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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 15016

Mr Murphy asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 27 March 2003:

(1) Can the Minister confirm whether any of the any of the weapons fired or missiles launched by the coalition forces in the war on Iraq contain depleted uranium; if so, what are the details; if not, why not.

(2) Is the Minister aware that depleted uranium is a radioactive and toxic element and that exposure to it can, amongst other things, cause lung cancer, damage the liver and kidneys, affect bone marrow and destroy stem cells that form white cells resulting in mutations and genetic damage.

(3) Is the Minister aware of the threat to the environment of depleted uranium; if not, why not.

(4) Is the Minister aware of Article 35 of the Geneva Protocols that prohibit the use of weapons that cause and inflict unnecessary injury and suffering; if not, why not.

(5) What is the Minister doing to ensure that weapons and missiles currently being used by the coalition forces in the war on Iraq do not contain depleted uranium.

Mrs Vale (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) Yes, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) stated publicly at the outset of the military conflict that munitions containing depleted uranium (DU) would be used. The decision to utilise DU munitions in the course of military operations is a matter for US and UK military planners. Accordingly, advice concerning details of where such munitions may have been used are best addressed by the US and UK governments.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has not used ammunition containing DU since mid-1990.

(2) There is no evidence to indicate that ammunition containing DU poses an adverse health risk. In August 2001, a report prepared by the Expert Committee to Examine Balkan Veteran Exposure to Depleted Uranium on behalf of the then-Minister of Veterans' Affairs titled, Review of Scientific Literature on the Health Effects of Exposure to Depleted Uranium, concluded that on the basis of sound medical-scientific evidence and under realistic assumptions of exposure and dose, DU could not produce any health effects in Australian troops serving with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in the Balkans conflict.

The Defence Health Service subsequently revised its health bulletin regarding DU health screening policy in December 2001. On the basis of the expert committee's independent review of relevant evidence on this subject, the Defence Health Service agreed that DU posed no adverse risk of health effects for ADF personnel performing duties that would potentially lead to DU exposure, and determined that the ADF policy no longer required health screening for DU exposure.

(3) The chemical and radiological environmental hazards from depleted uranium, whether in solid, aerosol or other form, are negligibly low. In a finely divided state, depleted uranium still represents a negligible environmental hazard. Recent reports from the World Health Organisation and the UN Environment Program on the possible effects of DU used in Kosovo indicate that there is no credible evidence of significant health or environmental impact.

(4) Yes.

(5) On the basis that DU presents no credible environmental or health threat, there is no need to make such representations.