Transcript of Peter Burn’s speech at the Engineering Reunion                  





To the organisers, thank you very much for the invitation to be your speaker tonight. It has been suggested that as we have all spent years of our lives in naval engineering it might be more interesting if I gave you a brief resume about how I got involved in Advocacy work and a couple of the more serious problems that we as ex-naval engineering personnel are susceptible to.

I joined ACT NAA Section 1987 and was soon skidded into being Secretary in  1988

In 1990 I was invited to stand as Federal Secretary. On the morning of 1st June 1990 was heading to Brisbane for the Naval Assn triennial conference when I got a call from the ABC re the death of Governor Martin. Somebody had informed Pru Goward that I was somebody who had been trying to raise the issue of what I perceived to be an asbestos problem in the navy. Was a little concerned at first as I had heard the same lady cut some of her interviewees to pieces. Anyway she gave me a good hearing and the chance to get the message across.

After a couple of appearances on talk back radio shows and visits to Ministers the Enfield inquiry was set up. This was about the time when the infamous statement “asbestos is perfectly safe you can eat it” was made. This may have been technically correct, it was just bad luck that you couldn’t breathe the same stuff.  John Enfield handed down a very interesting and thorough report but unfortunately his terms of reference were with relation to asbestos problems at that time and in the future. He was not able to go back into the 40’s to 70’s where the main problems came from.

Despite the limitation of this report, due my representations on behalf of the Naval Assn a system was set up through the Health Services of Australia which made available a screening service for all service personnel, in fact for anyone who had been in serious contact with asbestos products. I presume you have all seen the feeding frenzy going on about Hardies and fibro cement usage.

This system is still available, the contact point for ex-defence personnel is through 1800 000 655. If you contact this number they will forward an Asbestos Exposure Evaluation  Questionnaire to you and make arrangements for an x-ray followed by a Doctors appointment.  In typical government fashion the form you receive, as held up here, is designed to cover all persons exposed to asbestos from the miner to the manufacturer to the user like you and I. You need to be careful how you fill it out. At the end of my talk you will find a brief on how to fill the form out.

If any asbestos related illness is revealed you will be informed and it is then that you want to contact myself or some other advocate to assist in raising a claim on DVA/SRCA/MCRS which ever system you are covered by. If they consider that you have had a high exposure rate although no Asbestos Related Illness (ARI) was revealed they will include you on a register to be called back at various intervals for ongoing surveys.

About this time I found out that some naval assn personnel in Sydney were assisting veterans in applying for disability pensions through DVA. It caused me much concern to find out these people had no formal training, no up to date copy of the Veterans Entitlement Act, (second only to the Tax Act for its complexity) and also had no insurance cover against litigation. There was a training medium available but as the RSL was the coordinator they kept it amongst themselves. While some of their advocates were top class the majority had little or no knowledge of naval matters or problems.   

With the backing of the naval assn I went to the Minister for veterans Affairs, at the time Con Sciacca. After a couple of meetings a new system of training was set up in which all Ex-service organisations could participate. As long as the participants were accredited to an ESO an insurance policy, 90% government funded is now provided to cover them. In these days of instant litigation this was badly needed. This is how I got involved in the system and am now qualified to a level where I can represent personnel up to and at the Veterans Review Board.

I am a member of a composite group in Canberra called the Veterans Advice and Advocacy Service whose members cover all services and have had service from 1942 to the late 1980’s. You can contact us through the Department of Veterans Affairs office in Moore Street Canberra or myself at 02 6241 5329.

While the Veterans Entitlement Act is probably the best service to veterans throughout the world it is difficult to get into and at times, because of the Statements of Principle is far too rigid. In an attempt to bring in a level playing field statements of principle were written to cover almost every known injury or disease but often some of the more common factors relating to a problem are not included and as the SOP'’ are legislated they are law and there is no flexibility allowed.

One of the more recent problems that has arisen is that of the contamination of water distilled in Vung Tau and off the coast of Vietnam. Recently a second morbidity study was carried out by DVA regarding Vietnam veterans and their offspring. Its findings were a shock as pro rata there appeared to be more problems emanating from ex-naval persons that from the other two services, further studies showed that it was the persons with the least time in Vietnam that were affected the most, ie, the logistic support group.

At about this time an international symposiums on toxicology was held in Brisbane. DVA’s representative was a Doctor Keith Horsley and he and a couple of European toxicology experts set up several lab tests to try and determine the cause of the problem. Having served in Sydney on a number of occasions, the last time as Senior Engineer, I became involved with Keith Horsley. Having doctored some raw water with various toxins from agents orange and blue (which had been sprayed over Vietnam) into what they believed would have been a similar state to the water we were drawing up to make both feed and ships water they carried out various lab tests. The results of these tests showed that in the first 10% distilled 75 to 95% of the dioxins were carried over with the distillate. Therefore the longer we distilled the more highly the concentration in the ships tanks became. The report from these tests is on the Internet, its called the NRCET (National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology) report and is 75 pages long.

While the government has accepted the results of the tests only one statement of principle, for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, has been amended to date to cover this problem. With the backing of the RDFWA I have forwarded a request to the Repatriation Medical Authority to amend ALL statements of Principle where a factor refers to 30 days in or about the waters of Vietnam. In a recent case a woman was refused a War Widows Pension as although her husband had done nine trips to Vietnam an Sydney DVA delegate only allowed three day per trip for a total of 27 days and the Statement of Principle demanded 30 days, what did I say about rigidity. I was able to put in  a deposition to her Legacy Advocate which overturned the original decision as I referred to their own report which stated on page 35 that the “ the water produced while in contaminated waters lasted for a significant portion of the return trip”, therefore the 30 days was unreasonable.


Well gents, I think that I have had the floor long enough, if you have any general questions please speak up and if you have any personal questions catch me with a beer in my hand and I will see if I can help you. Thanks again to the organisers for the opportunity to talk on these most important subjects.


Please note, this transcript is forwarded on by this website as helpful information. If you have any queries, please contact the author.