Aisha Dow The Transcontinental 04 Nov, 2010
Atom Bomb testing at Maralinga, SA
Premier Mike Rann has back flipped on his support for a compensation case against the British government, a move that could cost local victims of the Maralinga atomic testings their day in court.
The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) says it is desperately seeking $500,000 in court costs to join a class action led by a top UK law firm, but it is being turned away by state and federal governments.
Last year Mr Rann declared the British government should be held responsible for those affected by hundreds of nuclear devices that exploded at Maralinga in the 1950s.
Now his government has announced the class action, involving about 30 Port Augusta residents and 100 people state-wide, will not be supported in any way.
The state's Attorney-General John Rau told The Transcontinental: "While the SA Government accepts it is very regrettable that parts of this state were used for nuclear testing and that has had an impact on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities over a long period of time, we do not believe funding Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement cases against the UK government is an appropriate course of action."
According to ALRM chief executive Neil Gillespie, this lack of support from government is making Australia an "international laughing stock".
"If we don't get support fairly soon we'll have no choice but to start a campaign that will see people like myself down at Parliament House calling for government support.
"The Prime Minister and the Premier if they don't support us they should really hang their heads in shame ... if they aren't willing to help the most disenfranchised and down-trodden."
He adds that with the case boasting good prospects of success, it was likely any financial contributions would eventually be returned to the government.
The Federal Attorney General's department last week said it was aware of ALRM's appeal for funding, but had not been provided with a formal request.
"Generally the Australian Government provide funding to assist litigation in Australian courts ... As this litigation is in a foreign court it would not be automatically be eligible to receive funding under the relevant guidelines," a spokesperson said.
While an unknown number of Aboriginal people simply "disappeared" after the atomic testings, those who survived and their families have experienced deaths, miscarriages, cancer, blackouts and terrible skin conditions in the years that followed.
Last year a British High Court case gave Maralinga victims, including 1000 ex-serviceman, the right to sue to British Government for the health problems they have suffered.
The judgement of an appeal into this case is expected within a matter of weeks.