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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2275

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(6.22) —The problem with the explanation by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt)-I treat it with good will; I think that water storage and conservation in Australia ought to be a bipartisan matter if anything should be-is that the bicentennial program of the Fraser Government, which was rejected in total by the Hawke Government, was in fact studied and given approval by the Australian Water Resources Council some four years ago. So it is not a question of governments and oppositions playing ping-pong. There was a blueprint program for work to be done: First of all, on feasibility; more work to be done downstream; and indeed, a number of the individual programs related to desalination projects downstream to aid the situation. Indeed, one must keep fundamentally in mind that what was rejected by the Hawke Government in this scheme was a plan, purely from Commonwealth money, to filter both the Adelaide water supply and the water supply of the Iron Triangle.

Adelaide and the Iron Triangle suffer more from turbidity-that is, debris in the water-than from salt, although one would not think that if one tried to drink the water. The fact of the matter is that the Commonwealth Liberal Government had put down a program which would have picked up the total tab for this. There would have been no delay and we could have got on with the job of providing clear filtration both for Adelaide and for the three cities of the Iron Triangle. Honourable senators will recall that there was a nasty health hazard in the water supplies in that area over the years. I think that there were some cerebrospinal meningeal kind of infections along the way.

Senator Vigor —Amoebal meningitis.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Senator Vigor acknowledges it. It is a very serious situation which arises, as I understand it, out of the amounts of debris and bacteria that are in the unfiltered water. Nothing was done. Some belated action has been taken in respect of financing in that regard. The fact is that it is not a question of saying that the Government and the Opposition have played ping-pong for years. It is a matter of reminding the people of Australia that the former Government put down a specific program, having brought in the River Murray Agreement and the tax incentives for spray and drip irrigation and laser levelling, and these things have been set aside.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Tate) —The Minister does not want to respond, Senator. Perhaps I may ask that the honourable senator's remarks be confined as much as possible to an item of expenditure.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Yes; as you may know, Mr Temporary Chairman, I did the unusual thing of identifying that item. I will happily identify division 520.3.03-`Management of former atomic test sites'. The management of those test sites has been under the consideration of a series of governments, and not only Liberal governments over the years. For three years the Whitlam Government had the management of them, had the ability to move on those sites, had the ability to make all the tests and to do all the things that were necessary for safeguarding and prevention. Indeed, so in the intervening years did the Liberal Government, as has now, for the last three years, the Hawke Government. In my time as Minister, I hope that I took the problem very seriously. I visited the sites and sought scientific advice on the protection of those sites that were considered to contain materials that ought to remain buried and could have radioactivity, which ought to be properly fenced, and access to which ought to be denied to humans. The advice that apparently had been received until recently was accepted by both the Whitlam Government and by previous and later Liberal governments. That was that the protection of the areas was being done as well as possible, that Federal Police were patrolling the fences, that the depredations of feral animals or intruders were being dealt with, and that in fact there were warning signs around the place.

I say that against the fact that in days ahead we shall be having another view of the situation. I would be very interested if the Minister were able to tell me whether it is possible to have available, certainly at the time that the report of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia is tabled, the written submissions of the Commonwealth to that Commission. I ask that as a specific, because it is of great importance for the people of Australia to be able to say: `This is what the Hawke Government said to the Commission'. Because there is an item here for the cost of the Commonwealth counsel, I know that the Commonwealth was represented. Indeed, I asked a series of questions on that matter, and I commend the Government for it. I understand-I seek confirmation again-that the report on the health of all those who worked at Maralinga in that time-some 15,000 to 16,000 people-a report prepared by the Department of Health in conjunction with the Department of National Development, was made available to the Commission with the full force of the Government behind it. I say this because there is likely to be an air of melodrama about any kind of report on atomic tests. I do not want to underestimate it. If there is any kind of matter to be dealt with, it ought to be dealt with.

