Wednesday 19 October 2011 Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee
ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Xenophon. Senator Ludlam, do you have a couple of quick questions?
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I have some follow-ups-and thanks for this as some of the questions I was going to put have been asked. To finish the thread that Senator Xenophon has started, I guess the definition of warlike service we consider to be exposure to hostilities. The reasons that these people have been excluded is that in this case the hostilities were carried out by an ally; they were exposed to the nuclear weapons tests of an ally. If they had been exposed to nuclear weapons on the battlefield they would be eligible.
Senator Feeney: Of course.
Senator LUDLAM: Same damage, same chemicals, same harm but they were attacked by an ally. So if it is simply a definitional issue that is in the way-
Senator Feeney: Of course they were not attacked. In the military usage of that term they were not attacked. I am not in any way trying to dismiss the experience or the decisions that were made in the 1950s. But we do use technical terminology that does not lend itself to these rhetorical debates.
Senator LUDLAM: This is a form of 'friendly fire'.
Senator Feeney: It is not even that because 'friendly fire' is-
Senator LUDLAM: Accidental, and this was deliberate.
Senator Feeney: 'Friendly fire' is something that happens in a war zone, where blue on blue-
Senator LUDLAM: In the interests of time-
Senator Feeney: It does not help to use those terms, and they are misapplied. I do not think, frankly, the story of Maralinga requires much embellishment to attract the attention and sympathy in Australians.
Senator LUDLAM: Can I invite you, Minister, or the officers at the table, who have been generous and gone out on a bit of a limb, to reconsider the definitions that have excluded these service personnel and some of the civilians who were exposed, because I do not think anybody in this room tonight would like to see them excluded on such a technicality. To close this thread, can I invite you to reconsider the definition that has seen them put on the outside. If they had been exposed to hostile nuclear weapon attacks and suffered exactly the same harm, they would be eligible. I think that is highly problematic.
Senator Feeney: Senator, I am happy to take that on, but I will invite Mr Campbell to perhaps set out for the record the fact that these persons are already supported to varying degrees by DVA.
Senator LUDLAM: I want to raise one particular issue. We have been contacted, and let me know whether this is someone you have heard from, by a gentleman called Albert Martin, who served at Maralinga and at Emu Fields. He has leukaemia and it is recognised as being service related. He does not have the Gold Card, and has been asking for one since 2002. He was paid out in 2004 and he is now on a 60 per cent disability pension, according to this correspondence, which I am happy to provide. He is 72 years of age. His wife also has liver and bone cancer. If his leukaemia is service related he asks us why exactly he does not have the Gold Card. I think that is an easy one.
Mr Campbell : Perhaps I should go a little bit generally. I do not know the individual's case.
Senator LUDLAM: I will provide you with his details.
Mr Campbell : There are complexities in this arrangement because the people who served at Maralinga served in other places as well, both peace time and warlike. So they have a variety of service and, therefore, a variety of coverage, and they will have potentially received compensation under more than one act, particularly under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act and under the Veterans' Entitlements Act. So each case is unique and should be treated with great dignity and great care.
The point I want to make is that there are two main ways of granting a Gold Card. One is the level of disability you have. For example, if you get to 100 per cent disability-that is not the maximum level; the maximum level is a special rate-under the Veterans' Entitlements Act, you get a Gold Card. There are other levels of eligibility but I am not going to go through them here tonight because the chair would tell me that we have to finish before I could finish all of that, but we can provide that if you like on notice. Probably it would be a good idea if we do provide that to you on notice. What governments have done-and it was done for the World War I veterans, then it was done for the World War II veterans and then it was done for all veterans with warlike or qualifying service-is to give people the Gold Card at the age of 70. So if you do not have a Gold Card and you have warlike or qualifying service, at age 70 you get the Gold Card.
The Gold Card does not get given to people who do not have that, as the parliamentary secretary has said. However, you can have the Gold Card without having qualifying service, because you can have a 100 per cent disability pension without having qualifying service and that gives you the Gold Card. You can be a totally and permanently incapacitated veteran without qualifying service and get the Gold Card. So the Gold Card really has two criteria, if you like, in the way I am explaining it. One is the warlike or qualifying service-'qualifying service' is what 'warlike' was called in World War II, and you have asked that question of the parliamentary secretary-and the other is the level of disability under the VEA. I think it might also be helpful here for the record if I ask Mr Luckhurst or Mr Bayles to just take one minute of indulgence, Chair, to say what services and what benefits are currently available to those who were subjected and exposed to the blasts in the mid-1950s in South Australia.
ACTING CHAIR: I think it is very important we do take a minute or two to do that, Mr Campbell, but I will have to remind colleagues that the night is ticking away and that there are a lot of questions to ask. But this is very important information.
Senator RONALDSON: Perhaps that could be dealt with on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Mr Luckhurst, would you be reading from a document that you could put on the record?
Mr Luckhurst : We can put it on the record.
Senator LUDLAM: I would be delighted to hear it, but if others are edgy-
Senator Feeney: We are happy to do that, Chair. We are just making the point that these people, notwithstanding the circumstances they are in and the experiences they have endured, have not been left without support by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Senator XENOPHON: That could be disputed.
Senator LUDLAM: If that were the case, we would not be here wasting your time. I will provide contact details for Mr Martin to the secretary and perhaps he can pass them to you, because I will be following up. To me he seems to qualify-quite aside from the controversy we are raising tonight.
My final question is about non-service personnel who just happen to live in the area-that is, the region's Aboriginal people. I have raised this a couple of times and I have been told, 'Go talk to DRET,' despite the fact that it was military activities which caused the harm. However, I thank you for your response, provided on 28 September, to my question No. 1085. It was indicated in parts 3 and 4 of the answer that there are some compensation claim portfolio responsibilities here for non-Commonwealth employees. There is an administrative scheme open to claimants, including Aboriginal Australians, contractors and pastoralists. Are you familiar with what I am showing here?
Mr Luckhurst : Yes, but that is a scheme administered, I believe, under the auspices of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Senator LUDLAM: So there are no responsibilities whatsoever for Aboriginal civilians-I do not think they were even citizens at the time-who were irradiated during these tests?
Mr Luckhurst : We are responsible primarily for looking after the ADF members. We do have responsibility for the provision of the non-liability white card for cancer treatments, which is certainly available to civilians and contractors.
Senator LUDLAM: I have spoken before of the extreme difficulty arising out of the fact that radiation exposure is responsible for a whole host of exotic, non-cancer related conditions-blindness, for example-for which people have been shut out, including large numbers of Aboriginal people. I will follow the remainder of these up with a separate portfolio.