Defence - F-111 Deseal/Reseal maintenance workers further support


Budget Review 2010-11 Index

Budget 2010–11: Defence

F-111 Deseal/Reseal maintenance workers—further support

Nicole Brangwin

The Government has allocated $55 million over five years (including the current financial year) towards a new health care and compensation package for former F-111 aircraft fuel tank maintenance workers.[1] This initiative responds to recommendations made by the Parliamentary Inquiry into ‘Deseal/Reseal’ repair activities on Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) F-111 fuel tanks between 1973 and 2000.[2] It is expected to deliver wider access by:

... expanding the definition of eligible personnel and the benefits and services available to them – to provide better access to care and compensation under the SRCA [Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988].[3]

However, some former F-111 maintenance personnel have expressed dissatisfaction with the Government’s new initiative claiming:

… the package is insulting. They say it excludes many of the people who have suffered the most and offers little more in terms of real increases in funding.[4] 

The following table from Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2010–11 illustrates the distribution of the $55 million over the next five years, commencing from the current financial year 2009–10:[5]

F-111 Deseal/Reseal maintenance workers—further support

Expense ($m)

         
 

2009–10

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

2013–14

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

2.2

18.4

13.3

11.8

11.1

Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

..

..

..

..

..

Department of Health and Ageing

..

-0.3

-0.4

-0.5

-0.5

Total

2.1

18.1

12.8

11.3

10.6

A number of inquiries and health studies conducted from 2001 found that thousands of former F-111 maintenance workers had been exposed to toxic chemicals while working on the aircraft’s fuel tanks.[6] Unsurprisingly, many of these workers have presented with various physical and psychological health concerns. The first study, called the Study of Health Outcomes in Aircraft Maintenance Personnel (SHOAMP), found that a higher rate of adverse health problems was evident in F-111 Deseal/Reseal maintenance personnel than comparison groups.[7] As a result, the SHOAMP Health Care Scheme was established to provide treatment and counselling services to affected personnel. This scheme closed after September 2005 but has now been reopened as part of the Government’s budget initiative to adequately compensate and treat affected personnel and their families.[8]

In 2009, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade made 18 recommendations in its report examining issues surrounding the RAAF F-111 Deseal/Reseal program.[9] The Government’s initial response to the report was outlined in this year’s Budget.[10] In the full response tabled in Parliament on 13 May 2010 the Government accepted 14 of the Committee’s recommendations, some with modifications and/or enhancements, and rejected four. The rejected recommendations relate to the ex-gratia payment scheme, where one-off lump sum payments ranging from $10 000 to $40 000 were made to eligible applicants.[11]

The Committee report noted that the ex-gratia payment scheme excluded a large number of workers who conducted ‘pick and patch’ programs on the aircraft and recommended that the scheme’s eligibility criteria be expanded to include these potential applicants.[12] The Government rejected this proposal on the basis that the:

... scheme did not make payments based upon need but based upon working conditions. As a consequence the majority of ex-gratia payments were made to personnel who were not suffering adverse health conditions. At the same time, other personnel suffering from similar health conditions were not able to access appropriate health care and compensation.[13]

Nonetheless, the Government intends to keep the ex-gratia payment scheme open as previous applicants who were rejected, due to a lack of supporting documentation, might now have the opportunity to reapply under the newly established statutory declaration process.[14] Additionally, the Government accepted the Committee’s recommendation to remove the barrier which prevented the estates of eligible former personnel who died prior to 8 September 2001 from accessing the ex-gratia scheme.[15] 


[1].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, pp. 303–304, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.budget.gov.au/2010-11/content/bp2/html/bp2_expense-22.htm

[2].    A Griffin (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel), $55 million package for former F-111 aircraft fuel tank maintenance workers, media release, 11 May 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2FZ0PW6%22

[3].    Australian Government, Government Response to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Report: Sealing a just outcome: Report from the Inquiry into RAAF F-111 Deseal/Reseal workers and their families, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 13 May 2010, p. 3, viewed 14 May 2010, http://f111.dva.gov.au/documents/342641_DVA%20Deseal%20Reseal_Gov_Response.pdf

[4].    Editorial, ‘F-111 compensation package ‘insulting’’, ABC News, 12 May 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/05/12/2896857.htm?section=justin and M Edwards, ‘Scepticism over government offer to Air Force personnel exposed to toxic chemicals’, ABC Radio National: PM, 12 May 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22emms%2Femms%2F169965%22

[5].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, op. cit., p. 303.

[6].    For further details about these inquiries and studies, refer to the ‘history’ section of the joint Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs dedicated F-111 fuel tank maintenance website, viewed 13 May 2010, http://f111.dva.gov.au/index.htm

[7].    Australian Government, Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DoD and DVA), ‘F-111 fuel tank maintenance—studies’, Joint DoD and DVA website, viewed 13 May 2010, http://f111.dva.gov.au/studies.htm

[8].    A Griffin (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel), op. cit.

[9].    Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT), Sealing a just outcome: Report from the Inquiry into RAAF F-111 Deseal/Reseal workers and their families, JSCFADT, Canberra, June 2009, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jfadt/deseal_reseal/report.htm

[10]. Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, op. cit., pp. 303–304.

[11]. Australian Government, Government Response to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Report: Sealing a just outcome: Report from the Inquiry into RAAF F-111 Deseal/Reseal workers and their families, op. cit., pp. 10–11 and F-111 fuel tank maintenance website, ‘Ex-gratia lump-sum payment scheme’, op. cit.

[12]. ‘Pick and Patch’ is an idiomatic term used to describe maintenance programs involving ad-hoc repairs to aircraft fuel tanks, as opposed to conducting formal Deseal/Reseal overhauls— Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT), Sealing a just outcome: Report from the Inquiry into RAAF F-111 Deseal/Reseal workers and their families, op. cit., pp. 11, 146.

[13]. Australian Government, Government Response to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Report: Sealing a just outcome: Report from the Inquiry into RAAF F-111 Deseal/Reseal workers and their families, op. cit., p. 10.

[14]. The statutory declaration process allows applications to be made, in the absence of documentary evidence, in support of their case for compensation and treatment—ibid.

[15]. ibid., p. 7.


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