Monday, 23 November 2009
Assisting the Victims of International Terrorism Bill 2009
That the bill be read a second time.
I do appreciate the chance to speak again on this Assisting the Victims of International Terrorism Bill 2009. This is a very important bill, because it is about trying to assist the civilian casualties of the war on terror. The war on terror has been a bipartisan exercise in this parliament. It was begun, if you like, by the Howard government in conjunction with our allies; it was, in most respects, enthusiastically supported by the then opposition; and the Rudd government is certainly participating vigorously in the war on terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere—and it is right that the Rudd government should do so.
But this is not just something that affects Australian military personnel. We have seen on several major occasions now how the war on terror has touched ordinary Australian citizens who have found themselves in the line of fire. In the World Trade Centre on September 11 there were Australian victims; tragically, in Bali in 2002 and again in 2005 there were Australian victims; and in London, and twice in Jakarta, there were Australian victims. All up, more than 300 Australians have been killed or seriously injured as a result of Australia’s participation in the war on terror.
If we take the second Bali bombing: the bombers went to that beachside restaurant in Bali precisely because they knew there would be Australians there. Australians were directly targeted in that instance precisely because they were Australian. In other instances, of course, it was because they were citizens of the West generally, but in Bali in particular, Australians were precisely targeted because of their Australian citizenship.
Through the bill we are debating I am proposing a national scheme, analogous to the state victims of crime schemes, for the innocent Australian victims and the innocent Australian civilian casualties of the war on terror. I am not proposing a massively costly scheme. If all of those 300 plus people or next of kin got the maximum amount I envisage of $75,000, it would cost the Commonwealth government about $30 million at the most.
I read in the Newcastle Herald today that it was not the federal government’s job to provide assistance or compensation. If it is not the federal government’s job, it is no-one’s job. If there is any responsibility of the federal government it is surely to protect and look after Australians who get into trouble abroad, particularly if those Australians are being targeted, at least in part, because of our participation in the war on terror. I also read in the Newcastle Herald this morning something about the government looking at compensating all people who get hurt. That is a nice thought but, as Paul Anicich, one of the victims of the 2005 Bali bombings, said, he first heard this from Gough Whitlam back in 1973. These people deserve better than to have to wait 20 or 30 years for a general scheme and, frankly, they are in a different position to people who just happen to get injured in the ordinary course of life.
I want to thank Paul Anicich and Tony Purkiss, two of the Newcastle survivors of the 2005 Bali bombings, for coming to the parliament today. I did not have the privilege of meeting Paul on that dreadful aftermath day, but I have got to know him quite well since. He is a great man. He in particular, along with everyone else, deserves to be acknowledged and assisted. And Tony Purkiss—what an inspiration! He was blinded by that attack. He is still engaged in ocean racing. Yes, great spirit is shown by these people, but they also deserve acknowledgement and recognition.
Finally, I do want to thank the Prime Minister for his gracious treatment of my question in the parliament. I am pleased that the government is looking at the matter. Something has to be done. It does not have to be this bill, but it has to be something. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the private members’ bill Assisting the Victims of International Terrorism Bill 2009. This bill is opposed by the government in its current form. However, as the Prime Minister said today in question time, we are prepared to consult around finding better ways to support the ongoing needs of those who sustain physical and psychological harm as a result of catastrophic incidents such as terrorism. We are prepared to do that in a thorough and proper way.
Tonight the Prime Minister has announced that the government will engage the Productivity Commission to examine the feasibility of a national long-term care and support scheme, a scheme that would address this issue of improving the support to those of special need, no matter how the injury or harm is sustained. In his speech he also made special mention of the victims of terrorism, including Paul Anicich and Tony Purkiss, who were here today. It is a very welcome acknowledgement of his recognition of their circumstances. Improving the system for all Australians remains the government’s focus. However, as the member for Newcastle and the public representative of the families and individuals affected by the 2005 Bali bombings, I have particular sympathy for them as, I know, do the mover of the bill and also the seconder, the member for Paterson.
