening for 50 years, but the tactics have been to treat
us like criminals, or people who are trying to get something for nothing, and keeping everything
suppressed and swept under the carpet.

But that might change now, hopefully.

NANCE HAXTON: Momentum is building after half a century, to not only commemorate the tests, but to
recognise the ongoing damage that veterans have suffered from the nuclear testing program.

The veterans now have a high profile advocate - South Australia's Premier Mike Rann.

He says it's time that the British Government took responsibility for what happened not only to the
veterans on the site, but also to the Aboriginal people affected by the tests.

MIKE RANN: I just think that the British know exactly what went on. We were misled back in the
1970s - '78, '79 - when they said that they sent a VC10 to land at Maralinga and removed a small
amount of plutonium, and then pretended that the area had been cleaned up.

I think the British authorities over the decades have misled Australians about the nature and
extent of what happened there. I think that the prime responsibility should be with the British.

NANCE HAXTON: Ric Johnstone says veterans are pleased that a politician is finally listening to
their claims, and they are also lobbying for recognition and compensation for Aboriginal people.

RIC JOHNSTONE: Yes, our association would like to see some fair play for the Indigenous people too,
because they were affected - there's no doubt about that. And it was their land.

We're not particularly worried about it ourselves as individuals. What we're worried about is our
offspring. Because we know that there are genetic affects, and we know that there has been children
born with genetic problems, and we're told that will continue for many generations.

So that's the important thing that we would like to see get some support from the Government.

NANCE HAXTON: A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Alan Griffin says the Government needs to
examine the details of the ruling in Britain before the Minister can comment on the implications
for Australia.

She says the Minister is now seeking advice and additional research on the matter.

The Federal Government was already reviewing the entitlements of Australian participants of the
British nuclear tests, with the findings expected to be handed down soon.

Ric Johnstone says it's been a long wait, but he hopes those caught up in the tests may be
compensated for their experiences soon.

RIC JOHNSTONE: We're not recognised as veterans because according to our government, we never had
operational service. But the real truth of that matter is that nuclear veterans during the atomic
weapons tests face more hazards than a lot of the people that went overseas.

PETER CAVE: Ric Johnson, the national president of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association.