House debates

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006; Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2006

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 14 September, on motion by Mr Billson:

That this bill be now read a second time.

10:47 am

Photo of Alan GriffinAlan Griffin (Bruce, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in the debate on the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006. Before I outline Labor’s response to the bill and raise a few concerns that I have, I would like to engage in a brief outline of the British atomic tests in Australia.

At 8 am on 2 October 1952, Britain exploded its first atomic bomb in Australian territory under the codename Operation Hurricane. The bomb was exploded aboard the HMS Plym approximately 120 kilometres off Australia’s north-west coast at the Montebello Islands. Nick Richardson, in an article in the Herald Sun commemorating the 50th anniversary of this test, gave an account of the test. He wrote:

The scientists gave the deserted warship a final once over before heading down below. 

There, packed securely in the hold below the water line, was a 25 kilotonne atomic bomb.

The men set the bomb’s arming switch by connecting the firing circuits to an electricity supply, and quickly left the ship. 

Once they were safely away from ground zero, the order to detonate was given.

Within seconds, a blinding blue flash streaked across the water. The frigate HMS Plym was vaporised, gouging a saucer shaped crater 6m deep and 300m wide in the seabed.

A vast cloud of mud, spray and steam was released followed by a huge mushroom cloud of smoke which billowed 4500m into the air.

Local fallout began about one minute after firing. Much of it dropped as contaminated rain, as well as solid particles from the crater and parts of the Plym.

Later contamination in rainwater was detected as far away as Rockhampton and Brisbane.

A young sailor on board the nearby Royal Navy vessel, HMS Tracker, later recalled being ordered up on deck and told to turn his back and place the backs of his hands over his shut eyes.

He was dressed only in shorts, sandals and a sun hat.

“We knew it was going to be an explosion. We were never told it was going to be an atom bomb, though it had come through the grapevine,” the seaman said.

“They started the countdown and there was this flash and I could see right through my hands, even though my eyes were shut”.

“Then there was like a roar, rumble then a bang. And then we turned around and opened our eyes and just after there was this hot wind and you could feel it like grit hitting your body”.

“The ship rocked slightly and that was it”.

With this explosion Britain become the world’s third nuclear power behind the United States and the Soviet Union. This test was at a time of heightened insecurity during the formative stages of the Cold War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had already developed the atomic bomb and were at the start of what would be a decades-long arms race. The Korean War was in its third year and the world was coming to grips with the perceived threats from communist regimes.

Despite its alliances, the United States secretly guarded its new-found technology and was unwilling to share it with Britain. Having discovered the atom bomb, the United States wanted to go it alone, and the British involvement in the development of a nuclear capability with the Americans ended with the collapse of the Anglo-American atomic partnership in 1946. The British, however, remained desperate to obtain this technology in order to secure their power and role in the post-World War II international system. Once Britain was locked out of the United States atomic program, it began its own. The British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, expressed his determination in 1946 when he said, ‘We have got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We have got to have a bloody Union Jack on top of it.’

The British—short on space to test—quickly turned to their dominions for assistance, and none was quicker to offer testing space than the Australian government led by Sir Robert Menzies. The Montebello test was the beginning of a program that would see the Australian government collaborating with the British in their pursuit of a nuclear capability. Tests involving Australians were conducted on the mainland from October 1952 to October 1957. These tests were conducted at the Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia and at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. There were also British tests out to 1963, involving hydrogen bombs, at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean and Malden Island in the Pacific Ocean. In what is an often unknown and little understood event in our history, the Menzies government had given permission for a foreign government to develop and test nuclear weapons on our soil. Australia did not gain access to any of the technology that was being tested. The Menzies government was happy to accept no price, and demand no access to the technology, for the conduct of these tests.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the Australian government’s involvement was the lack of transparency and accountability by the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. A high level of secrecy clouded the first test in Australia and was covered by a strict need-to-know agreement between Menzies and his British counterpart, Clement Attlee. In September 1950, Menzies had been asked by the British High Commission in Canberra whether Montebello could be surveyed as a possible test site. Menzies agreed. The survey concluded that Montebello was a suitable site for tests but that the atmospheric conditions of the island meant that the test would have to be held in October.

With progress occurring, Menzies had to begin to brief senior public servants on preparatory work for the tests to occur. The level of secrecy that Menzies was maintaining was so strict that it meant that the head of the Department of Supply was briefed on aspects of the tests, but not the Minister for Supply, Howard Beale. Because of this, Beale unknowingly misled parliament in October 1951 when he said that rumours of atomic tests were ‘a product of the fevered imagination of some London journalist’.

Even after his own minister had misled parliament, Menzies refused to inform him or the public about the proposed tests. Amazingly, it was not until the story appeared in American newspapers in mid-February 1952 that a joint statement was issued announcing that Britain would detonate its own bomb on Australian soil some time that year. Australians were not informed at this time that secret work had been conducted since 1950 towards this aim. In commenting on these events, the 1985 report of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, established by the then Hawke Labor government, concluded:

... it would be unthinkable for any foreign government to tell an Australian Prime Minister which of his Ministers and officials might be given certain information.

Yet this was exactly what they found had occurred. Menzies had agreed to allow a foreign government to explode nuclear weapons on our soil, and he did it under a cloak of secrecy where decisions were hidden not only from the public but also from his own ministers. However, when his ministers were finally informed they quickly fell into line. For example, supply minister Beale, who had earlier unknowingly misled parliament, declared in a press statement in 1955:

... England has the bomb and the know-how. We have the open spaces, much technical skill and great willingness to help the motherland.

Geopolitical considerations and a misinformed strategic outlook had led the Menzies government to believe that it was acting in Australia’s national interests, but in reality Australia was to gain little or no strategic benefit from the tests. Instead, the Menzies government allowed Australian servicemen, civilians and Indigenous Australians to be treated as guinea pigs and allowed the destruction of large tracts of our natural environment, all in the name of a foreign government’s ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons.

A secret memo revealed by Dr Roger Cross in his book Fallout exposes further the disregard that the Menzies government had for the safety and wellbeing of its own citizens. The document shows that the Minister for Supply, Howard Beale, instructed the Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee that, whatever the level of fallout, in relation to tests at Maralinga the public was to be told that there was no risk. This meant that the safety committee that was set up to warn the public of any problems was unable to fulfil its role, due to the government’s direction. A staggering indifference was also shown to the Indigenous Australians who inhabited the test area. Dr Roger Cross in his book Fallout reveals:

... before the tests took place an Australian scientist asked the British about the safety of Aborigines. The reply was that a dying race couldn’t influence the defence of Western civilisation.

The point here is that another country’s strategic ambitions were given priority over the safety and wellbeing of people that the Australian government should have been protecting. The Menzies government’s deceptive and secretive actions can be described as nothing more than shameful.

It was only in 1957, when the Australian scientist Mr Hedley Marston raised enough public pressure due to his fears of the effects of fallout on participants in the test and surrounding communities, that the tests were moved off the Australian mainland and Australian participation was reduced. In the decades that followed, subsequent Australian governments of whatever political flavour adopted the attitude that the file was best left closed on the whole issue of the tests at Maralinga, Emu Field and the Montebello Islands, and pretended that no-one had been harmed and that the sites had been cleaned up to everyone’s satisfaction.

The McClelland royal commission completely demolished these excuses. I applaud those who fought for the royal commission and congratulate the Hawke Labor government for making it happen. The royal commission, however, did not satisfactorily resolve all of the issues surrounding the British atomic tests. Since then we have had a number of other reviews. The two most important have been the Clarke review and the health study done under the current government. I will be commenting on them shortly.

I would like to address some of the provisions that are contained within the bills. The two bills we are debating today will give effect to the government’s long overdue decision to provide non-liability treatment of, and testing for, cancer for eligible Australian participants in the British atomic tests in Australia. Labor is supporting both of these bills.

Through the bills, Australian participants in the British nuclear tests will be able to receive treatment and testing for cancer through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This is to be welcomed. The decision of the government to extend this scheme to all participants in the British nuclear tests is a sensible decision. It means that civilians will also be able to access the non-liability treatment offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I think it is the least we can do for these people to repay them for their service.

One aspect of the bills that is pleasing to me is the provision of travelling expenses for participants who will need to travel to access treatment. This has been a very important issue for the veterans community, as the availability of specialists to treat them has been steadily falling. Recently the Department of Veterans’ Affairs conceded that 388 specialists had written to them to say that they would no longer treat veterans under the gold card scheme. This has meant that veterans from around the country have been exposed to often long and arduous trips to receive their treatment. I have welcomed the government’s recent announcement that it will allocate more funding to address this problem, and I will be following this up with the department to make sure the extra money is actually addressing these issues.

Those people that are eligible for the treatment under this scheme are getting older. Therefore I call upon the minister to ensure that the scheme is implemented as quickly as possible and with as little hassle for the participants as possible. The government’s development of a nominal roll should provide the department with all of the information they need to enact this scheme. I will be monitoring the scheme to ensure that all participants are afforded quick access to a scheme they richly deserve. However, the government needs to make sure that anybody who was not placed on the nominal roll, for whatever reason, is not unnecessarily excluded or burdened by excessive administrative requirements.

