The Fate of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Claim for Justice


The Greens want nuclear veterans to receive the same health care as other veterans over 70.

1892 veterans were exposed to radiation by British Nuclear Testing between 1952 and 1963, but a technicality stops them from getting the Gold Card health care other veterans over 70 receive.
Nuclear veterans suffer a 23% greater chance of having cancer than the general population and an 18% greater chance of dying from cancer.
In addition to cancers, nuclear veterans and their families have suffered birth defects and miscarriages, and other disorders such as anaemia and bronchial disease.

Less than $30 m per year is a small price to pay for the health care they deserve in old age.
The Greens support the case before the Australian Human Rights Commission on behalf of 290 veterans who claim their human rights were violated.
The Australian government knew about the dangerous radiation that would be dispersed from British Nuclear Testing.
We are running out of time to exercise our duty of care to these Australians.


Australians exposed to nuclear tests were done a great wrong. It is time we showed care for our nuclear veterans. These veterans are aging and should not incur further indignity due to an inability to pay medical costs, nor the further expense and delay of pursuing long-overdue justice.

Australian servicemen, often clad only in shorts and t-shirts, were exposed to nuclear tests while the British scientists in charge looked on wearing protective full body suits.

These veterans have paid a terrible price in terms of radiation-induced illness, suffering a 23% greater chance of having cancer than the general population and an 18% greater chance of dying from cancer.i

The Australian Greens will provide Australian veterans exposed to radiation from British nuclear weapons testing at the Montebello Islands, Maralinga and Emu Fields between 1952 and 1963 with the Gold Card to cover all medical care.

While other veterans over 70 years of age who experienced combat automatically receive the Gold Card, nuclear veterans currently do not because their injuries and illnesses were incurred from the actions of an ally rather than from an enemy or combat situation.

Nuclear veterans are required to prove their health problems are directly linked to radiation exposure from decades ago. Despite being exposed to very high levels of radiation, it is almost impossible to prove concretely that the tests caused an individual’s illnesses. Therefore, the Department of Veterans Affairs very seldom accepts their condition as caused by the tests.

The British detonated 12 nuclear weapons in Australia – three on the Montebello Islands in Western Australia (1952-56), seven at Maralinga (1956-7) and two at Emu Fields (1953) in South Australia. Nine tests were conducted over Christmas and Malden Islands (1957-8). Between 1960 and 1963, an estimated 22 kg of plutonium, uranium and other fission products were dispersed around Taranaki, the most contaminated of the test sites at Maralinga.

Radioactive fallout from the Montebello tests swept across the continent, reaching inland Queensland coastal towns and across to Fiji. Fallout from Maralinga reached Adelaide and Melbourne.

According to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, approximately 16,000 Australian civilians and servicemen were exposed to nuclear fallout.ii

For a small sum — $85.2 million over the forward estimates — the remaining 1,892 Australian nuclear veterans could be provided the same benefits and entitlements that other veterans are awarded.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has estimated providing the Gold Card to all defence personnel participants from 1 July 2014 would cost less than $30 million per year.

We would provide the Department for Veterans Affairs additional staffing of 2.75 FTE to administer implementation, for a cost of $0.4 million over the forward estimates.

Given the devastating impact on their lives and their families, this is a small price to pay.

We are running out of time to exercise our duty of care to these Australians. People should need only to prove that they were exposed to high levels of radiation as a result of the weapons testing in order to get the Gold Card.

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