Nuclear Test Veterans Take Claim To UK Courts
Transcript and audio material courtesy of ABC News’ AM
Saturday, January 23, 2010
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Nuclear test veterans and their families have called for compensation from the Australian Government for decades.
They say they have suffered effects including cancer, and genetic mutations in their children and grandchildren from exposure to radiation. But they are yet to receive any money from the Federal Government. Now they are joining a class action in Britain.
Last year a UK court ruled that the Ministry of Defence had a case to answer.
Nance Haxton reports.
NANCE HAXTON: Alan Batchelor was an engineer in Operation Antler at Maralinga, where three of the 12 nuclear bombs were detonated.
He says of the 80 people in his group, most have died of cancer related illnesses, and only three are still alive.
ALAN BATCHELOR: There are a lot of widows left who’ve made claims and had them knocked back because they can’t prove that their deceased husband was either not at Maralinga or that he received a dose of radiation.
NANCE HAXTON: He’s hopeful that the decision by Britain’s High Court last year will give veterans such as himself recognition, and compensation, as servicemen now have the right to sue the British Government for damages.
Tom Goudkamp is their lawyer.
TOM GOUDKAMP: The reason why the claim will be brought in the UK courts is that the limitation periods have expired in Australian courts, but also the claim will be against British Ministry of Defence. Of course they’re in England, but there is already a class action or a group action called over there on foot in the UK and it’s my intention to bring that group action for the Australians for their servicemen or for their widows to run a group action in tandem with the group action in the UK.
NANCE HAXTON: And how many people are you representing at this stage?
TOM GOUDKAMP: Well I expect it will be around 250 to 300.
NANCE HAXTON: And you say you’re representing the widows as well?
TOM GOUDKAMP: Ah yes, because a lot of these men, they died young, they died from cancers, from thyroid cancer, from leukaemia’s and so on.
NANCE HAXTON: What compensation are you seeking?
TOM GOUDKAMP: Well we’re seeking common law damages, damages for loss of life and for loss of dependence and so on.
NANCE HAXTON: The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement is representing civilians affected by the tests, and has secured the services of high-profile British lawyer Cherie Booth for the case.
CEO Neil Gillespie says they have five people they are representing so far, but hope that will rise to at least 100 people.
NEIL GILLESPIE: ALRM is interested in hearing from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike, who have medical histories either personally or in their families and whether living or dead members that they believe was a result of the tests.
We’re pursuing action in the UK systems against the UK’s interests.
NANCE HAXTON: A spokesman for the Veterans Affairs Minister Alan Griffin says it would be premature to comment on the outcome of the class action and any impact of that on the Australian Government.
He says the Australian Government is still reviewing the entitlements of nuclear test veterans.
Tom Goudkamp says they would gladly drop their UK legal action if the Federal Government stepped in and compensated those affected by the tests.
TOM GOUDKAMP: There seems to be a complete back-flip by the Minister of Veteran Affairs and others in the Rudd Government, because quite a number of them stood up in Parliament in October 2006 and said that it was disgraceful that the veterans hadn’t been compensated and that they were used as human guinea pigs and really it’s time to face up to our responsibilities.
And it seems they’ve done a back-flip and seem to want to just delay the whole time. And now they want to wait until the outcome of the UK group action which could take another couple of years at least.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The lawyer Tom Goudkamp ending Nance Haxton’s report from Adelaide.