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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7118

Mr EDWARDS (9:52 PM) —Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs suggested indirectly that people who speak on these issues should do their research and homework. Madam Deputy Speaker, I can assure the minister that I have done my research and homework. We are in a position in this country where we are not giving the same degree of concern or care to our veterans that is being given to veterans of the same war in the United Kingdom or in the United States of America.

I asked the minister some time ago some questions relating to Gulf War illness. It took him three months to answer those questions. It does not seem to me that the minister is on top of the problem in his department nor does it seem to me that his department is on top of the problem. If the minister had done this research and had monitored the health of Gulf War veterans he should have been able to answer that question within a week or two at the most. I just want to say through the chair that—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —I am delighted to hear you are going to start speaking through the chair. It is about time.

Mr EDWARDS —those in America have gone out of their way to recognise that Gulf War illness is not something that is easily diagnosed. They have established the Office of Gulf War Illness in order to engage in dialogue with veterans in that country. One of the things that we should have learnt following the Vietnam war is the fact that people with illnesses following war do not always present with the traditional injuries that the minister talks about, going back as far as Gallipoli. They have recognised there is a problem in the United States of America and a problem in the United Kingdom.

I want to reiterate what they have done in Britain. The British government takes a strongly proactive approach to the Gulf War veterans. In Britain, the government has adopted three specific policies. These are, firstly, that all Gulf War veterans have prompt access to medical advice from a medical assessment program. I hope that the minister's advisers and staff are listening. In the United Kingdom, all Gulf War veterans have prompt access to medical advice from a medical assessment program. Secondly, there is appropriate research into veterans' illnesses and factors which might have a bearing on these. Thirdly, the Ministry of Defence will make available to the public any information it possesses which is of potential relevance to this issue. A central element of the Blair government's approach is to be open and honest with the Gulf War veterans, to listen to what they have to say and to engage in dialogue.

How can this department or this minister monitor the health of these veterans unless they call them in and give them access to a medical program, unless they assess whatever symptoms these veterans have, and unless they document these symptoms? This department—and I am sorry to say this, because I have a high regard for this department—under this government and under this minister is turning its back on these, our youngest veterans.

This situation, this Gulf War illness, requires the government and the department to go out and to take a proactive response to this issue of Gulf War veterans. They should call these veterans in, assess them, document any medical symptoms they have and treat them. If they do not do that, how can they possibly monitor the health of these veterans?

I received today an email from a bloke who served in the Gulf War. He said:

Dear Graham,

Given the announcement of the Department of Defence that we all got the jabs the Yanks and the Brits did, I am alarmed about the articles relating to the anthrax shot that appears on this site. If you get time to have a look at it, it is quite scary stuff. I also found out US veterans have lodged some sort of complaint with the United Nations. Could you ask Parliament if the ministers of Defence and Veterans' Affairs are prepared to take the stuff we did and will they do it in the chamber for all of us to watch.

I am happy to table this document because it might induce the minister and his department to check out this web site. They might come to understand the difficulty and the illness these people are facing. I seek leave to table this document.

Leave not granted.

(Time expired)

Proposed expenditures agreed to.

Department of Industry, Science and Resources

Proposed expenditure, $1,714,042,000.