I put on the record my acceptance that the member for Warringah brings forward this legislation in good faith and out of genuine concern for the victims that he has come to know well. When he found himself on site during the 2005 Bali bombings, he provided enormous direct support to the Newcastle victims, working closely with Novocastrian Dr Adam Frost, who was also in attendance that night, to gain the most appropriate medical assistance and arrange the rapid evacuation to other medical facilities and back to Australia. I note that Dr Frost’s actions were appropriately recognised through the Australian honours list in 2007, when he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for ‘service to the community through the provision of medical aid to victims of the 2005 Bali bombings’. I have no doubt that the actions of Tony Abbott and Adam Frost saved some victims from prolonged suffering, disability or even the loss of their life. Like the victims and their families, I will be forever grateful for their actions on that night.
I also put on the record my appreciation of the resolute efforts of Paul Anicich to raise the ongoing complications physical, mental and material faced by his fellow victims and their families. As I have said, Paul was in the chamber today, as was Tony Purkiss, who lost his sight in the 2005 bombings. I acknowledge both their presence and the way in which they exemplify the ongoing mutual concern and support that exists amongst the Newcastle victims of the bombings.
The bill before the House today applies to:
… Australians who are killed or injured as a result of international terrorist acts by establishing a framework to facilitate the provision of financial assistance for persons who suffer injury as a consequence or their next of kin.
Within the bill, ‘Priorities for assistance’ designates:
… a person who suffered injury requiring hospitalisation as a result of an international terrorist act or to the next of kin of a person who suffered death as a result of such an act.
The bill also provides for the development of eligibility and implementation guidelines by the Attorney-General, after extensive consultation, for the provision of a compensation payment which must not exceed $75,000. In rejecting this bill on this occasion, it is important to understand that this is a bill with insufficient detail or specifics regarding the key issues of eligibility criteria, payment thresholds or administration of this payment over the long term.
As mentioned previously, the Rudd government is intent on providing rigorous attention to the needs of Australians who suffer disabilities and injuries of all kinds and from all circumstances so that the process eventually adopted is the right one and is informed by those who themselves suffer, by their carers, and by the medical and social sectors that provide services to those affected. As noted by the Prime Minister tonight, the process we have begun takes note of the special needs of the victims of international terrorism. The study will consider coverage of entitlements and implications for health services.
I have endeavoured over these years to keep our ministers informed of special issues that have arisen, and I thank the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, who met with Mr Paul Anicich at the community cabinet in Newcastle late last year. An issue raised at that time was the need for some type of identification and medical record that would save victims from having to repeatedly explain and revisit the reason for their condition to various medical and support personnel. It is pleasing that the government is currently also in negotiation with the states regarding the development of a national individual electronic health record for all Australians, something I am sure could assist the victims of terrorism who have ongoing needs and certainly do not want to revisit the trauma in these ways.
In response to another issue raised with me, the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, and the Minister for Human Services and minister responsible for Centrelink, Chris Bowen, are currently considering ways to improve the processing of medical claims made by victims of terrorism who come under the special assistance schemes such as the scheme set up for those who sustained injuries during Bali 2005. However, that a special unit is already dedicated to these people and does have the experience and training to deliver this service promptly and effectively means that anything we do must be considered carefully and any change we make must enhance, not detract, from the system. That scheme, of course, covers the survivors, immediate family members of Australian survivors, and deceased Australians and eligible foreign nationals.
I stress that the Newcastle victims involved in the 2005 Bali bombings have been very appreciative of the assistance that they received from government at the time of the bombings—the previous government—and the support they have received since. I understand that they advocate strongly for system improvements that will benefit not just themselves but all of those who have been affected by acts of international terrorism, perhaps the most heinous of crimes against a nation and its people. At the time of the 2005 Bali incident FaHCSIA implemented an ex gratia assistance package for the victims and their families. This has been the case for victims of international terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002, London in 2005, Egypt and Lebanon in 2006, Mumbai in 2008 and Jakarta in 2009.
That package, of course, is an extensive one, and it is devised in response to each specific circumstance. I think that flexibility is something we have all appreciated. At the personal level, though, I wish to repeat my appreciation and that of the 2005 Bali victims for the way in which so many agency and department personnel provided more than just functionary support at the time. Their compassion and considered support went beyond their responsibility and made the ordeal so much more bearable, as did the generous compassion and support extended by the people of Newcastle.
