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Fed Govt admits responsibility for Westralia -

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Fed Govt admits responsibility for Westralia fire

AM - Tuesday, 29 August , 2006 08:28:00

Reporter: Daniel Hoare

TONY EASTLEY: After eight years and three separate inquiries into the deaths of four sailors on
HMAS Westralia, the survivors of the incident can now finally go ahead and sue the Federal
Government.

AM can reveal that the Government is now admitting liability for the fire which was caused by a
burst fuel hose in the ship's engine room.

The Government's acceptance of responsibility comes after it reached a settlement with the two
defence sub-contractors it'd previously blamed for the fire.

And the Veterans' Affairs Minister Bruce Billson says claims for compensation will now be
considered.

As Daniel Hoare reports, the claims could cost the Government millions of dollars.

DANIEL HOARE: Kevin Herridge has never recovered from the engine room fire aboard HMAS Westralia in
1998.

The Perth father of two was in charge of the engine room that day. He's suffered severe post
traumatic stress ever since.

He's been attempting to sue the Federal Government over the fire and its aftermath, which he says
may have prevented him ever working again.

KEVIN HERRIDGE: It's an ongoing process, and yes, I'm still seeking medical help from the fire,
yes. I see a psychologist weekly and a psychiatrist monthly.

DANIEL HOARE: Do you believe you'll be able to work again?

KEVIN HERRIDGE: (Sighs) I would like to say I will, but time will tell, time will tell. I really
don't know how to answer that one.

DANIEL HOARE: Kevin Herridge says he and his colleagues from the Westralia have been shunned by the
Federal Government.

KEVIN HERRIDGE: We were just left to fend for ourselves, really.

DANIEL HOARE: Kevin Herridge's lawyer, Emma Hynes, from the firm Slater & Gordon, says the Federal
Government's decision to accept liability is a significant one.

She says it's cleared the way for the seven former seaman she represents to go ahead and seek
compensation from the Federal Government.

EMMA HYNES: It's taken six years for them to concede that they breached their duty of care to my
clients, and we'll now be asking the court to enter judgement of that fact and also to then arrange
for an assessment of the appropriate amount of compensation.

DANIEL HOARE: What does this mean for the seven sailors that you represent?

EMMA HYNES: Well, what this means is that it's no longer a discussion about whether these men and
women are entitled to compensation for the injuries that they suffered, but how much compensation
is appropriate?

DANIEL HOARE: What sort of compensation are we talking about here? Is it right that it could be in
the order of $10 million?

EMMA HYNES: There's been no set sum fixed, because we're not yet at that point of the court
proceedings. That will come over the next coming months. But certainly that is a reasonable
estimate of what the total amounts might be.

DANIEL HOARE: The Federal Government had blamed its sub-contractors, the companies Jetrock and
Australian Defence Industries, for the fire aboard the Westralia.

But a settlement believed to be in the order of $30 million was recently reached between the
Government and those companies. And as part of that settlement the Government is now admitting
liability

The Minister for Veteran's Affairs, Bruce Billson, says the Government will now begin discussing
the sailors' claims for compensation.

BRUCE BILLSON: The Commonwealth has settled the matters concerning the maintenance of the ship with
those involved with that part of this tragedy.

And the Commonwealth is in a position to work with the lawyers of the victims and their families to
resolve the outstanding claims that they have concerning the ADF members.

TONY EASTLEY: Veteran's Affairs Minister Bruce Billson. That report from Daniel Hoare.