I would now like to comment on the health studies into Australian participants in British nuclear tests, which have provided the government with its rationale for this scheme. The health studies found that there were no conclusive links between participation in the tests and the onset of cancers. Therefore the government has refused to accept liability for these cancers. However, the study did find that among those surveyed the rate of some cancers was indeed higher than in the general population. The reasons for this were unable to be determined by the study.

I have a great deal of respect for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and those that conduct these health studies, in what are often extremely complex areas. Given the importance of these health studies to the government’s decision not to accept liability, I would like today to point out that a number of errors have been uncovered in the published government health studies on the Australian participants in the British nuclear tests in Australia.

Paul Malone, writing in the Canberra Times on 14 September 2006, made a startling revelation. He wrote:

A number of errors, including a table that does not add up, have been uncovered in the published government study on the deaths and cancers suffered by Australian participants in the nuclear tests in Australia.

British Medical Education researcher Sue Roff discovered the discrepancies in the Australian report when comparing death rates for British and Australian nuclear test veterans.

The government has been quietly changing the numbers on the website without making any public announcement of the corrections.

He went on in his article to identify the errors:

In the original published report a table showed the number of observed cancer deaths at 525, a completely erroneous figure. But the same table on the website now states the correct number of deaths at 1465. Of the specific types of cancer, nine now have different numbers of observed deaths than was originally reported.

The changes are not due to the updating as a result of recent deaths.  The study cut-off date was 4½ years ago, in December 2001. The study was completed in May this year, allowing ample time for the data to be finalised. Ms Roff said she found it perturbing that the researchers had not indicated that they had revised the report in the web version, much less issued a statement to alert people working from the printed versions.

Further on he writes:

Government statements, even on the precise number of participants in the tests are not consistent.

In his press statement on the publication of the study in June this year, the Minister for Veterans Affairs Bruce Billson said “more than 11,000” participants were involved in the health study. The report itself says the study population comprised 10,983 subjects.

The point here is not that mistakes were made. I can accept that mistakes can occur in studies as complex as these—indeed, it is arguable that these mistakes were quite minor in their nature and had no effect on the study’s conclusions with regard to liability. What I find more disturbing is that the minister was found secretly correcting these mistakes and has failed to allow for any transparency in their correction by not making any public announcement or explanation of these corrections.

This displays an amazing degree of insensitivity to the participants of the atomic tests and their families. To them these tests and their findings were extraordinarily important. These studies represent a chance for participants in the tests to understand the implications of their own or their relatives’ service during the British atomic tests. They represent a culmination of a lifetime of anxiety and stress related to uncertainty about their own or their families’ health. Therefore, you can only imagine how they feel when they learn that the results that were published and provided to them in the government’s study are now secretly being changed. This is of major concern to me, and I am amazed that the minister failed to implement any sort of transparency once these errors where identified.

I have also had other people contact my office to raise further concerns about the results of the health studies. Alan Batchelor, both a nuclear veteran and a military engineer, contacted me to say that he has written to the government numerous times to highlight what he perceives as anomalies, poor assumptions and discrepancies in the tests, especially relating to assumptions that were made with regard to the dose rates. Mr Batchelor has offered to supply the minister with documentation that supports his claims. To his frustration he has told me that the minister has never addressed his concerns. Similarly, Dr Jack Lonergan, a qualified nuclear physicist who is helping the nuclear veterans in their campaign, has been outspoken in his complaints that the radiation doses the studies used were very much underestimates. He too has been frustrated with the lack of response from the minister’s office on this issue.

I am no scientist and I cannot comment on the veracity and accuracy of Mr Batchelor’s or Dr Lonergan’s criticisms. What concerns me is the government’s constant refusal to address concerns about the health study and their failure to respond to their repeated correspondence. That is what a health study is meant to achieve. If the government want to restore faith in their own study they should address all concerns about the study, especially now that the minister has been caught out secretly correcting errors that were contained in the study.

Therefore, I call on the minister to be more open in his communication with the veterans community over these issues. He should engage with people like Mr Batchelor and Dr Lonergan, who are qualified in this field and are raising concerns about the study. I respectfully suggest that he address these concerns so that fears of inaccuracies in this important study can be removed. The minister should also publicly explain why, and apologise to the veterans community for trying to secretly correct errors that were contained in the health studies.

The bills under debate today address the issue of non-liability treatment for all participants in the British nuclear tests, both military and civilian. As the Labor shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, I want to focus the remainder of my comments today on the treatment of Australian servicemen who participated in the British atomic tests. While Labor supports these bills, it should be noted that they do little to address the longstanding issues of recognition and compensation for the ill-effects that have been claimed to have been suffered by the nuclear test participants.

The issues of recognition and compensation are especially pertinent to the Australian servicemen who participated in the tests. These servicemen have argued for a long time that their service should be classified as ‘non-warlike hazardous’ under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act. They argue that a declaration of non-warlike hazardous service is justified because the testing of atomic test weapons was hazardous and exposed individuals to ionising radiation and toxic chemicals and other risks beyond normal peacetime duties, causing high levels of disease and death amongst participants; the tests were conducted in undue haste with immature technology, inadequate understanding of the science and poor planning and management; the tests were conducted with inadequate safety provisions in place and insufficient knowledge of the risks involved; health physics teams were inexpert, and the various test management and safety committees, including the Australian safety committee, were ill-informed and negligent; Australian members of the armed services were used as guinea pigs in the tests—that is, they were deliberately exposed to radiation, or at the very least those in charge had little regard for their safety, especially if test outcomes were likely to be jeopardised; participants have suffered chromosomal damage as a result of their exposure to ionising radiation and there have been second and third generation effects; the nature of the tests, the extent of radiation exposures and the shortcomings in safety management of the tests have been deliberately hidden from the Australian public; the whole Australian population was at risk of some level of exposure through fallout; and the service was in the context of the Cold War.

The decision to grant hazardous non-warlike service for any conflict or group can often be very controversial. Therefore, it is no surprise that the government asked the Clarke review to examine the standing of the Australian servicemen in respect of the VEA. The 2003 Clarke review examined this issue. Their conclusions were:

The Committee believes that the British atomic test series was a unique, extraordinary event in Australia’s history. Atomic devices were exploded in Australia, with Australian forces potentially exposed to levels of radiation beyond what would today be considered safe levels. By common sense and by any reasonable measure, service in the test operations must be regarded as involving hazards beyond those of normal peacetime duties.

There is evidence that members of Australia’s armed services were placed in danger from ionising radiation and other toxic materials used in the test program, and natural justice for these members is long overdue. The Commonwealth Government should provide these members of Australia’s armed services with compensation coverage under the VEA.

The Committee considers that service with the British atomic tests should be assessed as non-warlike hazardous service for the purposes of the VEA. A declaration of non-warlike hazardous service would provide the ADF personnel who participated in the testing program with, at least, immediate and free health care for all cancers and for posttraumatic stress disorder whilst claims for compensation are made and determined under the VEA.

The Committee notes the development of a nominal roll of Australian atomic test participants. While it appears that many of the people whose names are on the preliminary roll may have left test sites prior to any tests being undertaken, the Committee also notes advice from DVA that the Department is aware of concerns about the accuracy of the roll and that work is continuing to refine it further. The Committee also notes that a proposal for reconstruction of dosage estimates is being considered. These matters need to proceed quickly and Government should assist with additional resources if necessary. The Government should also consider thoroughly addressing the concerns of the atomic test participants about access to records.

The committee recommended that:

Participation by Australian Defence Force personnel in the British atomic tests be declared non-warlike hazardous and the legislation be amended to ensure that this declaration can have effect in extending VEA coverage; and

The Government move quickly to finalise the cancer and mortality study.

With the passage of these bills today the government appears to have ignored these recommendations—recommendations of its own taxpayer-funded independent review. Given this, I would like to say a few words on independent reviews.

Decision making in veterans’ affairs should be as free of politics as you can make it. That will not always be possible but it ought to be an objective we strive for. But independent reviews are rarely an answer in themselves. You have to be prepared to accept their recommendations or have good and clear reasons not to. If you find yourself regularly rejecting the results of independent reviews you have to examine whether or not you have set them up properly in the first place. At times governments have used independent reviews as a mechanism to divert criticism and to try to put a hold on things while they cool off politically. We have seen that occur with depressing regularity in veterans’ affairs—Clarke is clearly the biggest example and the most relevant to personnel involved in the atomic tests.

Let me be clear: there will be times independent reviews do not get it right, and there will almost always be legitimate differences of opinion about what should be the way forward to resolve outstanding matters. That is just the way it is. But if you are prepared to handpass an issue because it is politically too hot, because it really should not be decided by politicians or because the expertise you can bring to bear from an independent authority is a better way to go, you really have to go with it or have a good reason not to. That is about governments understanding the implications of the decisions they take and being prepared to wear the consequences—not just picking and choosing recommendations when they suit.

