Gordon Hooker of Wentworth Falls spent 18 years protecting Australia from bomb disposal terrorism

Gordon Hooker of Wentworth Falls spent 18 years protecting Australia from bomb terrorism.

The 53-year-old bomb defuser was forced into early retirement seven years ago due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is now leading a claim for active/warlike service status.

He represents a group of 250 Australian Army bomb disposal operators who worked on Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) in Australia from 1971-1994.

Mr Hooker said the Australian Defence Force is denying their group war service status and "even worse, current ADF hierarchy appear hell-bent to deny us such recognition at all costs. They keep moving the goalposts."

A growth in international bomb terrorism in Australia in the early 70s led to the need for a group in the army with dedicated IEDD skills. The ADF directed existing army logistics ammunition technical personnel to comply.

"We were under the impression we were operating under the control of an Australian Defence Force operation ... validated through incident management, deployment authorisation and post incident reporting ... done through army operations ...under the auspices of a national anti-terrorism plan."

Mr Hooker said the group undertook more than 200 "bomb disposal" incidents under army operational command, including the Hilton Hotel bombing in 1978, and even locally with the bomb threat of the Blue Mountains Council chambers in 1992-3.

"The dangers of an IED are the same regardless of whether they occur in downtown Sydney or Baghdad, and every operator is in immediate danger of death during every operation.

"Many IEDD incidents involved ... seeing a very high expectation of casualties and saw the extant approval for the application of force through our specialist weapons and equipment. I recall being told if we destroyed a building or car we would be protected under Defence law."

Mr Hooker personally worked at a bomb (suicide) at Inverell in 1990, a 20-hour body bombs siege at Liverpool in 1992 (which led to his PTSD), a petrol car bomb in Roselands in 1993 and many others. He was operational commander during an attempted bombing at Katoomba Council in 1993 (following an actual bombing the year before) and at another bomb incident at McDonalds Lithgow in 1993.

Some incidents gained notoriety, but many were kept quiet.

"Had we been louder in the media we are sure our current recognition process would be much easier," he added.

Many of those involved were recognised with an Australian Service Medal in 2001-3 but Mr Hooker called receiving the medal "disappointing". "I'm still proud to wear this award, but it's less than acceptable given the dangers we faced."

"All we are after is appropriate recognition for our service."

Mr Hooker is on a disability pension and said without the warlike services being approved he cannot gain access to the Veterans service pension (about $300 extra a week) or the ADF home loan scheme.

"More importantly, I have great difficulty calling myself a veteran as my service to our nation has not been fully recognised."

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman said she recognised the importance of the service provided by Mr Hooker and all members of the IEDD and the risk they took to protect others.

She organised for Mr Hooker to meet with the shadow Defence and Veterans Affairs ministers to discuss the claim and said she would continue to advocate for greater recognition for him "with the next government, whoever that may be".

Mr Hooker also recently met with Liberal candidate Sarah Richards.

The 2003 Clarke Review of Veteran Entitlements found that warlike operations could occur upon the Australian mainland, stating "and the committee can see no reason why counter terrorism activities, in the event of such an attack, should not be declared to be warlike service".

Mr Hooker said almost half of the bomb disposal members are now suffering with PTSD. After a four-and-a-half-year, all-consuming battle, he will meet with the Veteran Affairs minister this week.