British Atomic Testing

September 29 2010

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:34): I move:

That this council —

1 . Notes —

(a) that the British atomic tests in South Australia in the 1950s and 1960s caused significant health problems for those people affected and environmental problems in the areas of Emu Fields and Maralinga;

(b) that English courts have ruled that military personnel from all over the world were able to bring a personal injuries action against the United Kingdom Government in the UK   courts;

(c) that a legal opinion commissioned by the Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement from Cherie Booth QC confirmed that civilians are entitled to bring suit against the UK   government;

(d) that this case will need e xtensive funding to commission expert witnesses, conduct investigations and collate information;

(e) that the success of these strong legal claims will help alleviate years of suffering for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal South Australians in addition to easing the burden of considerable medical costs associated with illness related to nuclear testing; and

(f) that Premier Rann acknowledged in 2009 in an ABC report that ' the British Government has an absolute responsibility to do the right thing by its and our service personnel and of course our Aboriginal people' .

2 . Calls on the Premier, who has acknowledged that compensation should be paid, to contribute to the legal costs of the case being supported and launched by the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement here in South Australia so that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal South Australians can have the opportunity to seek redress for injuries suffered by them during the British atomic testing in South Australia.

This motion challenges the Premier in particular to put his money where his mouth was on Maralinga. The Greens have put forward this motion because there are significant personal health impacts and wider environmental issues that blight the people and the areas of Maralinga and Emu Fields as a result of a foreign government's atomic testing regime half a century ago.

Once we thought there was no legal recourse left on this matter. However, recent legal opinion from Cherie Booth QC (who is in fact the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair) has confirmed that civilians are still entitled to bring suit against the United Kingdom government, as are citizens of Australia. However, any legal case is going to need substantial funding to commission the required expert witnesses, conduct investigations and collate the relevant medical and other information. A request has been put forward to both state and federal governments from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, but at this stage that request has not been met favourably In 2009 the Premier, Mr Rann, stated:

The British government has an absolute responsibility to do the right thing by its and our service personnel and, of course, our Aboriginal people.

So now it is time for the Premier to put his money where his mouth was and back this legal case so that these South Australians can finally obtain justice. The success of these strong legal claims will not only bring possible financial recompense to those who have been affected by the British atomic testing, but it will alleviate years of suffering and ease the considerable medical costs associated with the illnesses related to the nuclear testing; and, of course, go some way to repairing the damage that has been caused to generations who have suffered from their forefathers' deaths and illnesses as well.

Our motion calls on the Premier, who has acknowledged that there is a need for this compensation to be paid and for that compensation to be paid by a foreign government, to be supportive. We think it is a fair and just thing. I will remind members of the council, who may not be aware, that back when these British atomic tests were undertaken, some half a century ago, the Long Range Weapons Establishment in fact issued unfounded assurances that Aboriginal people would not be affected by the trials. However, we know that that is not the case.

We had a forum in this parliament some months ago which many members attended, notably the Hon. Stephen Wade (shadow attorney-general), Frances Bedford (member for Florey), Leesa Vlahos (member for Taylor) and Steve Marshall (member for Norwood), with sincere apologies from the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Many other members showed great interest in this issue, and I commend them for their interest. At that forum we actually heard stories of the families of those who have been affected by the impact of the nuclear testing undertaken, and I will just point to one particular story.

In 1953 the first of the two bombs code named 'Operation Totem' was exploded at Emu Field. At Wallatinna, to the north-east, the Anangu people experienced stomach pains, vomiting, choking, coughing, diarrhoea, rashes, peeling skin, headaches, and sore and running eyes. Within days, old and frail members of the group started to die. Over the next year almost 20 people camping in the region had also died. The number may have in fact been higher; no official records were ever kept. One particular young boy, Yami Lester, was a boy whose family spoke at the parliamentary forum just recently. Many people may be familiar with his autobiography, in which he said:

When I was a young boy living in the desert, the ground shook and a black mist came up from the south and covered our cam p. The older people said they' d never seen anything like it before, and in the months that followed many people were sick and many died. I don't like to think about it now, but one of those people was my uncle, and h e was very sick before he died. There were sores all over his body and they looked full of pus. The sun used to worry his eyes too , and he couldn' t look up , so he'd wear a cloth under his hat and hang it in front of his face. Almost everyone at Wallatin n a had something wrong with their eyes, and they still do. All those Wallatin n a people have eye problems. I was one of those people, and later on I lost my sight and my life was changed for ever.

Yami is quite laconic in his words, where he says:

If I had my eyes, I would probably still be a stockman. Because I haven't, I became a stirrer.

Good on people like Yami for becoming stirrers in our community and not being silenced! There has been a great deal of disability, disease and death as a result of these atomic tests, which we have already acknowledged through our work. We have commended the work done to clean up the Maralinga area, and I particularly commend those parliamentarians who have been involved in that work.

I look forward to our taking a further step in not only cleaning up the land but healing the people and their history here. I also look forward to the Premier acknowledging and supporting his words of 2009. I cannot understand why the poisoning of our state by radioactive fallout is not a priority of our senior state politicians, particularly following the Premier's comments. The litigation against the British government by the South Australian victims of the tests will considerably advance rectification of the long-term environmental safety of South Australia and its citizens, and it will go a long way to creating further reconciliation in this country. I commend the motion to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. R.P. Wortley.


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