It has been a longstanding position of the Labor Party that in government we will reconsider the government’s refusal to recognise the service of the atomic test veterans as non-warlike hazardous. The Howard government and this minister have only offered excuses as to why they are refusing to implement this recommendation. I must admit I find the minister’s refusal to implement this recommendation a little surprising. The Clarke review received a number of submissions on this issue. I would now like to quote from one. It says:

Of all the individual cases and VEA ‘disappointments’ I have canvassed ... two distinct classes of claims seem unfairly treated.

I write in support of operational service such as mine clearing and nuclear veterans’ service being declared hazardous service under the Veterans Entitlements Act 1986.

Nuclear veterans’ service should be declared as hazardous service by the Review of Veterans’ Entitlements (Clarke Review), as Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel involved in the British atomic tests in Australia were placed in a life threatening environment. Only now are they and the community experiencing the true consequences of their service, in particular the devastating impact of exposure on the health and wellbeing of our veterans.

A high proportion of our veterans involved in the atomic tests have experienced conditions attributed to their exposure to radiation, with many losing their lives.

The author concludes:

Veterans involved in British atomic tests and mine clearance exercises deserve to be recognised as having carried out hazardous service. Although the battlefield may be less conventional, the threat to life and the danger to which our veterans were exposed amount to an active deployment into harm’s way.

The author of this submission to the Clarke review that argued for the atomic test veterans to be granted non-warlike hazardous service was none other than the current Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Bruce Billson MP. This raises the question of why the minister has dropped his support for the atomic test veterans. Why, when the minister finally had the chance to fix what he has called ‘unfair treatment’ and a ‘disappointment’, did he not take it?

Finally, I want to pose the question: is this just another example of the Howard government being strong on rhetoric when it comes to its treatment of the veteran community yet weak on action? This is a government that constantly wraps itself in the flag when it comes to the servicemen and servicewomen of this nation. It is a government that never refuses a photo with these great men and women. It is also a government that will quickly backflip on its earlier offers of support for veterans. Servicemen and servicewomen deserve to be treated as more than photo props. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect for their service.

Now, I hope I am wrong and the minister has not dropped his earlier convictions, in what would be a startling backflip. I call on the minister today to publicly clarify his position with respect to the Clarke review recommendations on the atomic test veterans. They are recommendations which he clearly endorsed in his submission to Clarke. I might add that in his submission there was no mention about waiting for any result from the health study, which he would have known, at that stage, was underway. He had the information at the time; he still came forward with a view to Clarke that action should be taken on the question of the classification of the service of these veterans. He has, since becoming minister, not acted upon the recommendation. Having said that, I commend the bills to the House and urge their speedy passage.

11:13 am

Photo of Peter GarrettPeter Garrett (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to address the Main Committee in the second reading debate on the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 and cognate bill. I second the comments of the member for Bruce, the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, concerning the history behind this legislation, which we support. I also second his comments about some of the clear omissions which Labor has identified and which are of some concern to the veteran community in Australia.

The date of 27 September marked the 50th anniversary of the British atomic nuclear tests at Maralinga, the Maralinga tests. There has been a 50-year history that those service personnel, British service personnel, the Indigenous people of that area and other Australians have had to suffer consequently. Maralinga has been a saga of epic proportions. I am very confident that, with the benefit of hindsight, when we start to consider the full history—which we are still in the midst of—by discussing this bill in this House, we will recognise that it marked a period of time when Australia had to wrestle itself from its colonial mentality, from its bureaucratic mentalities and from its lack of understanding of the actual emotional, physical and social conditions that service personnel, whether they are in wartime or involved in matters such as the tests, actually face.

Aboriginal people and Australian veterans together mark this 50th anniversary, because that is when their sorrows began. There are many legacies of the tests, but I think they mean that we have to think very carefully about expanding the nuclear industry in this country. We have to think very carefully about the way in which we involve the public in a consultation and participation process, which is the requirement of an open democracy, where we look at the storage of things like radioactive waste and the location where radioactive waste would be. It is true that the Maralinga site to some extent has been remediated, but that has been at great expense, and it has followed a number of efforts to remediate the site. The fact is that the impact of the tests is still being felt by the communities on whose lands these tests took place without their prior knowledge, without consultation and without any form of permission or acknowledgement, and the impact is being felt by them daily.

It is a fact that the Australian government under Prime Minister Menzies permitted the British government to develop a nuclear weapons program in Australia, because the British government felt that it was being denied the opportunity to compete in the development of nuclear weapons whilst the Americans and the Russians were proceeding forthwith, and that between 1952 and 1957 there were 12 major tests, including at Montebello and at Maralinga: the crashing of planes, and nuclear bomb detonations. There are the famous images of Australian servicemen and personnel turning their backs to the detonation and then, only moments later, walking onto the site. It is also a fact that the Australian government had paid little attention up until that time to the impact on the health of servicemen and on the Pitjantjatjara people of that region, who had started to show signs of exposure to the tests, with blindness, sores and cancers.

It is on the historical record that the Atomic Veterans Association and the Pitjantjatjara Council were the two organisations which campaigned actively and raised high levels of public support both in South Australia and through the rest of the country in order for a royal commission to be established to put pressure on the British government to meet the cost of the clean-up. In fact, that royal commission made its rulings under Jim McClelland in 1985. The commission found, amongst other things, that there were high levels of radioactivity and that, despite earlier assurances, the site had been contaminated and the clean-up that had been undertaken at the behest of the Australian government with the British government had not been adequate or satisfactory. One of those recommendations which I want to note briefly concerned the compensation for Aboriginal people who had been affected and exposed. The Maralinga Tjarutja people won a compensation award of some $13 million at that time.

For veterans it has been an equally difficult period. The McClelland royal commission did not have the opportunity to make a ruling on the impact and effect of exposure on the health of servicemen, despite the fact that I think there was clearly acknowledgement both during the commission and subsequently that Australian service personnel were, in effect, guinea pigs. And it is true that, subsequently, testing continues to identify and uncover the likelihood of cancers which these service personnel and others actually suffered.

The subsequent rehabilitation of the site has left about 120 square kilometres not considered safe for permanent occupancy but considered safe for access. The remainder of the site has been rehabilitated. Notwithstanding that, there were serious questions raised about whether the methods used to dispose of the waste were safe and adequate. Different technologies were used and shallow grave disposal was used in parts. Concerns have been raised subsequently as to whether this was the best disposal method for the waste there, but the fact remains that the site is in a remediated state.

It is important to now look at the pattern of involvement between governments, including the British and Australian governments, and the department and the veterans’ community who have brought this bill into the House. There is no doubt that the British used Australian troops as guinea pigs in the Maralinga tests and there is no doubt that there has been a long, complex and extremely frustrating process of studies, health surveys and consideration of the issues for the veterans concerned. The amount of cancer that people received, the kind of testing that is necessary and the identification of those materials, particularly ionising radiation, on those who were exposed—a whole range of complex radiological and radioactive issues—have been considered. There are contested and contentious views about the efficacy of the tests and studies that have been undertaken, and I will come to some of them in a minute.

The primary point that needs to be made is that at least 15,000 Australians and some 20,000 British personnel were exposed. Governments have a duty of care when personnel are exposed in a test of this kind. Given the higher incidence of cancers that have been observed amongst the service personnel and others who were at the site at the time, the probability of their cancers being in some way connected to that exposure is high.

The veterans have fought long and hard to get justice and they are still fighting today. I support that fight. This bill goes only some way to addressing their issues. Labor does believe that it is important to support the provision of non-liability treatment and certainly cancer testing for those eligible participants of the tests. The title of this bill is ‘Australian participants in British nuclear tests’; it should be ‘Australian veterans in British nuclear tests’. Veterans have had to withstand over the entire history of the Maralinga saga continual frustration of the processes to expedite their concerns about their health.

After enormous pressure on the government, particularly in this parliament and by the veterans, the nuclear veterans cancer and mortality study was set up in 1999. The study took some seven years. In the study and in the debate that led to the mortality study being introduced in 1999, we discovered both through the parliament and through the efforts of the press that Australians had been misled about the involvement of Australia in these tests. Prime Minister Menzies unilaterally decided that the tests could go ahead and the minister at the time, even in answering questions in this House, had not been informed.

There have been years of wrangling and argument over the design of the studies. A number of problematic issues were raised with the studies, including the identification of risk, incomplete records and the alteration of records on the site, which the member for Bruce made reference to in his remarks. But the fact is that the eventual result was to deliver the Clarke review. That review came to a number of conclusions and recommended what governments should identify and respond to in relation to the Maralinga tests.

The review’s conclusions were that the committee believed that the British atomic test series was a unique and extraordinary event in Australia’s history—that was clear enough—and that atomic devices were exploded in Australia with Australian forces potentially exposed to levels of radiation beyond what would be today considered as safe levels. I think the Clarke review says, very sensibly, that, by any reasonable measure, service in the test operations must be regarded as involving hazards beyond those of normal peacetime duties. That is the nub of the legislation that is in front of us, which we do support but which we think is deficient in that regard.

