Please note, this story contains the names and images of people who have died.
A compensation scheme is being requested from the Western Australian Government today for families affected by workers exposed to Agent Orange herbicides used by the Agricultural Protection Board (APB) in the 1970s and 1980s.
The National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) launched the campaign this morning, calling for the McGowan Government to set up a dedicated fund for families, spouses and individuals still caring for those who were exposed to the herbicide as well as relatives of deceased former workers.
“We are dealing with people affected by the herbicides. The Geoff Gallop Government acknowledged that there was increased likelihood of cancers to exposed APB workers from the Agent Orange akin herbicides,” said Megan Krakouer, Director of the NSPTRP.
“The impacts on the families is intergenerational. They need validation that the State cares, and that they are entitled to substantive compensations, and this will assist with their trauma recovery.”
The NSPTRP is supporting families who currently live or formerly lived in the Kimberley region who have been affected by obscure cancers believed to be attributable to the dioxin, tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD).
A combination of two potent herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, TCDD is most commonly known as ‘Agent Orange’ and was notoriously used in chemical warfare during the Vietnam War.
These same herbicide ingredients were used in the APB’s spray program across the Kimberley where workers were not provided with protective gear.
According to the World Health Organisation, dioxins are highly toxic, can cause damage to the body’s immune system and cause cancer.
“A significant aspect to ensure trauma recovery for the affected, for their partners and for the children, is for the negligence to be validated, for the compensations to be at long last settled,” said Gerry Georgatos, National Coordinator of the NSPTRP.
Georgatos said a dedicated fund needs to be set up – not just token payments.
“The affected should have something to tap into,” he said.
Should the scheme fail to happen, Krakouer and Georgatos have plans to take the matter a step further.
“We are also calling for as many former APB workers to contact us, because if the dedicated scheme doesn’t happen, we will tilt a shot at a class action. We will do whatever we have to do by all these vulnerable people,” Krakouer said.
One of the plaintiffs leading the charge is Susan Sinclair. Her partner, Cyril Hunter, was an APB worker spraying the harmful herbicides throughout the Kimberley.
He died aged 33, leaving behind Sinclair and their son, Nigel.
Nigel Sinclair also passed away at 31 from leiomyosarcoma an aggressive and rare cancer. He also left behind two sons, Kolby, 8, and Connor, 11.
“In [Cyril’s] job with the APB he dealt with the drums of the Agent Orange herbicides. There were times we lay next to each other on the back of the truck with the drums,” Sinclair said.
“Baby Nigel was held and played with his dad, while [he] was wearing his APB clothes which were not disinfected. The Governments have to do the right thing and stop waiting for us all to die out.”
Sinclair and her grandsons, now 14 and 17, are fighting for justice through the heartache.
“There’s one negligence after another by State Governments. I have been without Cyril since 1983, because of the Agent Orange ingredients [he] was exposed to,” Sinclair said.
“Our son, Nigel, was a toddler [when Cyril died] and our hearts tore when he passed as a young father of two, of Connor and Kolby, sons without a father.”
“Watching my son grow without his father was heartbreaking. Watching my grandsons grow without their father is heartbreaking. I will never end this campaign for justice.”
In 2004, the findings from the State Government’s 2002 Kimberley Chemical Use Review were investigated by an expert medical panel.
The panel found that exposure to Agent Orange ingredients may have increased the risk of cancer.
The WA Government has acknowledged the impact of harmful chemicals in the past, such as the use of DDT throughout the Ord River area in the 1960s and 1970s. Trace amounts of DDT were still found in plants and animals as of 2008.
“APB workers may suffer or may have already suffered an increase in the risk of cancer due to their exposure to herbicides in the spray program containing the dioxin tetrachlorodibenzodioxin,” said Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at the time, Kim Chance.
The NSPTRP will continue to advocate for the affected parties and have stated their readiness to step up into litigation if necessary.
“It’s been four decades of inquiries, reports, assertions of potential compensation, and ultimately betrayals of expectations.
“If we have to commission legal action … [and] if Governments will not respect and culminate civilities, we will commission legal action in pursuit of righting wrongs,” Georgatos said.
By Hannah Cross