31. Mefloquine Dispatches: Vanuatu, October 1996
by Shane Granger
In October 1996 the online parachute company from 3 RAR started to pre-deploy for Vanuatu after the Vanuatu Mobile Force mutinied. The U.S Department of State noted in its Human Rights report on the 30th of January 1997 that:
“The civilian authorities normally control the small police and paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force, however, a brief mutiny in October by elements of the VMF over pay issues shook the principle of civilian control. The mutiny was resolved without bloodshed.”
As the situation de-escalated the mission got scrubbed and was quietly forgotten, lost to history. Unfortunately, for the 3 RAR soldiers (along with attachments) they had already been given a Mefloquine Loading Dose.
Here is a text from a Digger who was exposed to Mefloquine on that Operation (along with during normal military service) and has since suffered life altering impacts from the drug. (Note: shared with permission with personal details removed). Excerpt:
Hi Shane. It’s * here. Love to catch up cause (sic) I got no idea what’s happening and am generally confused. I was contacted out of the blue by someone at dva (sic). This was 3 years ago. They said it was some mefloquine program and wanted to speak to me about my exposure to mefloquine. Told him I had no idea what he was talking about. But yes had taken malaria medication in 3 RAR and * in late 90’s. He told me he would email me. Following day a secure encrypted email show up. I ring him, he laughs, says oops and that he will resend it and just to delete it. Of course I don’t. But nothing shows up. I ring dva (sic). They keep fobbing me off saying someone from the mefloquine team will call me back. Never happened. I got shits and stopped calling. 6 months later I ring up to be told it’s an inquiry at the senate and I will need to lodge a claim. Advocates can’t tell me nothing till a month ago when advocate tells me to put in claim for mefloquine acquired anxiety disorder. I mention it to *, they say they saw some 60 mins show about it and was going to ring and ask me if I’d been on it cause of some of the shit I through in * then after discharge in *. So that’s me. I don’t really know more than that
This is just one example of the Department of Veterans Affairs covering up Mefloquine use in the ADF during the 1990s prior to the Senate Enquiry into the Use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in the Australian Defence Force. Unfortunately, it is not the only example.
I’ll leave on this note.
Bureaucrats don’t authorise cover-ups. C-Level does, in this case that would be the CDF, the Departmental Secretary and the Minister.
At the time of the Senate Enquiry (June 2018) the CDF was General Angus Campbell, the Departmental Secretary of DVA was General Liz Cosson (Ret) and the Minister was the Honourable Darren Chester.