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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 63

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:19 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence and the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I ask the minister whether he is aware of the recent Monash University study on the impact of vaccinations on Australian Gulf War personnel, which found that veterans who had multiple immunisations have almost double the rate of health symptoms of non-vaccinated veterans and that psychological problems and skin, sinus and eye complaints occur far more frequently amongst veterans of the 1991 Gulf War than amongst other personnel. Minister, in light of this evidence directly linking exposure to medicines and chemicals in the first Gulf War to the deteriorating physical and psychological health of veterans, does the government accept that it has a responsibility to those who have been detrimentally affected? What action is the government taking to modify or monitor vaccinations given to Australians currently serving in Iraq?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Defence and the government obviously support personnel that have served in the conflicts mentioned by the honourable senator or in any other conflicts by not only monitoring their health but also by providing all necessary support. The honourable senator will be aware of previous studies on these issues and the responses given by the defence health authorities in the budget estimates committee hearings. From time to time further reports come along, and they are properly taken into account by the defence health community as well. Any further information that has come out of the Monash study will be considered by Defence and, if it is found to provide additional information that is useful, will be taken into account.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. What action is the government taking in relation to the Australians serving or just having served in the current Iraq conflict to properly monitor vaccinations and other health risks and to follow through on any health consequences and their health status following their return from Iraq? Could I also ask the minister a question in relation to another health matter. He will be aware of an earlier study linking RAAF victims of chemical exposure during maintenance of F111 fuel tanks with serious health problems. The minister made a promise to act promptly to assist those victims and, as I understand it, to make a submission to cabinet before the end of the year. Could he indicate whether or not that has happened and whether action is being taken to assist victims of health problems arising from that situation?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —They are two very different matters. In relation to defence personnel returning from current operations, their health position is monitored. I have answered questions on that before and have provided some detail. They have the full benefit of defence health services on an ongoing basis. In relation to the deseal-reseal issues arising out of the maintenance of F111s at Amberley, as the honourable senator knows the last of a set of major reports was recently handed down. I said a few weeks ago that that was being considered by government and that government would consider the final report as soon as possible and that cabinet would consider it hopefully before Christmas. That is still my objective. (Time expired)