The Struggle for Information

In 1994 the Atomic ExServicemens’ Association asked me to investigate the contamination of Adelaide’s drinking water by nuclear fallout from the British Atomic Tests conducted in Australia.

Professor Titterton and others of the Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee in 1962 had published a scientific paper in a learned journal. In this paper a brief mention is made of fallout measurements in drinking water. On the basis of this, I decided to seek the full data of the radiological monitoring of South Australian drinking water for the period of the Atomic Weapons Tests in Australia and South Australia.

A request to the then State Liberal government initially met with a rebuff, but after negotiations conducted by mail, I was sent the radiological monitoring data of Adelaide water storages for the period 1965 to 1995. Helen Caldicott had achieved the release of this information in the 1970s. It was interesting, but not what I required.

The crucial undisclosed period was from 1952 until 1964.

At the time I received this information, I was informed by the South Australian government and by SA Water Corp that the data I sought did not, in fact, exist.

I was unconvinced.

In the early 2000s, Dr Roger Cross made contact with the Atomic ExServicemens’ Association.

Dr Cross was researching a forthcoming book and attended the Annual General Meeting of the Atomic ExServicemens’ Association in Adelaide.

I advised Dr Cross of the situation regarding the radiological monitoring of SA Drinking Water data of the 1950s/ early 1960s. In response, Dr Cross lodged a formal Freedom of Information request at some expense in an attempt to obtain the data.

The terms of the South Australian Radiation Protection Act at that time made the release of information very, very unlikely.

At the state election which took place at around the same time, the Labor Opposition campaigned on an openness in government platform, among other things, and specifically promised to amend the Radiation Protection Act to this end. The Labor Party won the election and took power during the period of time in which Dr Cross’ FOI application was already under consideration.

It was with great disappointment that Dr Cross advised me that the FOI request lodged by him had been rejected by the new government. In the end the appeal lodged by Dr Cross was also rejected.

However, the State government, in the course of giving reasons for the rejection of the request for the information, confirmed that the data being sought did indeed exist.

After the politically delicate appeal process had run its course, I again sought the information on an informal basis from the SA government, in the same manner as I had pursued it with the previous Olsen government.

It was now the mid 2000s and Dr Cross and Avon Hudson had finished a book about the impacts of nuclear testing in Australia.

They sought two things from the SA government. Funding for the book, so that it might be published. And funding for a permanent memorial to South Australia’s nuclear victims.

The funding for these projects would be in doubt, I was informed, if I proceeded with my attempts to obtain the 1950s SA drinking water radiological monitoring data. I elected to cease my attempts at obtaining the information from the South Australian government.

The SA government agreed to the funding for the book and memorial. The day was an important event, and a number of people travelled many miles to attend.

I have a strong feeling the data being sought will be an indictment of the nuclear test autorities. It is in the public interest for it to be released.

The fallout residue has long since bound to the colloidal silt at the bottom of the dams. The Olsen government improved SA drinking water in the metro area and some country areas by filtering it.

So what is the State government protecting in suppressing the old data that I sought?

Does anybody else want to have a go at getting the information?

I believe the information will be of great value to the South Australian community. Especially to those South Australian families who require evidence for historic or other purposes.

Within all this I see a glimmer of the hidden hand of influence which, over the years, teased animosity out of the nuclear veterans and which, still today causes a tragic schism between the organisations which in fact have a common goal of serving, supporting, advocating and remembering Australia’s nuclear veterans. The fact is a government elected on the promise of openness failed, in my view as a voter, to live up to what it promised. And in the process, that government imposed upon me a choice no taxpayer in this state should have to make.

The choice as to whether to pursue a matter of my choosing, or to refrain and desist, allowing others, engaged in another matter altogether, to proceed.

Release the data Mr Hill, I have waited long enough.

One Response to “The Struggle for Information”

  1. CaptD Says:

    Salute to all those whose lives have been affected by their Governments hiding information about nuclear energy…

    Open Government really means “less secret”…

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