Veterans Clear To Chase Compo Over Brit N-Tests
Article courtesy of WA Today – ANDREA HAYWARD
January 16, 2010 (this article also appeared in the Brisbane Times)
Australian veterans exposed to British nuclear testing will not be dissuaded from pursuing legal action against the British government, Veterans Affairs Minister Alan Griffin says.
At the height of the Cold War, the then British prime minister Harold Macmillan made a request to the Australian government for a site to test nuclear weapons.
Former Australian prime minister Robert Menzies agreed and 17 atomic bombs were detonated at Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands, off WA’s Pilbara coast between 1952 and 1958.
The British government paid STG20 million ($A35 million) to Australia in 1993 towards the cost of the clean-up of the testing sites.
In 1994, the Australian government paid the Maralinga Tjarutja people compensation of $13.5 million for the damage to their land.
Ex-servicemen who were ordered into radiation zones and to clean planes and vehicles following the blasts have not received any compensation.
About 8,000 defence personnel were exposed to the blasts but fewer than 2,000 are still alive.
Many have died from blood disorders and cancers, the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association (ANVA) says.
British veterans have won the right to take the UK Ministry of Defence to court for compensation in a class action of almost 1,000 British veterans and widows.
The British government has appealed the decision, which will be heard in May and a judgment is expected later this year.
Sydney law firm Stacks will represent ANVA in London’s High Court in a second class action for Australian servicemen and UK veterans who were not involved in the original proceedings.
If the class action is successful, the Australian government will have to pay the British government the amount it is sued for, to indemnify it.
Lawyer Tom Goudkamp has urged the Australian veterans affairs minister to consider a non-litigious form of compensation.
“You might wish to look at some non-litigious form of compensation, utilising the GBP 20 million (plus interest) advanced in part for that very purpose all those years ago,” Mr Goudkamp wrote to Mr Griffin in late December.
Mr Goudkamp said proceedings against the British government would begin in January and the inevitable consequence was the British government would look to the Australian government to indemnify it.
Mr Griffin says the federal government is aware of ANVA’s intentions to lodge the class action.
“If a class action does proceed, it would be premature to comment on the outcome of the class action and any impact for the Australian government,” Mr Griffin said late yesterday.
“Individuals are free to pursue any legal avenue available to them. I would not encourage or dissuade them from such action.
“I do not wish to speculate on the outcome or how the Australian government might respond to that outcome.”
Australian participants in the nuclear testing are eligible for white cards to cover the cost of testing and treatment of any cancer and to apply for compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, Mr Griffin said.
In September 2008, the federal government announced it would re-examine a raft of recommendations included in the Clarke Review of Veterans Entitlements that were not acted on by the previous government.
One of the recommendations of the Clarke review was that the service of Australian Defence Force personnel who participated in the testing be declared ‘non-warlike hazardous’.
The recommendation if enacted would provide participants with access to compensatory provisions under the more generous reverse criminal standard of proof.
The federal government is still reviewing the recommendations.
When Mr Griffin announced the review he said the matter of the British nuclear tests would be given priority.
There is no timetable for the review of the Clarke recommendations in place.