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Thursday, 19 September 1985
Page: 749


Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Has he any information about how funds are to be distributed to Australian Vietnam veterans from the Agent Orange settlement in the United States of America?


Senator GIETZELT —The democratic process in the United States permits groups or classes of people to take action through the judicial process in respect of any grievance they may have-otherwise known as a class action. The American veterans commenced that process several years ago, and some Australian veterans, assisted by legal representatives in Australia, were permitted to join that action as a result of some evidence placed before the American courts. A sum of $180m was awarded to the Vietnam veterans, of which $1.8m was made available to Australian veterans. The difficulty the American judge had was that submissions were then placed before him by the Returned Services League of Australia as well as by the Vietnam Veterans' Association, and he was naturally perplexed as to how he would distribute that sum, which will shortly reach, because of interest, approximately $2m.

It was of some concern to me that he was in an indecisive state of mind as to what steps he could take to have the matter placed properly in the Australian system so that Australian veterans could profit from his decision. It was an out of court settlement and no liabilities were accepted by the American drug companies. Finally, I was able to prevail upon the RSL and the VVA to come together in a trust arrangement. Arising out of those negotiations representatives from those organisations, plus Legacy and the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council, were invited to participate in the establishment of that trust, with the Minister of the day appointing a neutral chairman. I then selected Mr Justice Meares, himself a veteran, and that trust has now been registered in the Australian Capital Territory. I understand that the American judge, Judge Weinstein, has agreed to distribute the funds to that organisation. The terms of reference will be a matter that will be discussed by the trust, on the understanding that it will not distribute the funds on a strictly welfare basis-because that is the responsibility of government-but will come up with recommendations upon which the funds may be equitably distributed to those veterans needing assistance beyond the compensation and welfare systems in Australia.