The review went on to find that there was evidence that members of the armed forces were placed in danger from ionising radiation and other toxic materials that had been used in the program and that the Commonwealth government should provide these members of Australia’s armed forces with compensation coverage under the VE Act. That is something that the government has not done as it brings this legislation into the House. I think it is true that servicemen remain anxious about the government’s approach to this particular issue, particularly when it takes such extensive periods of time for people to be able to resolve the issues that they have concerning development of cancers or sicknesses and whether or not that is linked to their earlier participation in these programs.

I do note that by relying initially on British assurances, as we did when the tests began in the fifties, we had very little knowledge about nuclear matters then. The veterans then had to rely on the assurances of Australian politicians, when they really did not know what was happening with the tests. The veterans then had to rely on the assurance of these various committees that were set up. Most importantly, the committee they were themselves involved in at the conclusion of the process that I have just addressed was a consultative committee—and yet, again, they have not been heard. I think it makes it much more understandable why they have high levels of anxiety.

The Herald Sun investigation in 2002 raised the issue of the way in which the materials were tested in the United Kingdom between 1957 and 1969. Human bone samples had been sent to the United States and United Kingdom to be tested for strontium-90, but the tests were not from communities that had originally been exposed to what were called the ‘rainouts’ that took place as a result of the tests. That is one example of the concerns people have—even though, as the Herald Sun report noted, there was a marked increase in infant mortality in some of those rural areas, including places like Mildura, I think, and Warrnambool, from which samples for the bone studies had not been taken. The seven-year study did show there was no conclusive link, but it also said that those who participated needed to get healthcare cover for cancer, and that is what happens under this bill.

But I must say the consultative forum that was a part of those final studies processes, and the members of that consultative forum—which included service representatives, test veterans, DVA staff, and Allan Batchelor and Jack Lonergan, as the member for Bruce mentioned—have raised a number of important concerns, which I urge the minister to take on board, about the irregular meetings that took place and about some of the crucial matters that were missing in deliberations, particularly of the dosimetric committee, and the issue of the use of highly enriched uranium not being given full consideration. I think it is a matter of some regret that Dr Johnson and Major Batchelor were constantly ignored, as reported in the Canberra Times of 16 December this year, in relation to the matters they raised. These were the communities and, in the case of Major Batchelor, the people who had actually been involved in the tests. Yet the views that they brought, and the questions and concerns that they had, were sidelined by the department, and the last scientific advisory committee actually went ahead without a member of the consultative committee being able to have those issues that they raised fully explored and considered.

By not providing treatment under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act and by not having veterans considered with the respect that they ought to be, there is a continuation of the imbalance of power between governments and retired service personnel and veterans. For a veteran to show that in some way they have been affected by a test of this kind—other than the fact that there have been a number of programs of a limited nature that have permitted that—they effectively to have go into court against the Commonwealth. And they have the burden of proof and have to show that in fact the cancer, the sickness or the suffering that they have was a consequence of the tests.

It is a welcome step in the right direction that we have a bill which provides for non-liability treatment for cancer for the participants in the test, but the key aspect of the Clarke review, which followed on from all of these tests that I have referred to, was simply that non-warlike hazardous service should be granted to the nuclear veterans. The granting of non-warlike hazardous service would permit them to receive disability pensions more easily, and there would be widows pensions and so on that would flow through. It seems hardly unreasonable—given what these people have been through and given that many of them have passed away without their issues being satisfactorily resolved—that the government would be able to do that. I note correspondence by Minister Billson dated 23 August 2002 supporting operational service associated with Maralinga being declared hazardous service. If it is something which is on the record from the minister, something that we have in front of us, why is it not reflected in this legislation?

Maralinga will continue to shadow people. It will continue to provide anxiety for those who suffer bad health and poor health, particularly those who recognise—the great numbers of them that were in the desert regions when the British let off nuclear tests in the 1950s without their knowledge and without the knowledge of the Australian community—that the sicknesses that they still suffer may be a consequence of those tests. The very last thing that we want to do is not show the level of support that I think everybody in this House agrees these veteran communities are entitled to.

It is a fact that the efforts of veteran communities are being frustrated. This bill does not go to the concerns that veterans have raised—and continue to raise—and that have been identified in the press, including in the Canberra Times article, the Herald Sun article and others that I have mentioned. If it is a fact that the Clarke review recommendations deserve further consideration, then that is something which I think we would argue very strongly needs to happen. I hope the minister will take some notice of that. As the member for Bruce said, it is essential to find strong support from both sides of the House for the great contribution that these service men and women made, including at Maralinga, and, more importantly, to recognise what they went through and to correct the deficiencies in this legislation. That is needed now.

11:33 am

Photo of Martin FergusonMartin Ferguson (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Resources, Forestry and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 and the 1998 Budget Measures Legislation Amendment (Social Security and Veterans’ Entitlements) Bill 1998. I say that because sometimes one of the most challenging decisions one has to make as a human being is actually to admit when you are wrong. Just as we owe the Indigenous people of Australia an apology for wrongs that we as a community did in the past, so too do we owe our veterans an apology for, and also action to remedy, some of the mistakes we as a community have made over the last 50 years.

I say that because I very firmly believe that Australia will be a better country when we as a community are able to confront our past and account for mistakes made. Today’s debate is a step down that path. As we all appreciate, the British nuclear weapons testing carried out in Australia between the 1950s and the 1960s belongs to that category of mistakes that need to be recognised so they can be appropriately resolved. For too long this nation has failed to properly recognise how the issue of injustice for personnel, citizens and members of local Indigenous communities, principally the Indigenous community of the Pitjantjatjara, has dragged on.

The first British nuclear weapons test was conducted in 1952 and the last in 1963, the process spanning just over a decade. As speakers in this debate have indicated, there has been a royal commission that brought down its findings in 1985, the establishment of a nominal roll in 1999, the independent Clarke review of entitlements released in 2003 and a study into cancer and mortality rates with the results released in June this year. It would be interesting, but time does not permit me, to list the series of veterans’ affairs ministers who have held the portfolio in this period during which, perhaps, more decisive action should have been taken.

It is now almost 54 years since the first test, detonating 25 kilotons of atomic material, was carried out on the Montebello Islands, just off the Western Australian coast, as part of Operation Hurricane. This is also an interesting area with the exploration and developments occurring at the moment in the oil and gas industry, which are creating further new opportunities for Australia. That aside, it is 54 years since the first of the 18,000 Australians to be involved in the nuclear tests, often young men in their 20s, wearing just shorts, sandals and sunhats, stood on the deck of a nearby Royal Navy vessel and were told to turn their backs and place the backs of their hands over their faces so as to shield their eyes.

The first bomb was just one of 12 atomic detonations to be carried out in Australia in the Western Australian islands and in Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. There were a further 600 minor trials conducted between 1953 and 1963, including the testing of bomb components. This involved tests designed to help determine the extent of impacts to a nuclear weapon in the event of a transport or storage accident such as fire. They were significant tests that carried significant risks. To give you some idea of just how substantial these tests were, it has been reported in recent days that Russian defence sources estimate that the power of the North Korean test carried out on Tuesday was between five and 15 kilotons.

It has been too long already for the participants of the test to be appropriately recognised by the federal government for the harms they encountered as part of this sorry episode in our nation’s history. For this reason, I join my colleagues in lending support to the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2006. These bills collectively will provide long overdue non-liability treatment of and testing for cancer for eligible participants in Australian and British nuclear tests.

The findings of the Australian participants in British nuclear tests in Australia study released in June 2006 compared the number of deaths in test participants with that of the general population as well as the number of cases of cancer, whether fatal or not, and the radiation exposure of participants with and without leukaemia—an interesting analysis. It showed that, while the overall death rate in test participants was only slightly higher than that of the general population, there was a significantly higher rate of death from cancer, 18 per cent, in test participants than would be expected in the general population. Science speaks for itself.

The cancer incidence study showed similar figures, with an overall increase in the numbers of cancers in test participants. Cancer was 23 per cent more prevalent amongst participants. The incidence of certain types of cancer was particularly prevalent, including melanoma and leukaemias of all types. In reading the report, the need to provide free treatment and testing for cancer participants becomes abundantly clear, and it is the central reason that the opposition supports the bill. However, we also raise serious issues about whether or not the bill goes far enough.

When released in June, the report concluded that it did not find the increases in cancer rates to be caused by an exposure to radiation, with no relationship found between overall cancer incidence or mortality and exposure to radiation. None of the cancers such as melanoma and leukaemias occurring in excess showed any association with radiation exposure in the study. The report findings obviously saddened the hearts of many of the shrinking number of test participants who are still alive today—and their families—because these people provided anecdotal evidence that personnel involved were used as guinea pigs in the tests to determine the level of human tolerance to nuclear weapons. This is in addition to a flagrant disregard at the time for the safety of personnel who were almost never provided with protective clothing but were asked to perform acts that put their safety at great risk.