The bill itself proposes monetary compensation based on state government victims of crime legislation which arises from the statutory responsibilities of the state. However, in the federal arena I know of no precedent for compensation payments such as those proposed in this bill. From my research it appears to me that the only compensation payments made to any collective group of victims has been to prisoners of war incarcerated in the Pacific and European theatres of war during World War II. The payments were amounts of $25,000, and I think we need to pay respect to precedents so that we follow the principles and extend them only when we know it is the right thing to do.
However, I do think there is a need for some consideration for a mechanism that takes into account emerging individual circumstances that may not have been anticipated at the time of the specific event that triggered the special assistance package. Tonight, of course, the Prime Minister has delivered the mechanism for that consideration to occur. Again, I thank the Prime Minister for his willingness to take a further look at issues around improving the support to those with ongoing needs as a result of international terrorist attacks, and I welcome his commitment tonight to conduct a rigorous study into a no-fault social insurance scheme as well as other options for long-term care and support building on international best practice. I also note that that when the Prime Minister was shadow minister he met with some of the victims of the incident in Bali in 2005 in my office and provided them with support and guidance.
While my government does not support this particular bill in its current form, we do remain indelibly committed to providing support for Australians who are victims of international terrorist acts. The Prime Minister demonstrated this not an hour ago with his announcement of a feasibility study into a national disability insurance scheme. As I have mentioned, we are looking at a number of other ways to provide greater assistance to those in need. A bill of this nature is simply unprecedented at a federal level and something that obviously needs further careful consultation and consideration.
The horror that was experienced at Jimbaran Bay and Kuta Beach on the evening of 1 October 2005 was indescribable; the pain and suffering that was caused is indefensible and that the victims of the blast deserve the utmost care is inarguable. I and my government will continue to work to make sure that those affected continue to receive just and appropriate assistance in an efficient and effective way, and in a way that the government can deliver. But tonight I must oppose this bill.
I rise to speak on the Assisting the Victims of International Terrorism Bill 2009 put forward by my colleague and friend, Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott understands the needs of people who have been affected by acts of terrorism. This bill provides $75,000 for the victims of terrorist acts overseas, and there is a precedent for this—that is, that the states provide $75,000 to victims of crime. Indeed, the federal government has a precedent for this, because under the Howard government $25,000 compensation was paid to prisoners of war. I congratulate Tony Abbott for introducing this bill.
If every person of the around 300 people who have been injured or killed in acts of terrorism offshore made a claim, this bill in its full capacity would amount to less than $22½ million. It is not a lot of money in the scheme of things, considering the pain and suffering that these people go through. Today I saw a person who has been a friend of mine for a number of years, Paul Anicich, come to this House. The Paul Anicich of today is not the Paul Anicich I have known for the best part of 14 years. He is a shell of the man, and still struggles daily to deal with the after effects of the Bali bombing. This is a man who was an outstanding and successful legal practitioner; this is a man who was a leader in our community and a very passionate advocate for the Hunter region. Today, Paul works hard at just trying to keep his life and his family together because it was not just Paul who was affected—Penny was also involved in the blast, and their young bloke has had to suffer the effects because of the stresses on the family.
Paul, when he came to see me not long after he got back to Australia and had recovered, wanted nothing more than a victim’s gold healthcare card, a gold healthcare card that helped meet the shortfalls in the medical expenses, a gold healthcare card that allowed for the provision of electronic transfer of information so each and every time that the—
The standing orders do not allow for a motion ‘that the question be put’ to be dealt with in the Main Committee. I understand the request that you have made and I will report it, but I note that the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.
Mr Deputy Speaker, would it not assist the operation of the parliament if the member for Paterson was allowed to continue his remarks for two minutes? I think it would assist the operation of the House on a subject as sensitive as this if that indulgence could be extended to him.
I understand the spirit in which the request is made, but the time allotted for debate is not something which I am in control of. It is something which is organised between the whips prior to these matters being debated here.