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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1769

Senator COLEMAN(5.31) —I need a little guidance on this matter, Mr Deputy President. A royal commission is now sitting on this matter and I need to know how far, given the existence of that inquiry, we can discuss the report.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The honourable senator may discuss the report as fully as she wishes, but honourable senators should bear in mind that what they say may prejudice the hearings.

Senator COLEMAN —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. However, some of the matters raised in the letter from the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council are already being raised before the Royal Commission into the British Nuclear Tests in Australia. That creates some difficulty in this chamber, particularly with a report such as this. I simply take the opportunity to point out to the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, that when the previous Government was in office, we constantly complained that immediately prior to an election reports would come down which created some difficulty for those of us who were concerned about a particular area and on which we were not given adequate time. This is one of those occasions. In regard to papers Nos 2 and 3, on which I would like to make a more positive contribution, these matters are being raised at a late time in our sittings.

The Leader of the Opposition also said that some matters raised in the report would be a relief to those concerned. It is obvious from the information going to the Royal Commission that a lot of those people are not convinced that AIRAC' s ninth report was adequate. I do not believe the matters raised in this report will cause them to be any more relieved than they were then. Evidence is coming out of the Royal Commission that people are suffering as a result, presumably, of their exposure to radiation levels which were considerably higher than expected.

The problem with a good deal of the evidence given before the Commission appears to be that a lot of the dosimeters were not registering correctly and that, even if they were, the superior officers frequently did not know what to do with them. Only a few days ago a Press report stated that a witness had said before the Commission that he had taken his dosimeter back to his senior officer , who had discarded it even though it was registering a reasonably high level at that time. It does not give the people who faced that position in the tests any relief at all to have a report of this nature coming down saying that, although there have been several successive revisions of data, the figures in the report are only to some extent final. It says, for instance, that the distances and the amounts of radiation received by those people are 'presumed' to be of a safe level. It says that, even in the light of new information coming forward now, the dosimeters, or some of them, were not registering correctly. Even where information was available as to what the registered levels should have been, the senior officers were not always aware of what they should do with that information-whether it should have just been given to their superiors. Or, as obviously occurred at some stages, the dosimeters were simply discarded. That would account for the matters raised in the report that all the dosimeters were not returned. The letter from AIRAC dated 2 August says on page 1:

The levels of blast, shock, and optical or thermal radiations experienced were not in any way sufficient to cause injury or ill health.

Once again we return to the problem of whether we are talking of ill health caused immediately or ill health that develops many years afterwards. That is the situation which has developed not only here in Australia, but in relation to all the atomic testing that has been done in a number of places throughout the world. We are now seeing, some 30 years afterwards, a degree of illness occurring among people who were present at such testing. We do not have the answers. I doubt very much whether AIRAC has the answers. The answers certainly have not been included in the radiation report. I know that the--

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.