There are, for instance, reports that personnel at Maralinga in South Australia were sent into the bunkers buried only 1,000 metres from ground zero after the detonating of four atomic bombs in that area. Their instructions were to retrieve the data required as soon as possible after detonation and they sometimes went in only one hour after the weapon went off. To retrieve the data instruments they lifted sandbags by hand and removed equipment without wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatus. The tests were carried out, obviously, by the British government in an era where attitudes were driven by fears proliferated by the Cold War. More remarkably however, the tests were carried out with the full agreement, cooperation and support of the Australian government, then headed by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.

The tests are widely perceived today, for whatever reason, as a bid by the British government to catch up militarily with the United States after World War II and with the Soviet Union after the USSR exploded its first nuclear weapon in August 1949. They were designed to enable the United Kingdom to develop nuclear fission bombs and later nuclear fusion or hydrogen bombs. In 1953, and the record shows this, the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, responded to a parliamentary question on the testing by declaring that the tests would produce ‘no conceivable injury to life, limb or property’ and that they were essential to ‘the defence of the free world’. Obviously, the world has changed. People are concerned about the impact of those tests.

It is in this climate of national duty to the motherhood of England and with a disregard for appropriate safety precautions, which we can appreciate today, that many participants, fellow Australians, felt that the classification of nuclear test services should be deemed hazardous service. And why shouldn’t it be? The classification of hazardous service under the Veterans Entitlements Act 1986, as a minimum, provides for access to the disability pension for illness or injuries arising out of service. It also allows for access to the war widows pension for surviving partners if their partner’s death is caused by or attributed to the hazardous service. From a government point of view, I suppose, life is about choosing how you actually spend the surplus created by the resource boom in Australia. Some of us consider that these veterans and their widows are entitled to a carve-up of the cake and that is what this debate is about.

That takes me to the 2002 independent government funded Clarke review into the matter, which recommended granting nuclear participants non-warlike hazardous service, which would have brought them under the Veterans Entitlements Act. The review stated that the British atomic test was a unique and extraordinary event in Australian history, with Australian forces potentially exposed to levels of radiation beyond that which would be considered safe, and that is the crux of the debate. It found that it exposed our fellow Australians to levels of radiation beyond that which would today be considered safe, and we cannot run away from that finding and our responsibility as a nation. We thought this was appropriate in the Cold War in the best interests of Australia and Great Britain. Therefore it is appropriate that we, having inherited that responsibility, actually do something about assisting these people in great need. The report went on to state:

The Commonwealth Government should provide these members of Australia’s armed services with compensation coverage under the VEA.

And this was an independent review.

That takes me to a letter from the member for Dunkley, Bruce Billson, to the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Danna Vale, dated 23 August 2002. The member for Dunkley wrote a letter of support for the operation service of nuclear test participants being declared ‘hazardous service’ under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act. How the wheel turns. I find it remarkable that the member for Dunkley, who is now the minister, has done a backflip with respect to the issue he was pursuing as a backbencher. It is a remarkable backflip by the now Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, who then wrote that the Australian personnel involved in the testing were:

... placed in a life threatening environment. Only now are they and the community experiencing the true consequences of their service, in particular, the devastating impact of exposure on the health and wellbeing of our veterans.

But he went further. He actually likes to write rather flourishing letters, the member for Dunkley and Minister For Veterans’ Affairs. He is not content with penning a few remarks; he actually went further. If he has lost sight of that letter I am more than willing to table a copy for his consideration in response today because it is a very good letter, I might say. It is one that I might have written myself on 23 August 2002 because I also care about these people and a number of them actually reside in my electorate of Batman. That is why I want to remind the minister of what he said on 23 August 2002. Sometimes when people escape the back bench for ministerial office in the oval office section of Parliament House they forget where they come from, and it is our responsibility as the opposition to remind the executive of government of their responsibilities. I am referring to the minister’s letter of 23 August 2002, going to the very issues before the House this morning. He went on to conclude the letter—and I also agree with the well-crafted letter—by stating:

Although the battlefield may be less conventional the threat to life and the danger to which our veterans were exposed amount to an active deployment into harms ways.

It is a remarkable statement for two reasons. Firstly, the government to date not only have refused to implement this recommendation but also have failed to adequately explain why they had not implemented the recommendations of their own independent review of this matter in accordance with the wishes of the minister in his letter to the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Danna Vale, of 23 August 2002. The reclassification would have given test participants and their families greater peace of mind that they would be supported throughout any treatment of illness associated with the tests.

Secondly, it is a remarkable statement because it refers to the participants in the tests as ‘veterans’. We stand here debating the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006, not the Australian Veterans in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill—a huge difference. The government has been careful throughout this debate to refer to these people as ‘participants’ and not ‘veterans’. I have little doubt that this is being done deliberately so that the issue is not confused as being a veterans issue and therefore providing a compelling rationale for the participants to receive entitlements under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, because under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act the term ‘veteran’ refers to a service person with qualifying war service, which is exceptionally important.

The Clarke review did not recommend that the test participants’ service qualify as war service but it did recommend that the service be deemed ‘hazardous’. However, the failure of the government and the minister to implement this recommendation as a bare minimum is a total failure of government to properly provide for these Australians who were put at direct risk as a result of the British testing. The disgrace of past shameful deeds is compounded even further when justice is denied to the victims, and this is what is happening through the government’s refusal to properly compensate the nuclear test participants.

It is a disgrace further enunciated by the fact that the United Kingdom War Pensions Agency is now awarding war pensions to nuclear test veterans, and I note here the use of the word ‘veterans’, not ‘participants’. The pension has been extended to those who were at Montebello and Maralinga for cancers of a range of parts of the body, including the colon and prostate, and melanoma and generalised anxiety conditions. Similarly, across the Tasman the New Zealand government has now included the crewmen of the HMNZS Otago in Canterbury who were sent by the New Zealand government to protest the French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in 1973 by providing them with full war pension access. The issue, therefore, for the minister to actually respond to today is: when will the Australian government adopt either the United Kingdom or the New Zealand approach to war pensions for Australian nuclear test veterans and provide those who have suffered with the care and respect they deserve? For so many of the British test participants it is already too late.

This is about making amends, and both major political parties have failed on this front since 1953. We failed to do the right thing in the past. These bills are a step forward, but the job is not yet completed. Therefore, in commending the bills to the House, I simply remind the minister that the job is only partly done. I think, therefore, it is appropriate to enable him to fully and comprehensively respond to the issues that have been raised in this debate. I seek leave to table the member for Dunkley’s letter of 23 August 2002 concerning the need for the then minister to do the right thing on veterans’ entitlements for the people that are very much the subject of this debate, the people that actually carried the burden of that radiation testing over that decade from 1953. I seek leave to table this well-written letter, which in a very succinct way defines what is outstanding from the government’s point of view with respect to these veterans.

Leave granted.

11:52 am

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to commence my contribution to this debate where the member for Batman concluded his, and that is in reference to the fact that the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 and the related bill refer to those people that served within our defence forces being now regarded as participants and not veterans. I think it is a travesty of justice that these veterans, as I would like to call them—I acknowledge that they are veterans—are being treated as second-class veterans or second-class members of our defence forces. I would also call upon the government to adopt either the UK or the New Zealand model of dealing with veterans who have been involved in or stationed in areas where there has been nuclear testing.

I first became really aware of the issues surrounding our service men and women—but mainly men—being exposed to nuclear testing when I became a member of this federal parliament. I had heard about it before, but I did not understand the extent to which our servicemen and their lives had been impacted upon by this testing. I will start by sharing with the House a story of a dinner I went to. This dinner had veterans from the defence forces who had been at Montebello and Maralinga. They came together each year as a group to celebrate the fact that they, unlike many of the people that they served with, were still alive.

One of the features of that evening was the passing around of a photo of young men, which I found really chilling, to be quite honest. There were different groups, depending on what regiments they were involved in. When they showed me, they said, ‘Out of this group of men, only three or four of us are still alive.’ Then they went on to tell me about the illnesses and diseases these men had suffered—and, I might add, those illnesses were overwhelmingly skewed towards cancers.

I note that in the minister’s media release earlier this year and in the legislation here today he refers to the fact that Australians who took part in the nuclear testing program from 1952 to 1963 can now access health care through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He states that that is in recognition of the special needs of nuclear test participants—not veterans, participants.

I would now like to share with the House the story of a constituent of mine. It is a story I have raised on a couple of occasions within the parliament. The gentleman concerned is Mr Albert Martin, who was stationed at Maralinga at the time of the atomic testing by the UK government in the 1950s and the 1960s. He had worked in the RAAF transport division as a mechanical transport driver. He drove jeeps, trains, cranes, and all forms of earthmoving machinery. They had no air conditioning so their cabins were open and the dust was flying around. He was there at the time of the Vixen B tests in 1957. He developed acute myeloid leukaemia, and a person working alongside him doing exactly the same job as his also developed acute myeloid leukaemia—that is, two people with the same illness in the same area at the same time. Unfortunately, the person who worked alongside him died, which was very sad.

