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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 226

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I address my question to the Attorney-General and refer him to land formerly used by the Commonwealth for the use and detonation of explosives, such as former artillery ranges, particularly the former artillery range at Warnbro in Western Australia. Does the Commonwealth Government accept liability for any injury or damage which may be caused by on-site explosions from debris and UXBs left in the area? While I am sure it will make no difference to the ultimate legal judgment made by the Commonwealth, I remind the Attorney-General that it was the Commonwealth that caused the bombs to be placed there in the first place, that it failed to locate them and remove them. The Government quit possession with the bombs still in place. Perhaps it might be implied that the Commonwealth accepted liability in part by providing funds for the Western Australian Government to assist to remove that material down to three metres.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am advised that the Warnbro land was never owned by the Commonwealth, that it was used as a range under some form of licence by the Commonwealth, the United States of America and perhaps other forces during World War II. It is known to have been polluted by unexploded ammunition. I am informed that in 1978-79 the then Government agreed to meet the cost of a search for unexploded ammunition and to arrange for detonation of ammunition that was found. The Commonwealth has not accepted liability for any injury or damage caused by explosion in the area. Generally speaking the situation is, however, that the Commonwealth is liable at law for any wrongful actions or omissions on its part, as would be the case if it were a private citizen. That follows from sections 56 and 64 of the Judiciary Act. I am not aware of any proposal that would accept a greater measure of responsibility than this. It would seem to be sufficient from the point of view of putative plaintiffs in this respect.