Saturday, November 13, 2010

Atomic testing victims must have day in court

Atomic testing victims must have day in court
Tammy Franks, MLC

Only last year Premier Mike Rann vowed 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”.

Mr Rann was referring specifically to the devastating nuclear testing conducted by the British Government in South Australia at Maralinga and Emu Fields during the 1950s and 1960s.

The deadly secret atomic testing program, which began just seven years after Hiroshima, became known to locals as ‘the black mist’.

The Indigenous and non Indigenous Australian civilians affected have since experienced serious and ongoing health problems including higher levels of cancer, eye problems and genetic abnormalities in survivors and their offspring.

Fast forward to 2010, however, and the Premier is refusing to put any money where his mouth was to get civilian victims their day in the British courts.

The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) is preparing its legal case against the British Government, and has called on the State and Federal Government to assist with the cost of the lawsuit.

But in July this year South Australia’s Attorney-General John Rau refused to even meet with representatives of the ALRM and the Government has so far failed to pledge any monetary support for the legal case, (money that would later be repaid to the Government should the case be successful.)

I find it appalling that Premier Rann is refusing to aid South Australians in seeking justice and compensation for their injuries when he shed crocodile tears on this very issue just one year ago.

The situation prompted me to move a motion in Parliament calling on the SA Government to back the ALRM’s legal challenge.

This motion was brought to a vote in Parliament yesterday and was supported by the Liberals, while Labor remain callously opposed.

Legal cases are costly and this one requires substantial funds to commission expert witnesses, conduct investigations and collate medical and other information.

Until recently it seemed there was no legal recourse available to victims, however recent legal advice has confirmed that Australian civilians are entitled to bring legal suits against the United Kingdom Government.

Justice must be done.

A successful legal claim will give financial compensation to those who suffer the ongoing affects of the atomic tests, as well as formally recognising the wider environmental impacts associated with the testing.

It was a hideous page in our state’s history some half a century ago when the Long Range Weapons Establishment issued unfounded assurances that Aboriginal people would not be affected by the trials.

As we now know, bombs that exploded near areas like Wallatinna, to the north-east of Emu Field, caused stomach pains, vomiting, choking, coughing, diarrhoea, rashes, puss-filled sores, peeling skin, headaches and running eyes.

Then, in the year that followed, an estimated 20 older members of the Anangu community died prematurely, while cemeteries filled with infants and children taken before their time are another horrific legacy of the tests.

The South Australian Government could and should offer unconditional and unwavering support to victims.

The Premier has previously acknowledged that compensation should be paid, now it is time to act.

In bringing this motion to a vote, I am calling on Premier Rann to contribute to the legal costs of the case launched by the ALRM in South Australia so that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal South Australians can seek redress for injuries suffered during the nuclear testing.

Let’s hope the Premier is true to his word and will exercise his “absolute responsibility”.

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