I rise today to speak to Senator Lambie's bill, the Veterans’ Entitlements Amendment (Expanded Gold Card Access) Bill 2015, and to foreshadow an amendment that the Australian Greens will be moving jointly with Senator Xenophon when we get to the committee stage. I have reasonably frequently found myself on the opposite of the argument to Senator Lambie, but not on this issue. Since the first moment that she took her seat in here, the Australian Greens, more often than not, have found ourselves on the same side of the debate.
The Greens believe that we owe our service personnel a number of things. The first is to not needlessly deploy them into harm's way, and I would strongly assert that that has not been done and that we have put people needlessly in harm's way numerous times through taking on wars of choice. The second thing that we owe them to look after them on their return, so I congratulate Senator Lambie for her advocacy and for bringing this important debate to the parliament this morning.
I want to confine my remarks to the amendment that I will move jointly with Senator Xenophon when we come to the committee stage, and that is about a cohort of Australian military veterans who have remained largely forgotten. I have spoken many times in the past of our atomic veterans who served in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings of 1945, having been posted there during the occupation of Japan in the immediate postwar period. I believe they will be caught by Senator Lambie's amendment, so I do not propose to speak solely of them this morning. The particular cohort I refer to here were those veterans who were forced as a condition of their service to participate and witness the nuclear weapons bombings of Montebello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga by our ally, the British government. They were exposed to neutron radiation and fallout and have suffered a lifetime of health conditions. I have pursued this under several different prime ministers and under governments Labor and Liberal, and the utter tragedy is that because they were bombed by an ally, not an enemy, they are not eligible for gold card health support. That is an extraordinary tragedy. They were exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons blasts—something that nobody should have to see. In wartime, it has only happened those two times, those infamous days of 6 and 9 August 1945. But those Australian and British veterans who were exposed to nuclear blasts are not eligible for the kind of gold card support that we have been debating in the Senate this morning, because their exposure was at the hands of an ally. Had they been bombed by imperial Japan or Nazi Germany, they would, as a right, be entitled to this support. They were bombed by the British government at the express invitation of the Australian government, and then we have hung them out to dry.
The amendment is a simple one. It is identical in intent to an initiative that the Australian Greens launched during the 2013 election campaign. It does nothing more than to help these surviving veterans and their families, who have been cursed with the long-term, intergenerational health and genetic effects of exposure to ionising radiation. They have had to try to prove to DVA, to health authorities and to the GPs that the extraordinary range of health conditions that they have suffered in the intervening decades was at the hands of those atomic blasts that they were forced to witness. Of course, it is like smoking cigarettes and developing lung cancer. Just as you can never pinpoint the exact cigarette that caused the cancer to take hold in your body, you cannot prove that it was exposure to the atomic blasts that caused the hideous range of health conditions that these veterans have been exposed to—nor should they have, because the epidemiological evidence is sound. It is bedded down against decades of experience in the medical community.
These veterans are owed more than we are giving them. That is why I am proud to stand here today. Senator Lambie knows that this is not a hostile amendment. This is an amendment that effectively complements and closes an intergenerational loophole that we opened up when we allowed Australian personnel to be harmed by the actions of an ally, and that is not something that anybody should be subject to. Mr Ray Whitby, a fellow Western Australian, was a nuclear veteran in the 1958 atomic weapons testing at the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. He says the following:
More than half a century ago, I was a young man eager to serve his country. As a result I have suffered a lifetime of medical issues that have impacted my enjoyment of life. All I now ask for is fair and just compensation.
Mr Geoffrey Gates, one of the 290 veterans who took their case to the Australian Human Rights Commission, says:
To not be recognised by the government as having participated in non-warlike hazardous activities is an insult to me, to my family and to all other the veterans and civilians whose lives changed forever because we simply weren't told the truth.
We owe these individuals better. The tragedy is that we took for the 2013 election a costing from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. What they told us extraordinary. It was that the later you leave the introduction of this essential measure to support the health of this dwindling cohort of individuals, the cheaper it gets. I ask the Senate to pause and reflect on why that is. It is because these people are dying. They were exposed in the 1940s and 1950s, and there are not many of them left. I would say that the absolute least obligation that we owe them—whatever your political alignment, whatever your allegiances in this place or what it was that brought you here—is that we should offer them this assistance while some of them yet live. Is that too much to ask?
In the context of the Defence white paper announced this morning, which proposes, in aggregate, $1 trillion in military spending over forthcoming decades, the least we can do is to honour, acknowledge and help support those veterans who suffered not at the hands of the enemy but at the hands of a nuclear armed ally. I thank Senator Lambie and the Senate.
That the question be now put.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT
The question is that the question by now put.