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British Atomic Tests in Central Australia in 1950's and 1960's

Question
Scott Ludlam 14 Oct 2011

Question Number: 1085

Senator Scott Ludlam asked the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, in writing, on 29 August 2011:

With reference to the Aboriginal people of central Australia and the north west of Western Australia who were exposed to radioactive fallout or direct radiation exposure from atomic weapons testing by the British Nuclear Test Program of the 1950s and 1960s.

(1) Has the Government ever undertaken a study into the number of Aboriginal people exposed to fallout or direct radiation exposure and the nature of their injuries; if so, can the findings of these studies be provided.
(2) Is the Government aware of how many Aboriginal people exposed to the impacts of these tests are still alive; if so, how many.
(3) Is the Government aware of whether any compensation, in the form of money, legal advice, healthcare or any other form of assistance has ever been offered to Aboriginal people exposed to these tests.
(4) Are there currently any government programs, advice lines, funds, or other forms of assistance in place for Aboriginal victims of atomic weapons testing; if not, what does the Government intend to do to provide redress for those exposed to the harmful impacts of nuclear weapons testing.
(5) Is the Government satisfied that justice has been done to those who were exposed to nuclear weapons tests.

Senator Evans- The answer to the honourable Senator's question is as follows:

1) The responsibility for this matter falls within the resources, energy and tourism portfolio. The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has provided the following response:

In 1981 the South Australian Health Commission conducted a survey of disease that might be related to radiation on the Pitjantjatjara lands. This study was inconclusive because "The Aboriginal population at risk could not be defined precisely, neither with regard to total size nor age-sex distribution." This view of difficulties in defining a potentially exposed population was confirmed in evidence to the Australian Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia which reported in 1985.

Advisers to the Aboriginal groups represented in the Royal Commission also attempted to determine how many Aboriginal people were exposed to potentially hazardous levels of radiation during the tests. From documents made available by the Royal Commission and the British, Commonwealth, South Australian and Western Australian governments and interviews with all available Aboriginal witnesses, they concluded that the total was probably less than 100.

2) The responsibility for this matter falls within the resources, energy and tourism portfolio. The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has provided the following response:

No. The Government is not aware of how many Aboriginal people exposed to the impacts of these tests may still be alive. As stated in the answer to (1), the Aboriginal population at risk could not be identified precisely and as such it is not possible to identify how many may still be alive.

3) The responsibility for this matter falls jointly within the resources, energy and tourism portfolio and the education, employment and workplace relations portfolio.

The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has provided the following response:

Yes. In 1991 the Australian Government settled in full, all claims for trespass and injury brought against the Commonwealth of Australia by Aborigines living in South Australia at the time of the nuclear tests conducted at Maralinga and Emu Field. These nineteen claimants were identified during the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia by a team of lawyers, scientists and historians advising Aboriginal groups during the Royal Commission.

Under the then Special Administrative Scheme, compensation was made available for two specific cancers, leukaemia (other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia) and multiple myeloma. Aboriginals (or their dependents) were eligible if they were in the environs of Maralinga between April 1955 and May 1963, and Emu Field between 26 September 1953 and May 1963. This Scheme is now closed.

In addition to this settlement significant payments were made to traditional land owners in respect of loss of access to the nuclear test site land arising from the British Nuclear Weapons Test program.

As compensation claims for non-Commonwealth employees currently falls within my portfolio responsibilities, I provide the following additional information:

Currently, the Administrative Scheme, which is separate from the Special Administrative Scheme referred to above, provides monetary compensation and covers medical expenses for non-Commonwealth employees who were at or near the British Nuclear Tests and suffer health complications as a result of being exposed to ionising radiation. Under this scheme five Aboriginal claimants were paid a total of $0.2 million in 1989. These are the last known Aboriginal claimants under the Administrative Scheme.

4) The Administrative scheme referred to above remains open to claimants including Aboriginal Australians, contractors and pastoralists.

5) The Government is satisfied it has responded appropriately. 

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