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Thursday, 3 May 1984
Page: 1559


Senator HEARN —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I refer to the newspaper reports of atomic tests at Maralinga, both those that have been publicised and those that it is claimed were conducted secretly. Are Australian servicemen who were employed to carry out those tests eligible for compensation by the Commonwealth?


Senator GIETZELT —Servicemen involved in the nuclear testing program at Maralinga in the 1950s and 1960s did not qualify for disability pensions. Peacetime service in the defence forces has attracted compensation under the Repatriation Act only since December 1972, when it was introduced by the Whitlam Government. However, servicemen are eligible for workers' compensation benefits. I understand that such benefits have been paid for illnesses and death claimed to have occurred as a result of the participation of servicemen exposed to radiation during those tests.

I draw the attention of Senator Hearn to the fact that on 15 December last-I think it might have been the last sitting day of the previous session-a Department of Health report entitled 'Health of Atomic Test Personnel' was tabled. Although some statistically significant associations were found between various tasks and subsequent illnesses, it was concluded that there was no association between proven radiation exposure and subsequent illness, and that there was no excess mortality which might have been due to exposure to radiation . I understand, of course, that those views have not been accepted by the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association which has been pressing governments in recent years to have further examination of the difficulties that they believe they experienced as a result of those tests. I point out, of course, as some of my ministerial colleagues in the Senate have said, that we are dealing with events that are now more than 30 years old. However, I can say that the Government is considering the need for a special compensation scheme, dealing with claims by veterans as well as civilians, arising from the British atomic tests in Australia. I am sure that that will also be taken up with the British Government, having regard to the joint co-operation that took place in those years.