Over a number of years, Mr Martin was involved in a compensation battle. One of the real problems he came up against was that he was not entitled to compensation, because the records at the time had been destroyed. These were the types of issues that surrounded men who served in this area. Instead of the government embracing people who served in our defence forces—people to whom we should be grateful, since we owe them a bit more than we do other people because they have been prepared to serve in really adverse circumstances—the government tried to abrogate its responsibility and not give him the assistance you would expect a government to give to its veterans. He has now been very ill for a long period of time, and the stress this has created for him has made things a lot worse. We had to get in there and fight very hard. In the end he settled for what was a less than adequate form of compensation. I am very pleased that under the new legislation Mr Martin will be able to access health care. I am concerned, though, that the new legislation does not provide travel for the veterans who were at Maralinga.

I am even more concerned when I talk about this particular gentleman, because the Department of Veterans’ Affairs sent him for a medical review by Professor Martin Tattersall. The professor shook hands with Mr Martin as he left his office and assured him that his report would see that he would be receiving good and adequate compensation. The sad part of this story is that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs refused to provide the information that was included in Professor Tattersall’s report to Mr Martin at the time. That information was put aside and would not be released. You might ask: why? The answer to that question—and I do not think that I am a conspiracy theorist in any way—is that the department was not prepared to release information that actually supported that my constituent had developed cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia, as a result of being stationed at Maralinga at the time of the Vixen B tests in 1957. I see that as a corrupt act by government, an act that is designed to attack those people who served our country. I know that Senator Brown even put a question on the Notice Paper in relation to this. That got no further than the request from my constituent, the letters from me or any other action that we might take.

I still feel, when I read the findings of this report, that the government has not fully come to terms with, and does not wish to come to terms with and acknowledge, the fact that those men who were at Maralinga were exposed to radiation and that radiation has had an enormous impact on their lives. As well as the cancers that are highlighted here, I have had other constituents come and talk to me about the fact that they have had ongoing problems with rashes since the time that they were stationed there. The report found that there was not a significant difference in the death rate between those at Maralinga and those in the general population compared with a similar cohort. But it is interesting: when you dig a little deeper you find that there is an 18 per cent greater incidence of cancer than in the general population.

I would now like to refer to a report that deals with the issue of nuclear testing and with some of the aspects of other reports. A number of studies of the mortality of atomic bomb explosions have been undertaken world wide. Firstly, I would like to refer to the DL Preston paper entitled ‘Studies of the Mortality of A Bomb Survivors No. 8 Cancer Survivors 1950-1982’. This was published in Radiation Research volume 111, pages 151 to 178 in 1987. The authors are from the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima and Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Centre in Seattle in the US. The study is that of residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were within 2,500 metres of Hiroshima’s hypercentre or within 10,000 metres of Nagasaki’s hypercentre, as well as a sample of Hiroshima survivors who were 2,500 to 2,000 metres from the hypercentres and persons from each city who were not in the city at the time of the bombing or who were at least 10,000 metres from the hypercentre at the time.

Of just over 120,000 members of the cohort as described above, some 39,890 deaths occurred during the period 1950 to 1982. These included 8,112 deaths due to malignant neoplastic diseases and included 222 deaths due to leukaemia. That study has shown that leukaemia, as with all those other types of cancers, relates to the detonating of nuclear devices.

There is also the Darby paper, a summary of mortality and incidence of cancer in men from the United Kingdom who participated in the United Kingdom atmospheric nuclear weapons test and experimental programs. The senior author is Sir Richard Doll, who was a Director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, epidemiological and clinical trials unit of the University of Oxford, as well as the National Radiological Protection Board in the UK. This study notes that some 22,347 men who participated in the United Kingdom nuclear tests and experimental programs in Australia and the Pacific between 1952 and 1967 were identified from the archives in the Ministry of Defence and followed up.

Their mortality and incidence of cancer was compared to those of 22,316 matching controls selected from the same archives. The risk of mortality of the participants related to the controls was 1.01 for all classes and 0.96 for all neoplasms. Thirty-eight causes of death were examined separately. Significant differences in mortality were found for leukaemia, multiple myeloma and other injuries. The bottom line is that all studies have shown that being exposed to radiation increases the risk of cancer for those people—and I could go on. I have more research papers here that highlight time and time again that exposure to radiation actually increases the risk of cancer.

What do we have before us today? Today we have before us legislation to deal with participants—participants!—in British nuclear tests. I actually think that we should hang our heads in shame, because we are not talking about participants here; we are talking about veterans. We are talking about people that were prepared, asked absolutely no questions, to go in there and perform their duty—a duty in which they unknowingly placed themselves in a position where they were exposed to harmful radiation.

Governments of all persuasions have tended to bury their heads in the sand and not accept this fact. Those people are getting second-class treatment; they are not being treated in the same way as other veterans. They were at the forefront of the defence forces here in Australia, yet what we are saying is that they were participants. I do not think they were participants. I think that the government and the minister should do better. What we need to do is embrace them, bite the bullet and say, ‘These men are sicker and so many of them have died because of their involvement at the testing at Maralinga, and their wives and families have suffered as a result of the fact that they have been sicker or that they have lost their lives.’ They should be treated in the same way as those veterans who are classified as being involved in warlike service.

I will conclude my remarks by strongly encouraging the minister to go back and read those submissions that were made. Go through and read them all and look at the human suffering that is involved in those submissions. Listen very carefully and maybe go and talk to some of those veterans. Go to one of those dinners that I went to, where you sit down around the table with those veterans who were involved in the nuclear testing and listen to what they say and embrace their concerns.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course, you would have been the only person who had done that! Sanctimonious Shortland strikes again.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand, Minister, that you are feeling a little defensive about this, because you have not truly embraced the concerns of those people who were stationed at Maralinga at the time.

12:11 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2006. The Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 is an important step forward because it does represent justice to people who have served this nation—there is a social justice dimension to recognition of that service that this bill goes part of the way in addressing. Our problem with the bill is that it does not go far enough. We support it to the extent it goes, but our concern is that it refuses to implement the recommendation of the Clarke review to grant nuclear veterans’ non-warlike hazardous service, which would have brought them under the Veterans’ Entitlement Act.

I heard the interjection between the minister and the member for Shortland, who spoke previously. I point out that when he was a member and not a minister back in August 2002 he supported the very thing I think he was accusing her of being sanctimonious about.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Billson interjecting

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

You will have your opportunity to talk. I refer you to the fact that in 2002 you wrote a letter to the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, saying:

I write in support of operational service such as mine clearing and nuclear veterans’ services being declared Hazardous Service under the Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986. Nuclear veterans’ service should be declared as hazardous service by the review of veterans’ entitlements—the Clarke review.

That is the very thing that the member for Shortland has been arguing and has been castigated for by way of interjection from the minister. Do not talk about sanctimony or hypocrisy unless you are prepared to apply the standards to yourself. We on this side of the House, whilst we support what is being done, do not believe it goes far enough. It should go further in accordance with what has been recommended by the very extensive review—the Clarke review—into entitlements. It was something that the government hung onto for months. They certainly delayed the release of the report in the lead-up to the last election.

My concern on this issue goes back to the period when I first became actively involved in the issue of people suffering from the fallout of nuclear tests and the consequences of nuclear tests, particularly the tests conducted by the British with Australian government sanction and support. My period of experience goes back to 1991 when, as Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, I, together with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans, had carriage of the task of seeking from the British government a contribution towards compensation for the victims of British nuclear tests. At the time we successfully got the British government to make a contribution of some ₤20 million—an outcome that was designed to, in its own words, support future claims for compensation for participants.

In that agreement, which took us two years, I might say—between 1991 and 1993—it was recognised that there could be future claims. At the time a fair bit of that money was to be used for the clean-up at Maralinga. We had many discussions with the Tjarutja people, who lived on the Maralinga lands and whose lands had been used during the tests. These people had suffered consequences as result of the tests and there was also a need for a major clean-up of the lands in question. At a subsequent stage I was involved with the hand-back of the Montebello Islands to the Western Australian government. In recognition of the tasks those islands had fulfilled in the national interest by allowing the British tests, the lands were returned to the state to which they originally belonged, as part of the Commonwealth territory.

I come to this debate from the point of view of understanding that this is a longstanding issue that needs to be addressed. The Labor Party has not only had a recent commitment to do something about it but also it has had a longstanding commitment to do something in support of justice for the victims of the nuclear tests that were conducted by the British government using Australians and with the full support of the Australians.

It is interesting to go into the history of this to understand what we are dealing with. There were some 12 direct tests, major tests, undertaken between 1952 and 1957. There were atomic detonations at Montebello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga. These tests were conducted by the British in the development of nuclear bombs and they were done, as I say, with the cooperation of the Australian government. The Australian government had given full authority for this to happen. It has to accept clear responsibility for the consequences, just as we believe the British government had to make a contribution to the solution. The British government have made that contribution, but the Australian government has been dragging its feet in terms of its solution.

