The report of the Inquiry into RAAF F-111 Deseal-Reseal workers and their families tabled in Parliament this week has recommended that approximately 2000 Defence personnel who worked in the F-111 fuel tanks be included in the F-111 ex-gratia scheme as recognition of their working conditions.

Member for Page, Janelle Saffin, a member of the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s Defence Sub-Committee which conducted the inquiry, said there were some local people among those affected, and she has welcomed the report’s recommendations.

Chair of the Inquiry Arch Bevis said: “The recommendations of this Inquiry, if adopted, will rectify the shortcomings of the Howard Government’s 2005 scheme which was born of fuzzy logic, shrouded in misleading spin and then administered in confusion.

“Those workers involved in running repairs of the fuel tank leaks undertook work known as ‘pick and patch’.

“Without explanation, the 2005 scheme provided assistance to workers who did pick and patch in the formal Deseal/Reseal programs but not to about 2000 other Defence personnel in three other squadrons who undertook the same duties.

“The recent inquiry recommends that those 2000 forgotten F-111 Defence personnel receive the appropriate ex-gratia payments and other assistance.

“The report also makes recommendations for assistance to be provided to the long-suffering families of those affected, improved communication with the wider F-111 fuel tank repair community and improvements in the handling of occupational medicine and OH&S issues within the wider Australian Defence Force.”

The Inquiry concluded that there was a lack of clear evidence to prove certain chemicals used in the F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs were the cause of widespread health problems in the F-111 fuel tank repair community.

However, the report’s 18 recommendations are wide-ranging and cover ex-gratia payments, health matters and processes:

The recommendations ensure access to the ex-gratia scheme is based on the work undertaken in the tanks, not the unit nor the year in which the work was undertaken. As a result, about 2000 RAAF personnel will qualify for the scheme.

Increased counselling support for families is recommended to help those affected move on with their lives.

The Committee will seek regular reports on the progress of civil legal action taken by F-111 personnel in the hope that these can be concluded in a reasonable time.

An urgent increase in the number of occupational medicine specialists. Amazingly, the Australian Defence Force has only one full-time person in this role.

Further research into the health implications of working with aviation fuels is also recommended.

Mr Bevis added: “My hope is that the report’s release brings some closure to those affected by working in the F-111 fuel tanks, some of whom have waited many years for recognition.”

Downloadable copies of the report are available on the Committee’s inquiry website.