FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
TUESDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2010
Department of Defence
Senator LUDLAM-I have a couple of issues that I would to raise that relate to issues that I have raised in here before regarding British nuclear testing in South Australia. The test series that I particularly want to address tonight was, I think, referred to at the same time as the Totem series of nuclear weapons tests that occurred at Emu Fields between 15 and 27 October 1953, and they directly affected the Woomera township. Is it the case that, after those tests, ordnance, aircraft, clothing and earthmoving equipment and some other debris from the Totem series were sent back to Woomera for decontamination and disposal?
Mr Bayles-I am not in a position to answer your question. I do not know the detail of that particular incident that you are referring to. I would have to take it on notice.
Mr Campbell-I suspect that that one is probably more appropriately directed to the Department of Defence.
Senator LUDLAM-They have gone. Am I able to put that to the department through you? Let us see where I get to at the end of this series of questions and we will work out what accrues to where. That might be useful. What I am interested to know is where the disposal site is that resulted from those tests and particularly if we know whether there are dump sites at the Amberley air base for ordnance, aircraft, clothing and so on that would have been sent there for decontamination and disposal bonfires.
Mr Campbell-They are not issues for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Senator LUDLAM-That is fine. I will come to the human impacts in that case and hopefully this will be something that you are able to help us out with.
Senator Feeney-If you give me those questions I am happy to pass them on.
Senator LUDLAM-Thank you very much. You would probably be aware that among those seeking compensation through the British courts-which we have addressed in this committee before; I think this is the proper place for these questions. I am not asking directly about the court actions but just whether you are aware that in relation to the Woomera babies there was a wave of infant deaths as a result of those tests. They died without explanation. There are more than 60 of them. Those families attribute it to the nuclear testing at Maralinga. It was raised in the Adelaide Advertiser in 2003 and I am happy to table some of the press clippings that I have here. Can you confirm that after that issue was raised in 2003 the then Defence minister, Robert Hill, said that medical staff would investigate sealed records of the baby deaths and that the minister would make a statement if the inquiries found anything of public importance? No statement at the time was made. Can you confirm whether or not there was an investigation into those sealed records?
Mr Campbell-Again, if that was a question raised of the then Minister for Defence I think that the question should probably go back to the current Department of Defence.
Senator LUDLAM-Is it likely that the agency that conducted the investigation was Defence?
Mr Campbell-I do not know whether it was.
Senator LUDLAM-That being the case, that is who we should pursue. Does the Department of Veterans' Affairs have any recourse at all where we have got families who are pursuing records of children? Is that something that you would assist them with? If they are effectively pursuing records that are not available and not in the public domain-these are in many cases the parents of deceased children as a result of these tests-is that something that your department would take any kind of hand in?
Mr Campbell-There is no statutory basis for us to undertake that, no. The answer is no.
Senator LUDLAM-If they are families of veterans there is no door that anybody could knock on that would be in your department.
Mr Campbell-People can come and talk to us but we have no authority to seek out such documents. There is nothing in the responsibilities of the department that gives us the authority to seek out those documents.
Senator LUDLAM-That is fine. I am not trying to muck you about. If this is squarely the responsibility of Defence I do not want them sending me back to you guys or to health or to somewhere else; that is all. So if you can help me pin down who we should go to that would be good. The Department of Defence is your best guess-
CHAIR-No, all the Secretary is saying is that it is not Veterans' Affairs.
Senator LUDLAM-But you are not close enough to the portfolio to tell me whose responsibility it would be? Otherwise I have to wait-
Mr Campbell-We are talking about something that unfortunately happened a long time ago. Your questions to me up until now have been DVA and I am saying DVA, no. I am not sure where those record would be held or what type of records that we are even talking about, but I certainly know that we do not have them and we do not have any way to access them.
Senator LUDLAM-I will have to leave it there and not take up any more of your time.
Senator Feeney-As I said, I am happy to pass those questions on to the Minister for Defence.
Senator LUDLAM-I might just mark these up and provide them to you on notice.