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Wednesday, 29 February 1984
Page: 183

Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party of Australia) —(6.49) -by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) has just presented the report of the pilot study into the feasibility of an epidemiological investigation of morbidity in Vietnam veterans. It is not a totally definitive report, nor could it be. It is the result of investigations set in train by Senator Messner when he was Minister for Veterans Affairs. Senator Messner extended the guidelines of this inquiry in November 1981. It may be worth recalling that the chief objectives of this investigation were to evaluate several data collection survey strategies in terms of response rates, quality of response, reliability and validity of response, as well as to determine time and cost differences. The investigation was also to highlight the unforeseen problems with questionnaire design and interview techniques. In other words, it sought a whole range of information and, more specifically, the method of obtaining it in a very difficult and diverse area to test the administrative and data processing systems and to highlight unforeseen problems in these areas.

This pilot study was restricted, for all sorts of good reasons, to only some 600 personnel-300 Vietnam veterans and 300 members of the Army. It was a very restricted sample, but even from that investigation it has become abundantly clear that a great variety of circumstances were revealed in the recollection of events. This is one of the things that makes a further intensive inquiry so difficult. It was seldom that one could get a consistent result on questions such as the frequency of spraying. Indeed, there was very little consistency in the answers to questions that related to the nature of chemicals, whether they were heavy chemicals or light chemicals. I suppose all these matters have highlighted what this particular study set out to do. I believe it set out to establish the feasibility of such an inquiry and to try to determine the methods by which such an inquiry should be continued. I presume the most reliable methods will ultimately result from inquiries such as this pilot study. But clearly, the result of this study has been to identify some course of action but , more clearly, to identify the enormous difficulty in establishing a consistent and reliable response to the problems that we seek to solve. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.