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Senate Calls For 'Urgent' Apology To Australia's Thalidomide Survivors

Australia's thalidomide survivors should get an apology and increased compensation, according to the Senate, but the government is still dragging its heels.

On Tuesday, the upper house passed a motion condemning the federal government's slow response to a landmark report into the issue.

As 10 daily reported earlier this month, those with disabilities and birth defects from the drug are dismayed over the government's lack of response to the Senate's inquiry into the medication.

The Senate handed down its findings and recommendations in March -- chief among them being a national apology and expanded compensation to survivors -- but as of October 15, nothing has happened.

Six months on from the committee's report, thalidomide survivors say they are "gutted" at the lack of response from Health Minister Greg Hunt and the wider government.

Thalidomide survivor Lisa McManus. Image: supplied

Lisa McManus, Thalidomide Group Australia founding director, told 10 daily that survivors like herself "feel like just a little tin can being kicked down this dirty road."

READ MORE: Thalidomide Survivors 'Gutted' By 'Disgusting' Government Delays In Apologising

READ MORE: Thalidomide Victims Are Still Waiting For Compensation

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a motion from Greens senator Jordon Steele-John -- one of the politicians involved in the March report -- calling on the government to act.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John. Image: AAP

"The thalidomide disaster was the most significant pharmaceutical regulatory failure in Australian history. Thousands of affected babies died in vitro and survivors have lived with significant impairments since birth," the motion read.

"The government has not yet responded to the report and have indicated to survivors that they will not do so until mid-2020."

The use of the drug thalidomide in the 1950s and 60s -- marketed as a cure for morning sickness in pregnant women -- led to thousands of babies born with birth defects and disabilities.

Children from all over the world were born with shortened or missing limbs and appendages, deafness, and organ issues, among other medical problems.

Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image: AAP

McManus said Hunt and the government had offered a memorial in Canberra's national arboretum -- but she said that, while it would be a "magic" location in years to come, that it was currently a remote "paddock" which would be difficult for survivors in wheelchairs to access.

"Survivors have expressed the inadequacy of this offering as it is both inaccessible and unlikely to be enjoyed by survivors as many of them will be too immobile or would have passed away by the time the garden will have flourished," Steele-John's motion read.

"Further, survivors have clearly articulated the need for urgency in enacting all recommendations of the report, especially those which call for the provision of compensation to all survivors."

Thalidomide pills collected in Chicago during 1960s recalls. Image: Getty.

The government was urged to "urgently respond to the committee report" and "enact all recommendations" without delay.

The motion was agreed to in the Senate without a headcount vote.

Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam said the government was working on its response "as a matter of priority" but did not outline a timetable for enacting the recommendations, and defended the delay.

"The Morrison government recognises the plight of victims of thalidomide and understands they have suffered from circumstances outside their control. The experience of thalidomide has been a national tragedy," he said.

"A response to the recommendations of the Senate inquiry is complex and requires cross-portfolio consideration, therefore we will not be dictated on timing by those who have never been in a position to enact change, nor those who failed to enact change when they were in a position to do so."

Following the vote, Steele-John said it was important to move forward with a response without delay.

“Tonight the Senate called on the government to acknowledge the role they played in the Thalidomide crisis and urgently commit to supporting survivors for the rest of their lives - a historic motion and the first of its kind in the five decades since Australia’s worst medical disaster," he told 10 daily.

“Yet even with the unanimous recommendations of the Senate Inquiry and now the support of the Australian Senate, the government still has the nerve to say survivors must wait another six months to know if they will get the justice they deserve. It’s an absolute disgrace and a national shame."

A doctor in the 1960s looks at x-rays of legs of thalidomide babies. Image: Getty

McManus, aged 56, said medical testing had put her body at the equivalent of an 82-year-old.

"We're deteriorating at such an alarming rate, most of us will be too immobile or will be deceased," she said.

In a statement to 10 daily on October 2, Hunt's office acknowledged "the agony of Thalidomide sufferers has been a national tragedy."

"Minister Hunt has already indicated well before the Senate Committee report into thalidomide that the government would do what no government has done for the past 50 years, and offer a national apology and establish a national memorial," a spokesperson said.

"We are committed to a national memorial, which is to be determined on advice from thalidomide representatives."