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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29736


Mr St CLAIR (4:43 PM) —I also rise today to talk on the motion before the House on atomic testing and compensation for ex-servicemen which was moved by the member for Greenway. The issues he has raised are certainly sensitive in anyone's terms and have been going on for a long time—there is no doubt about that. I am sure the whole House acknowledges the service of Australian service personnel during the British atomic test program that was conducted at Maralinga, Emu Field and the Monte Bello Islands. It is hard to believe that it is 40 or 50 years since these tests took place as part of a program to develop weapons of war in the 1950s and 1960s.

We are committed to meeting the government's responsibility to the participants in the British atomic testing program. Evidence of this government's and this minister's commitment is the commencement of a scientific process to ascertain the impact of the test program on the health of all Australian participants. Some of the health issues have been raised by members this afternoon, and we have heard about the growth of concern as time has gone on. There have been many assertions about the health and mortality of the Australians involved in these tests, such as those contained in this motion. They have not been established by any scientific studies or analysis. Obviously those sorts of tests need to be done. There needs to be proper evidence put forward.

On 16 July 1999 the minister announced a cancer and mortality study of atomic test veterans. This will allow us to decide if current compensation arrangements are sufficient. The consultative forum for the study and for the scientific advisory committee met in Canberra on 30 July this year. The first step in the mortality and cancer incidence study was the development of a preliminary nominal roll of Australian participants in the test program. The department has completed this nominal roll of participants. Delay in completing the nominal roll was due to the need for regulation to allow the department to gain access to the lists used in the earlier study, which was known as the Donovan study, of the early 1980s. The lists obtained from that study had many gaps. It was a detailed, exacting task for the department to check those primary records to fill in as many gaps as possible. The roll has to contain sufficient personal information to enable adequate data matching against the National Death Index and Cancer Registry. Since the draft roll was published, the roll has been refined in the light of public input through the consultation process. The current version of the roll contains about 16,700 names comprising 8,000 or more Defence Force personnel and over 8,500 civilians, including 10 indigenous persons. The Australian Defence Force break-up is about 1,657 for Army, 3,211 for Air Force and 3,268 for Navy.

I would like to stress that compensation including medical treatment is already available to veterans for any illness or injury that results from their service. Any Australian ex-service member who considers they have suffered from illness or injury related to the test program can make a claim under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 through the Military Compensation and Rehabilitation Scheme administered by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. There is no evidence that Australians were used as experimental guinea pigs. This is an allegation that was specifically denied by both the UK and Australian authorities responsible for conducting the tests. Archival documents relating to this issue support this and have been examined by officers of the department. (Time expired)


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.