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Thursday, 21 February 1980
Page: 285

Mr HOLDING (Melbourne Ports) - I want to draw to the attention of the House what seemed to be an unfortunate occurrence today when the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Mr Adermann) refused me leave to make a statement following his speech to the Parliament on the agent orange issue. My interest in this matter stems simply from the fact that in my electorate I have half a dozen ex-servicemen who are affected. I was interested enough to attend a meeting called by Vietnam ex-servicemen. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) was present, as was the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe). I think that both those gentlemen are as concerned as I am about the plight and predicament of these ex-servicemen and their families. I join issue with the Minister on his statement. These men are not merely entitled to claim justice, they are entitled to claim that justice be seen to be done. I say to the Minister that it is important that he satisfies not the honourable member for Isaacs or myself but those Vietnam veterans who have a very real and human plight.

It is not good enough for the Minister to come into this House and say in terms of the proposals to conduct an inquiry that there has been some criticism. The Minister knows that the criticisms came from these ex-servicemen when the proposals were first made. They wanted an open judicial inquiry so that they could test the evidence and adduce evidence on their own behalf. We are talking about the known effects of 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T and dioxins, all of which are known as agent orange. Then there are agents white and blue, agent blue being based on an arsenic compound. I find it disturbing that the Minister made a serious misstatement of fact, and he knew that it was a misstatement, when he said in this House that there was no conclusive scientific evidence at this time that any conditions, except chloracne, reported by veterans or any deformities in their children are related to any of the chemical components of agent orange or other herbicides used in Vietnam.

I ask the Minister: Does be believe that statement to be accurate and true? If he does, how does he account for the fact that in his own office less than seven days ago he had occasion to have evidence put before him by the scientific adviser to the Vietnam veterans association, Dr Evans of Melbourne, a man with considerable qualifications. In the presence of the Minister's own adviser, Dr Evans pointed to an article published in the World Health Organisation publication, Volume 15 of 1977, which dealt with the known effects on man of dioxin. That article pointed out that these chemicals do not produce just chloracne; there was evidence that satisfied the World Health Organisation that such chemicals also had adverse effects on the liver, the heart and the urinary tract. They also affect hearing, smell and touch and related to depressive and neurotic conditions. The Minister does not deny that that evidence was put to him; indeed, I am told that her thanked Dr Evans for that information.

Yet the Minister walks into the House and makes a statement which is calculated to mislead the people of Australia as to the effects of these herbicides. I do not regard that as a proper state of affairs and I believe that it requires an answer from the Minister. Why did he choose a form of inquiry which will exclude submissions from interested persons or organisations going directly to those who are responsible for the conduct of this inquiry? The Government has virtually chosen a form of inquiry which is under the control of the Minister, and it is not good enough.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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