It is not just the 12 tests in question that I refer to, because they were the major ones, but there were some 600 minor trials, some causing extensive site contamination, according to the reports in question. The exposure issue—the victim exposure consequences—also includes people on contaminated sites after the tests. In total, 17,000 Australians participated, compared with approximately 20,000 British. So a significant number of Australians participated in this.

It is interesting to look at the way different governments treated this exercise. There have been several inquiries and case studies into the implications of these tests. When the coalition government was in office in 1980, the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council was asked by the then science and environment minister Senator Webster to investigate the claims. Essentially, the report concluded that the tests were conducted within the limits existing at the time and that no persons were exposed to any excessive radiation. Subsequent to that—after Labor came to office, in 1983—we saw the Donovan report, the Kerr committee report in May 1984 and then the McClelland royal commission, which was established in 1984 and which presented its report in 1985. On the basis of the McClelland report, approaches were initiated to seek compensation from the British government

So there was denial up till 1980—essentially it was said that there was no connection—and then a realisation during the 1980s that there was a serious connection. It is important to make the point that the medical evidence shows that there is no proven causal link between the nuclear tests and the increased incidence of cancer suffered by people who were present at the tests. But as the member for Shortland has indicated, there is a wealth of information showing a strong correlation between a rate of cancer higher than the rest of the population and having been exposed to the tests. That is something no responsible government can ignore. There is no point waiting for the medical evidence to prove watertight and conclusive. These people are suffering. They need attention. Their loved ones need to know they are going to be properly cared for. This bill goes part of that way, but only part. I would urge the minister to reconsider his position and to adopt the position he was advocating only a few years ago.

The compensation from the British government was a recognition of their involvement in this. It was all done at their instigation, with our approval. The British government were very reluctant to do it. They knew that any commitment to compensation was an admission, not only of their involvement, but also of their obligation to make restitution. Whilst 17,000 Australians were affected by this, 20,000 British were also involved. So any recognition by the British government of an obligation to award compensation or offer assistance to the victims in Australia, by consequence, had to have implications for the British. That is the reason they commissioned a number of reports themselves, which postdated the McClelland royal commission and which have been relied upon by those of us who take an interest in this matter on this side of the House. I have no doubt that there is interest in this matter by those on the other side of the House as well; I am not trying to pretend we are the only ones; I am merely trying to demonstrate that we have been prepared to make a commitment to sensible restitution. That is why we are arguing that this government needs to carry on the good work. They will not have any truck with us in dealing with this matter. This is a matter that can get bipartisan support. We can demonstrate in our concern for the victims and their loved ones that there is a circumstance in which the parliament as a whole has a view that not only do they need to be looked after but also they need to be looked after in accordance with recommendations that came from a very extensive view.

The fact is that this bill provides an ability to treat these people but it does not go to the question of compensation—and that is the glaring deficiency in terms of this legislation. Compensation, as we all know, has been very difficult for these victims to obtain. The digest that the Parliamentary Library put together—I do not have time to go through it, but anyone who is interested should look at it—demonstrates how difficult it is for victims to obtain proper compensation. It is very costly. There are delays with the court system, particularly at a time when they are stressed and very ill and this adds to that stress. And there is worry for their family. Why should we put them through this? And, if we are prepared to recognise that we need to treat them because we have an obligation, why shouldn’t we go the next step and deal with the compensation? That is the question I pose to the minister. The Clarke review looked at that question and recommended that we urge the government to embrace that issue. We urge the minister to look again and to go back in his files to the position that he advocated on behalf of victims in his constituency. Just as the member for Shortland has victims in her electorate, we all have them. As there are 17,000 people at various stages, these concerns would be raised with all of us as members of parliament.

This is a question of justice. Part of that justice is being served by recognising that the government should pick up the tab for the treatment of these people for their cancers. However, we say: go the next step and adopt the recommendation of the Clarke review. In the meantime we are prepared to support this legislation, but I seriously urge the minister to reconsider and to join with us in a bipartisan way in recognising that we have an obligation to these people who served their country as they were asked to do. They did not know of the risks inherent in that service—none of us did. I think it is very interesting that in the current context, when we are all outraged about what is happening in North Korea with its detonation of further tests, we know now much more about the consequences that these things can wreak on nations, on stability—and on individuals. We have to be honest with ourselves in recognising the impact on these victims and in understanding that they performed this service not because they chose to but because they were required to. The government authorised them to perform this service and, having done that and their having suffered the consequences, we should be prepared to look after them better than this legislation does.

12:28 pm

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 and associated bill will give effect to the government’s decision to provide non-liability treatment of and testing for cancer for eligible Australian participants in the British nuclear tests. The government has recognised the special health needs of some nuclear test participants, which have been identified through the morality and cancer incidence study conducted on behalf of the Repatriation Commission. Although the study found that the rate of some cancers among nuclear test participants was higher than in the general Australian population, it did not find any link between the increase in cancer rates and exposure to radiation. Despite this lack of association between cancer rates and radiation exposure, the government has decided that it is appropriate to provide treatment for nuclear participants who have any form of cancer. Persons who may be eligible under the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill are Australian defence personnel—

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Crean interjecting

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

and I encourage Labor members to actually read the bill. They are Australian defence personnel, Australian Public Service employees and third party civilian contractors. I was, frankly, flabbergasted to hear Labor speakers condemn the use of the word ‘participants’, saying this should only be about veterans. We are not only about veterans; we are all about veterans and we are all about the civilians, the public servants and the contractors. I would be interested to see the extent to which the member for Shortland would reflect on her remarks and those of some of the speakers before her, including the member for Batman, calling for this measure to be focused solely on veterans. It would be a great injustice and an enormous disservice to ignore the reality that it was not only serving members of the Australian Defence Force involved in these tests and not incorporate in this process—

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms Hall interjecting

Photo of Michael HattonMichael Hatton (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Shortland, you have had your go.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

No amount of interjections, and no matter how sanctimonious the member for Shortland can be, can change the simple fact that there are more people of concern, of interest and able to benefit from this measure than the Labor Party seems to appreciate. Labor wants it only for veterans. Shame on Labor.

The government has put forward a proposal that takes account of all the participants in the tests, not solely those members of the Australian Defence Force. Labor should hang their heads in shame for placing those civilian, public servant and contractor participants out on a limb by announcing that they do not deserve to be part of this package. It is an abomination. I was completely appalled to hear the Labor members who have spoken on this bill call for this proposal to be only about veterans. What a mistake. What a shame. Labor have hung them out to dry.

The bill does have a broader reach and that is why we are using the term ‘participants’. Treatment will be provided through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to eligible persons under the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006. They will have access to extensive healthcare services, including GP services, hospital care and pharmaceutical benefits—not just the ADF personnel; the civilians, the contractors and the public servants who Labor has hung out to dry in its contribution here today.

Persons eligible under the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006 will also be entitled to claim travelling expenses for costs incurred in receiving treatment for cancer—again, a point that the member for Shortland got woefully wrong. It does cover travel. Had she been sufficiently interested, she would have heard the member for Bruce laud that measure in his contribution. But then the member for Shortland condemned the bill for not actually covering something it does cover and which has been recognised by one of her colleagues.

Furthermore, the Australian nuclear test participants will have continued access to existing statutory workers compensation schemes such as the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and the administrative scheme administered by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. So the machinery for compensation is already in place. I encourage any of the participants—not just the veterans but those we are also concerned about who were party to these processes those many years ago—who feel they have health conditions that are linked to their participation and service at these tests to lodge claims. There are mechanisms already available for compensation—again, something that seems to be conveniently overlooked by Labor members or something that seems to be part of the appalling politicisation of this issue, and I will come to that point shortly.

These bills will assist in addressing the health needs of the military and civilian personnel who participated in the British nuclear tests. These bills demonstrate this government’s sincere commitment to this group of Australians. As part of the government’s response to the Clarke report, the government made a commitment to respond positively to the needs of those affected by the British nuclear tests in Australia after the report was finalised. That commitment is being met, honoured and fulfilled. Although the study did not show an association between the elevated cancer rate and radiation exposure, the government has decided to provide non-liability healthcare treatment.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a question for the minister.

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Will the minister accept a question?

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I am always happy to accept a question.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A moment ago the minister was talking at length about the Labor Party or the opposition—

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Questions need to be precise.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

this is a question—wanting to limit this legislation to veterans. I would like the minister to say where he gets that information from, as opposed to the fact that we are calling for a better deal for veterans.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I am happy to respond. Out of your mouth, Member for Shortland. I encourage you to read the Hansard, consider your language and you will find that is exactly what you were saying. If you are not happy with that, read the member for Batman’s contribution where the point was also made. I thank you for your question.

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene as I have a question for the minister.

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Will the minister accept a question?

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I am happy to.

