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Wednesday, 14 May 1980
Page: 2186

Senator ELSTOB (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and may also bring some response from the Minister representing the Minister for Health. What plans has the Government for initiating an inquiry into the deaths and illnesses of Aboriginals and white people who were exposed to the fall-out of the Maralinga atomic tests? According to reports received by Dr T. Cutter, who is heading an

Alice Springs based Aboriginal health service team, many Aboriginals died immediately after the tests. Will the Minister consider holding a full inquiry into the short and long term effects on the health of the people living in the north of South Australia at the time of the atomic tests and check on the reports of mass burials of Aboriginals?

Senator CHANEY - Needless to say, this matter has been of concern to me. The concern predates the recent spate of publicity which related to Dr Cutter's visit to northern South Australia and, of course, to a series of articles in, I think, the Advertiser in South Australia. At present the Commonwealth is seeking information on the matters which have been raised. Perhaps it is worth quoting Mr Toyne, one of the people who has been interviewed in this area and who is an employee of the Pitjantjatjara Council. I refer to his comment on radio the other morning. When asked about possible deaths he said:

All I can say is that that is quite speculative.

We are still in the area of speculation. We are still seeking information. Over the past month or so I have written on a couple of occasions to the Minister of Health in South Australia seeking information from the South Australian Health Commission. I am not in a position to give a final response but I think my colleague Senator Carrick has something to say because the question also impinges on his area of responsibility.

Senator CARRICK - The atom testing events at Maralinga over the period involved a series of departments. My department was asked recently whether it would co-ordinate a review by a series of departments ranging over possible threats to any people, be they Aborigines or nonAborigines. An inderdepartmental committee has been collecting evidence on the matter. I hope that I will be able to make a statement here tomorrow indicating the direction that the Government wishes to take in this matter.

If any people in the community feel that they have direct evidence or believe that they have been affected in any way, they should come forward. They will certainly be given sympathetic examination. My understanding is that something like 2,000 Service people were involved throughout the period. I understood also that the area was patrolled during the tests to ensure that nomadic Aborigines did not come within something like 270 kilometres of the tests. As far as is known, and this information could be imperfect, only one incident of Aborigines coming within the test area was known and that involved four persons who did suffer some mild contamination.

Expert attention was given to them immediately, and by the simple process of bathing the contamination was removed. That is not to say that that is the definitive answer. I hope to add something to that tomorrow.

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