Let me explain why I am asking these questions. It seemed to me, as Minister, that there were two most important things to deal with regarding the atomic test sites. The first question was: Are they safe? Are the fences in order? Are the concrete blocks over the so-called cemetary areas at Maralinga, Emu and elsewhere intact? Are the signs up? Can they be understood by Aborigines as well as other Australians? Do our measurements of radioactivity suggest that there is any change of any significance in any of the dust or rock formations around?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Tate) —Order! We shall have to learn of your second point, Senator, after dinner.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was dealing with the estimates for the Department of Resources and Energy and the item dealing with management of former atomic test sites. I had pointed out that governments of both major parties-Labor and Liberal-had had the responsibility for this matter over the years and, indeed, that they had had the opportunity to determine two main problems. As I saw it, as the then Minister, there were two problems: First of all, to ensure that the sites, whether at Monte Bello, Maralinga, Emu or elsewhere, were secure and offered no health hazards for the present or the future; but more importantly, to check with all those people who could be located who had been at the atomic test sites in the years before to find out their experiences and their state of health and to offer them medical examinations and the facilities of the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Tribunal.

As a result a very extensive survey was carried out in conjunction with the Department of Health. I have in my hand the report of that survey, which is entitled `Health of Atomic Test Personnel'. That survey located some 15,364 people who had been at the test sites, established 8,018 addresses, and sent out questionnaires to those people. If my memory serves me correctly, the survey also established that there had been something in the order of 1,500 deaths. Those people who were alive and had been located were asked to fill in questionnaires and to respond. The responses were analysed, and the report of that study is available.

Senator Kilgariff —Does that include civilians?

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —It includes civilians.

Senator Kilgariff —Aboriginal people?

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —It includes all those who worked on the sites. It does not include transient Aborigines. The result of that study is available for all to read. I hope that that report was given to the Royal Commission-I seek the Minister's response-because it is a very valuable document. All honourable senators will know, as the report is available, that it did not find proof of any relationship between the tests and health hazards. That was not my intention. My intention was to find the truth and, if the truth was that there were people who had been adversely affected, to offer them both medical treatment and compensation. I have repeatedly suggested that to the present Government, Equally, the task was to get expert advice in a survey of the test sites and to see what repair jobs should be done. Government senators would know that at each of the Estimates committees for the last three years I have asked the Government whether it had ensured that there was no health hazard at the test sites. In a general sense the answers have been reassuring every year. At both Supplementary Estimates and general Estimates committee hearings I asked those questions long before any royal commission was mooted because it seemed to me that, if there were any danger at all, it was our job to clean it up. Even at the last Estimates Committee hearing there was no suggestion from the Government that it had located any appreciable hazard. Some fine plutonium dust particles had been located. When I went to the test sites and to the ground zeros, the advice that was given to me was that if one stayed in a place for weeks or months there may be a health hazard.

Senator Kilgariff —Have you any knowledge of the black cloud?

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —There have been a number of reports by the body responsible for advising the Government on radioactive materials and there has been no suggestion of any firm relationship. As Senator Kilgariff may know, there have been some suggestions that there was a very serious outbreak of either German measles or measles amongst Aborigines at that time. It is believed that there may have been some correlation with those deaths because Aborigines are very susceptible to rubella in particular. There is a thought that they may have been affected. I cannot say yes or no in regard to the Aborigines. I can only say that, on the best survey that could be done, there was no apparent effect on the 15,000 people. As to the offer for people to come forward to seek compensation, I think the Government has pointed out that a fraction of people came forward. I think in my time there may have been 100 or 120 and that figure might have increased by a few. There has not been a surge of people seeking compensation, so the people themselves do not believe that they have been affected. The dosimeters that the people wore were located.

