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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 442

Dr Everingham asked the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 1 5 May 1 980:

(   1 ) Has his attention been drawn to a repor by P. Akerman entitled 'Vietnam's poison legacy' in the Australian of 3 April 1 980 and an accompanying comment by P. Young.

(2)   If so, does the report suggest an incidence of brain, spinal cord, eye and heart defects at twice the normal level in children of 700 Vietnamese veterans after a 1976-78 study of some 4500 people including 1 1 02 veterans, 836 of whom had been exposed to herbicides, with 670 of those exposed having wives who were not exposed.

(3)   Were there 17 brain and spinal cord, 3 eye, 10 limb, 4 lip/palate and 1 6 heart abnormalities among the 43 alleged mutancies.

(4)   ls this consistent with last year's Lancet report by Barbara Field on herbicide effects and the files of 70 United States of America couples who had 8 miscarriages and 7 birth defects among their pregnancies.

(5)   If so, will the Government promptly (a) prepare legislation to give to spouses and dependants in these cases the entitlements of the exposed veterans to compensatory allowances and treatment while there remains doubt as to the contribution of war service to their condition and (b) seek and publish legal advice as to the duty of repatriation Tribunals to give claimants under this legislation the benefit of any doubt that these abnormalities may be war-caused, pending statistical confirmation or otherwise which could take several years.

Mr Adermann - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   and (3) As the newspaper report is not an article published in the referenced scientific literature it is not possible to draw scientifically valid conclusions based on its contents.

(4)   The letter to the Lancet, June 23, 1979 by Barbara Field and Charles Kerr has been brought to my attention. One sentence in it is especially relevant to the question and that is Our data and the record-linkage nature of analysis cannot be taken as direct evidence of any causal association involving 2,4,5-T'. Their letter suggested further analyses and trials be undertaken. I am not aware of the contents of the files on 70 United States of America couples to which the question refers.

(5)   In my statement on Agent Orange in Vietnam veterans to the House of Representatives on 21 February 1980, I said If it is established that there is a connection between birth defects in the children of veterans and exposure to herbicides in Vietnam the Government will take appropriate action'. One of the reasons for the Government pushing ahead with the study by the Commonwealth Institute of Health is to establish if there is such a connection. The honourable member has been advised that such a study will take approximately two years.

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