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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 180

Senator MACKLIN(3.25) —The Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam has presented a report which is an extremely detailed-nine volumes-very comprehensive and well argued report. The major recommendations deal with a range of items outside, one would have thought, the actual focus in terms of the reference of the Commission itself. Interestingly enough, the major effect of the recommendations of the Royal Commission will probably be in regard to the community and in regard to the veteran community in particular. It is also interesting to note that the Commission deals with the movement of armed forces from combat to civilian life, an area which has caused an enormous amount of concern with the Vietnam war in particular, and which I think has been one of the acknowledged contributing factors to the stress which Senator Collard was talking about and which is detailed fairly extensively within this nine-volume report.

Since I have had the report for only a short time I have been able to read only volume 8, which consists mainly of the summary of the items of the various chapters with regard to the findings of the Commission and to the exoneration by the Commission of any adverse effects above that which one could expect of agent orange and the various other chemical agents on the servicemen in Vietnam. That volume also contains extensive recommendations which I hope will be considered carefully by the Government. It also contains a very interesting recommendation in regard to the use of the Commission now that it has presented its report; actually to go out into the community to attempt to sell the report. The Commission has recommended that the Commissioner and the Commission's principal support team be given funds by the Government to go out into the community and to explain to the community what the Commission has found. In the words of the Commission:

The Australian Government now has a unique opportunity to lay the Agent Orange Ghost to rest.

I think that is probably an over-optimistic view of the ability of the Commission to be able to sell this report. The propositions that are put I think are very useful ones inasmuch as it is all very well to have a report, but if the people who are concerned and who are the objects of that report only have the results of the report filtered to them by the media, I think they will be far less willing to accept the propositions that the Commission has put than if the Commission and its staff put that information directly to the veterans. The cost and the time frame they are suggesting are $40,000 and five weeks. I think that again is an optimistic proposition to be able to sell this extensive report to the veterans in a country such as Australia, given the diverse nature of the community and the veteran community in particular. The report then goes on to attempt to explain how we could have got into this situation. I think it gives a potted history of how the Royal Commission considers we got there. I think it is really an extraordinarily potted history which does not add terribly much to the report.

In terms of the usefulness of the report, if the Government accepts the recommendation to explain the Royal Commission's finding directly to the veteran community, this would certainly be a beneficial innovation in the way in which we communicate matters such as this. Undoubtedly many of the responses and findings will create a great deal of controversy within the veteran community. It is obvious that the concerns that the veterans have about this area will not necessarily be laid to rest by reading in a newspaper a potted summary of what the Royal Commissioner has worked through. What is required is a more extensive, deliberate and reasonable method of communication such as has been put forward by the Royal Commissioner.

I do not want to carry my remarks beyond that at the moment except to say that the Government has already indicated that it will be making a response to the report. I hope that that response will be made fairly rapidly. At that stage the Senate hopefully will have the opportunity to have an extensive debate on the nine volumes. I know that it might be a bit excessive to ask that the debate be delayed until people have actually read the report. However, I think it would be far better to have an early debate so that exaggerated claims, one way or the other, which are not addressed in the report itself will not be made and thereby further add to the problems that already exist.