ACT News


Blow for nuclear veterans as Human Rights Commission rejects complaint

Australian servicemen deliberately exposed to nuclear bomb testing at Maralinga have been dealt a final blow in their long fight for justice.

The survivors of those who worked in the radiation were told on Tuesday the Australian Human Rights Commission would not hear their claim that the Menzies government breached their human rights by using them as virtual guinea pigs in the tests conducted by the British at Maralinga, Emu Field and Monte Bello Islands in the 1950s and '60s.

This was the last possible legal avenue they could have pursued in Australia.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he would introduce amendments to allow Australian veterans of the British nuclear testing to receive assistance. "These Australian veterans were treated as human guinea pigs by the British government," he said.

The commission rejected the complaint alleging a breach of human rights, saying what happened to the servicemen at the nuclear tests was outside its jurisdiction.

Joshua Dale, a human rights law specialist at Stacks/Goudkamp in Sydney, said the decision marked a sad day for human rights in Australia. ''This decision marks the end of the road for our nuclear veterans and I would say that the only recourse they have … now is a plea for an act of grace by the Australian government to take responsibility for the events involving nuclear testing on Australian soil.''


Canberra resident Alan Batchelor, who spent six months at Maralinga during the testing, called for a change to the legislation that prevented the commission from hearing the claim. "I think the whole thing is a political cover-up,'' he said.

''The reason for this is that Australia was used as a laboratory during the tests. They collected bones from dead people and assessed the amount of strontium 90 that was in the bones. However the legislation that exists at the moment prevents any real investigation.''

Mr Batchelor was second in charge of a group of 68 engineers at Maralinga in South Australia. They were sent to recover instruments from a shelter about 50 metres from the blast site, just out of reach of the fireball.

"They wanted immediate readings and I, with about six engineers and scientists, went there within an hour of the bomb exploding,'' he said.

"Now there are only a few of these engineers left, I know of only two others, out of the total of 68.''

A 2006 report commissioned by the Australian government showed those working at the Maralinga and Emu Field testing sites were 23 per cent more likely to develop cancer, and 18 per cent more likely to die from cancer, than the general population. However, in a blow to the men's claims for compensation, it concluded it was impossible to say whether that was due to the men's exposure to radiation. Before his posting to Maralinga, Mr Batchelor and his wife had a healthy child. A year after he returned, his wife miscarried a badly deformed foetus, his submission to the commission states. He has since developed myasthenia gravis, an auto-immune disorder.