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

How can the minister make that assertion when we are supporting his bill? If you are arguing that we are narrowing the definition then you must be narrowing the definition yourself.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

That is an interesting debating point but, again, the member for Hotham might care to actually look at the remarks of his colleagues and he will see that what is in there is very self-evident. The government’s primary concern is the health and wellbeing of those involved. Treatment will be provided to nuclear test participants for all forms of cancer, including throat cancer, prostate cancer and skin cancer. I again emphasise that it will not be constrained to the veterans, as was being called for by the Labor Party, but will be for the civilians, the contractors and the public servants who were also involved. This treatment is available to all the military personnel, public servants and third party civilian contractors who were present at the site.

All Australian participants in the nuclear tests who have an address recorded with my department have been sent a letter inviting them to register for health testing and possible treatment for any cancer. In addition, there have been advertisements placed in national newspapers, and that will alert people to the availability of this government funded cancer treatment for the nuclear test participants. Once the individual has been confirmed as a nuclear test participant, he or she, whether civilian, ADF personnel, contractor or APS member, will receive a white card for testing for and treatment of cancer.

In 1999 the Australian government commissioned a study into whether there was an increased rate of death and cancer amongst nuclear test participants compared to the general Australian population. This study has been completed and it has been referred to in some of the remarks following my release of it on 28 June 2006. There are two volumes to that study. Volume No. 1 is on radiation exposure. That is a topic that was canvassed, touched upon and skated over by some of those who spoke. Volume No. 2 was on the mortality and the cancer incidence.

In respect of that first issue of radiation exposure, the dosimetry work is world-class work. Some people often dismiss workers, saying, ‘Well, it’s not rocket science.’ This is rocket science. It has been critically assessed, peer reviewed and validated as being world-class research to establish the doses of radiation that would have been present and to which participants would have been exposed. That has been cross-calibrated against other records and peer reviewed internationally to be a world-class body of work.

From that world-class body of work, the second volume draws its insights around the mortality and the cancer incidence. The final report on the overall death rate for the nuclear test participants shows that it is similar to that of the general Australian population. However, there is an increase in the rate of cancer and cancer related deaths compared to the general population. In layman’s terms, this increase equates to five more cancer deaths per year amongst nuclear test participants compared to what would be expected for the general population. But, as I mentioned earlier, the study did not find any link between the increases in cancer rates and the exposure to radiation.

For those members with a genuine interest, we know that radiation has a scientific and medical impact on cells, on our health. It is not something that is just plucked out of the air. It does not represent a trigger or an impact factor on all kinds of cancer. The science, the medicine and the insights that guide those links are well established, and I would encourage those members opposite with a genuine and sincere interest in this topic to pay attention to that work. As the member for Batman said, science speaks for itself. He was absolutely correct, and I implore those members opposite to give effect to that and, as the member for Hotham said, to be honest with ourselves when we are talking about the scientific-medical causal link with health outcomes that can be related to and associated with people’s participation in these tests. I would encourage people to have a look at those things.

The majority of the nuclear test participants were exposed to additional radiation, the equivalent of one CAT scan per year. To put that in some context, the average Australian is usually exposed to an equivalent of one to two CAT scans per year. This is the science that has been robustly analysed, tested and validated through peer review. As I mentioned earlier, the nuclear test participants have for some time been able to claim compensation and treatment under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, under which equivalent benefits have also been made available to third party civilian contractors, pastoralists and Indigenous Australians as well as under a special administrative scheme.

So the machinery that the Labor Party is calling for is actually in place. It is actually in place, and claims under those mechanisms have been received, have been processed and have been accepted, and compensation and health care in relation to people’s involvement with activities at these tests have already been completed and continue to be accommodated by these processes that are in place. So the study is important. It is world-class. It differs from some of the earlier studies that were referred to by the previous speakers. Quite sadly, those studies were referred to by previous speakers as if to create some kind of criticism of previous Liberal governments and to somehow pump up and praise Labor in its own efforts.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms Hall interjecting

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

And the interjections go to that point right now. These events happened a long time ago. People have been living with the concern that these events had an impact on their health. The government has conducted probably the most significant internationally credible research on the subject that has drawn these insights forward. It has shown what the outcomes are by looking at mortality and cancer incident data. It has done the science to establish the dosimetry—the amount of radiation to which people were exposed. It then undertook and gave its assurance that it would respond positively. That is exactly what it has done through these mechanisms.

Let me come to some of the other issues that were raised. The member for Batman and the member for Bruce were gleeful in sharing with this parliament a letter I wrote on 23 August 2002. Doesn’t that show you that there has been a credible and sincere engagement on this subject for a long time? As many colleagues in this place have, I have spoken to a constituent in my electorate. The member for Shortland does us all a disservice by inferring that no-one in this place other than her may have spoken with someone who was a participant. I was concerned for this constituent’s health. He was not a well man. I was concerned that he had cancers. I was concerned that the cancers he had, according to the best scientific evidence, were not able to be accommodated through the need to establish a causal link between those cancers and some of the rehabilitation and compensation mechanisms I have already spoken about.

I was keen to help. I put forward an idea. I provided input to the Clarke review. The Clarke review received other input. The review reflected on the much earlier studies that came to a different conclusion and suggested that some of the earlier British studies did not even identify some of the insights we have gained about cancer. The Clarke report came down with its view. The government responded. The government said it recognised that what I was keen to pursue as an avenue to deliver health care and support to the constituent who had raised his concerns with me had never been granted in the manner in which I was arguing.

The idea of non-warlike hazardous service had never been granted for service within Australia. That still is the case today. It is in fact the precursor to the non-warlike service classification that is exercised today. But did I give up on that point? No. We continued further to make sure that the outcome that my constituents were looking for was delivered—and that was access to health care. That is what my constituent was after—access to health care. Through this package before the parliament today, that is exactly what is being delivered—mechanisms for claims to be lodged, processed and accepted, with compensation and health care available in relation to injuries and illness seen to be and proven to be linked to people’s participation in these tests.

The member for Batman talked about the science speaking for itself, and I have touched briefly on those issues. I have also touched on the issue of Labor’s condemnation of this package because it covers participants, not just veterans. We need to realise that it was not only serving members of the ADF involved in these tests. Civilians, third party contractors and members of the Australian Public Service were involved, and they deserve our support. That is why the call from the Labor Party to contain this to veterans is just an abomination. The member for Shortland said that we should be hanging our heads in shame. They were her words—that this should be about veterans. I have touched on that and shown what an absolute nonsense her words are, given the important coverage and support that civilians, public servants and third party contractors rightly deserve.

The member for Shortland said the government did not want to address the issue. We could not be more transparent about this. The reports are available. There have been scientific advisory committees and consultative committees. The data is out there. If the member for Shortland has any examples regarding the proactive and positive obligation on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to support and compile information that enables claims made by veterans to be determined in a fair, considered and equitable way, I am more than happy to pursue those individual cases.

I have touched on the cost of travel. That is not a correct statement by the member for Shortland either. The member for Bruce suggested that Major Alan Batchelor had raised points with me that had not been responded to. Again, that is a completely false statement from the member for Bruce. I have written back to Major Batchelor and thanked him for his participation in this process. I acknowledged that he had experience and some insights to share. I also acknowledged that he had some differences of opinion with the scientific experts on the scientific advisory committee and that not all of his arguments could be incorporated because they were not considered to be able to be supported by the scientific advisory committee. To say his concerns have not been addressed is a blatantly incorrect statement by the member for Bruce. I have two letters here that go back to the very issues that Major Batchelor raised and how they had been accommodated in the study process.

Another person, by the name of Jack Lonergan, was mentioned by the member for Bruce. Again, the member for Bruce was asserting that he had not been responded to. That is not correct either: Mr Lonergan has been responded to. We have recognised his great interest in this work as well as pointing out to him the government’s response, the circumstances that gave rise to it and the availability of the detailed report.

Finally, another issue that the member for Bruce mischievously tried to elevate was that there had been some degree of secrecy around all of this. He sought to suggest that a newspaper article by Paul Malone published in the Canberra Times on 14 September 2006 was proof positive that there had been some secret adulteration of the report. How odd that he did not go on to read the rest of the article, where it actually acknowledges that my department’s research partners identified some tables that had been incorrectly tabulated in the report, how that had been identified on the website and how an addendum was available in the published copies of the report to point to the changes in that material. A senior researcher at the University of Adelaide was involved in a study and advised our department on 28 August 2006—which was some days before the publication of this article, I might add—that the publication error had occurred in relation to one table. So, despite the claims of the Canberra Times, repeated in here by the member for Bruce, this was the only error of which I and my department were aware and it was identified by those involved with the study.

The publication error has no effect on the study’s overall findings, an issue that is understood and acknowledged by all those concerned, and the remedy has been provided by a change to the material available on the website, including a note pointing to those changes. You could hardly say that was secret. It has been mentioned in the newspaper from which the member for Bruce sought to quote to prove his point and it has also been publicised on the website and in the printed copies. This is a positive response to the circumstances associated with all those participants involved with the British nuclear testing. That was the government’s undertaking, that was our goal, that has been my ambition as a member of parliament for many years and that is what is delivered through this package. I commend these bills to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.