Let me say quite clearly and not in any defensive way that, if there are at this moment significant deposits of radioactive material in Maralinga, Emu or Monte Bello, the government of the day-I do not say this in the sense of the Hawke Government-had the duty year by year to know this and to do something about it. Just as the Fraser Government sought to do this, I have been assured by the Hawke Government that it has been seeking to do it. I have checked with the Government on the question of the repairs of fences and concrete covers. Indeed, a new area is to be fenced because of the presence of some particles. The important point to keep in mind is that it has always been the duty of the government of the day to find out what is going on.

At the Senate Estimates Committee hearing I asked whether the McClelland Royal Commission had sought or done any tests upon the flora or fauna in these areas. I asked this question because, having been to those test sites, I had seen an abundance of living material. It therefore would be quite possible to find out, in a scientific way, what happens when radioactive material is ingested. Those of us who have been to the ground zero plinths would have had rather frequent sights of the noses of feral animals-hares, rabbits and dingoes-peeping out from beneath the plinths because they burrow under them to keep cool. We have animals such as the dingo that live over a period that are capable of being examined to see what they have ingested through their lungs, because they are low ground-breathing animals. There are lizards, rabbits and a whole range of animals to examine. On Monte Bello a whole life cycle is based around the sea turtle and its eggs and all the fauna on the islands coming to eat the eggs. So we have plenty of life cycles to examine going back over the years.

When I asked this question the answer I received was that the Royal Commission did not make any specific inquiries about the information available on the effect, if any, on the flora and fauna, nor did it initiate any investigations or tests on existing flora and fauna. However, a number of scientific and general documents dealing with aspects of these matters have been provided to the Royal Commission, and a list is available. I seek confirmation from the Minister of my understanding that that list-I acknowledge its value-does not point to any significant radioactive effects on the flora or fauna on those islands. I must say that I cannot comprehend a royal commission, seeking to find the effect on living creatures of radioactivity, and particularly of minute particles of plutonium in the soil, not setting out to do laboratory tests on those animals that are freely available. If those tests are not done, how do we evaluate that effect? If the Royal Commission says that there are dangers in the area, I must say that those of us who have advised the governments of the day apparently have not advised them wisely or the governments of the day, having that advice, have not acted. That is why I seek to ask the government of the day now whether it will make available, together with the report of the Royal Commission, the submissions relevant to this matter that it made to the Royal Commission.

There has been a tendency to concentrate upon events at Maralinga, Emu and Monte Bello as though the errors involved a variety of matters, such as the wrong timing, the wrong weather and our being misled as to the nature of the tests. We have concentrated on the series of trigger tests which allegedly distributed plutonium. If in fact that information is right, it should be brought out. But the test of that is: What do we know of its effects; what do we know now of the distribution of the plutonium and what do we know about its ingestion by living creatures? If we do not know those things, why do we not know? We do know that in a properly controlled epidemiological study carried out by the Department of Health and the Department of Resources and Energy, virtually every living person who had been associated with Maralinga was surveyed, and death certificates were also surveyed. I do not want anything to be hidden. I am pleading that, if things went wrong, let us learn from what went wrong. If anybody at all has suffered-Aborigines or anyone else-let us find out. We will find out not through anecdotal evidence-it will be of great danger if it is anecdotal-but by knowing what the government of the day has found in all its radiological tests in the last three years, year by year. Were the officers right when they told us at the Estimates committee hearings that they had done the surveys and felt no particular anxiety about the situation? What has happened with all these reports? Has any report suggested that there is a danger to living creatures? I rise on this matter only because I think that one of the dangers is that anecdotal evidence, particularly anecdotal evidence concerning the Aborigines, can lead to a lot of beliefs which, if tested, may be found not to be true.

I seek from the Minister for Veterans' Affairs assurances that he will provide in due course, with the report of the Royal Commission, any submission of the Government; that he will verify that the Government itself over the three years of its tenure has indeed surveyed the areas and has not made any report to Estimates committees of any significant worry about health; and that nothing in the very good bibliography regarding tests on flora and fauna has pointed to significant effects on the health of living creatures.