Hunter, Central Coast Vets File For Legal Action
Article and photos courtesy of The Herald – JOANNE MCCARTHY
Atomic testing at Maralinga in 1956 Ric Johnstone
The names of 23 Hunter and Central Coast nuclear veterans will appear on a landmark class action to be filed against the British Government in May by Cherie Blair, the human rights lawyer and wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair.
The 23 men are part of a class action by more than 170 veterans of British nuclear tests in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, most notoriously at Maralinga in South Australia, seeking compensation for medical conditions and disabilities they allege are linked to the tests.
If they win, any compensation will be paid by the Australian Government after the British Government paid [PI9024]PoundSte20 million compensation to Australia in 1993 in full settlement of any claims over the nuclear tests.
The money was not paid to Australia’s veterans. Some was used to clean up the nuclear test sites.
Veterans are going ahead with legal action after the Federal Government refused to consider an offer made in December by the veterans’ lawyer, Tom Goudkamp, to negotiate compensation and a settlement recognising the men’s war service as “non-warlike hazardous”, entitling them to significant veterans’ benefits including a Gold Card.
While in Opposition, Labor had urged the then Howard government to recognise the men’s “non-warlike hazardous” service.
“These nuclear veterans expected the Rudd Government to honour their commitments made in Opposition,” Mr Goudkamp said.
“To have them [the Federal Government] be the same as the previous government is a shattering blow to men who’ve been waiting an extremely long time for justice.”
Michael Giles, who is co-ordinating the Hunter men’s case from the Newcastle office of Mr Goudkamp’s legal firm Stacks Goudkamp, encouraged other nuclear veterans to come forward for the test case.
“So far we have 173 men taking part from across Australia,” Mr Giles said.
The Federal Government believes only 2000 of the 8000 Australians who took part in the British nuclear tests are still alive.
Australian Nuclear Veterans’ Association president Ric Johnstone, 76, of the Central Coast, said he hoped to travel to Britain when the case is heard and was delighted that Cherie Blair had agreed to take on the case.
“The Australian Government took a large lump of money from the British in 1993 to settle a compensation claim over the nuclear tests. As the people who were there . . . I think we’ve got a right to say enough,” he said.