Backflip on support for Maralinga compensation

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.

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The day the black and red cloud came for us


Sandra Dingaman Taylor,
Maureen Williams
and Mabel Lochowiak

Bryan Littlely Adelaide Advertiser March 01, 2010

Maureen Williams was just a baby in her mother's arms the day the "black mist" changed her people forever.

It was 1953 and her family lived in the harsh desert west of Coober Pedy in a camp at 12 Mile.

The months-old baby, her older sister, brother, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents were living a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle from their creek bed home when, more than 350km away, the first of nine outback nuclear bombs was detonated at the Emu Field testing site.

They did not understand what the rising black mushroom cloud off in the distance was, or that the black mist which turned red as it rolled across the desert towards their camp would strike them down with sickness.

"My aunty told me it came across the plains - thick, black and red," Ms Williams, now 57, of Coober Pedy, said.

"It went through our camp. Straight away people got sick. They were being sick, spewing, and then they got bad skin."

Ms Williams' friends, Sandra Dingaman Taylor and Mabel Lochowiak, said the big red cloud went all the way to Andamooka and Woomera.

"At the time, a lot of people died around this Coober Pedy area," Ms Lochowiak said. "There were lots of families out there and there were lots of babies born with deformities . . . lumps on their heads and with no nostrils, things like that."

Ms Williams has always suffered from a skin complaint and needs ongoing specialist treatment. She has nominated to be a part of the class action against the British Ministry of Defence, believing the fallout from their nuclear testing at Maralinga and Emu Field in the APY Lands is the cause of her ailment.

The South Australian arm of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement is helping British lawyers collate a list of potential candidates for a class action compensation claim. - Read More

Atomic testing victims must have day in court

Tammy Franks, MLC Mathaba 2nd November, 2010

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”

Original Australian Victims Test Justice System

Melissa Mack www.mathaba.net 2nd November 2010

Aboriginal victims of nuclear testing in the 1950s are likely to be denied the chance to claim millions of dollars in compensation, with the State Government refusing to help fund their legal fight.

A motion to help fund the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) case was passed by the Legislative Council late Wednesday night without Labor support, making it unlikely to pass the Lower House.

Service personnel, public servants and indigenous residents suffered side-effects including cancer, birth defects and immediate loss of eyesight following exposure to radiation from the British nuclear tests near Maralinga.

Following a landmark ruling in the British courts last year, British ex-servicemen and their widows won the right to take the UK Ministry of Defence to court in a class action suit.

That case is currently under appeal. If the victims are successful, a similar case will be launched by Australian veterans with the support of Sydney law firm Stacks Goudkamp.

ALRM is also hoping to launch a suit to claim compensation for the Aboriginal victims who lived on the land.

Greens MLC Tammy Franks put forward the motion, which asked the Government to contribute to legal costs “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 is a great moral victory,” Ms Franks said of the win in the Legislative Council.

“I am hopeful this vote will force Mike Rann to reconsider his position and at last put his money where his mouth was on Maralinga.”

Ms Franks said it was disappointing the Government did not vote in favour of the motion. She accused Labor of abandoning its social justice principles.

Labor MLC Bernard Finnigan last night said the testing was “very regrettable”.

But he said the Government “does not support funding the ALRM for the purposes of running a case in the UK with respect to nuclear testing by the British Government in South Australia”.

ALRM chief executive Neil Gillespie has slammed the federal and state governments, saying they cannot deny justice for Aboriginal people.

“The Government is abdicating its responsibility to the Aboriginal people and one would expect the Prime Minister to rectify that.

“It’s an opportunity to do what is right and assist ALRM to help the innocent victims.”

Mr Gillespie said he expected the state and federal governments to provide a dollar-for-dollar commitment to support the case on the basis that it would be returned if the case was won.

The funding would provide support to the UK lawyers in gathering information and research so they can mount a case.

Both the ALRM and veterans’ cases are likely to need significant funding help, with the UK case reportedly already costing £18 million ($A29 million).

Stacks Goudkamp solicitor Michael Giles is working on the veterans case on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. He said it was unlikely the Federal Government would help fund any of the compensation claims.

In 1993, the British Government paid £20 million ($A32.4 million) to the Australian Government as a compensation fund for the clean-up of the nuclear testing sites.

Mr Giles said if the veterans’ case was successful, there would probably be another legal battle between Britain and Australia as to where that compensation money should come from.

But he said the veterans’ case and the ALRM case were different.

“The way the exposure took place is different, which plays a big role legally in determining negligence. There’s a difference between being told to work there and it happening at the place where you go about your daily business.”

ALRM chief executive Neil Gillespie has slammed the federal and state governments, saying they cannot deny justice for Aboriginal people.

“The Government is abdicating its responsibility to the Aboriginal people and one would expect the Prime Minister to rectify that.

“It’s an opportunity to do what is right and assist ALRM to help the innocent victims.”

Mr Gillespie said he expected the state and federal governments to provide a dollar-for-dollar commitment to support the case on the basis that it would be returned if the case was won.

The funding would provide support to the UK lawyers in gathering information and research so they can mount a case.

Both the ALRM and veterans’ cases are likely to need significant funding help, with the UK case reportedly already costing £18 million ($A29 million).

Stacks Goudkamp solicitor Michael Giles is working on the veterans case on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. He said it was unlikely the Federal Government would help fund any of the compensation claims.

In 1993, the British Government paid £20 million ($A32.4 million) to the Australian Government as a compensation fund for the clean-up of the nuclear testing sites.

Mr Giles said if the veterans’ case was successful, there would probably be another legal battle between Britain and Australia as to where that compensation money should come from.

But he said the veterans’ case and the ALRM case were different.

“The way the exposure took place is different, which plays a big role legally in determining negligence. There’s a difference between being told to work there and it happening at the place where you go about your daily business.”

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