Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011; Second Reading
I rise to speak in support of the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. The main substantial provision in this bill is that it will enable Australians who are victims of a declared overseas terrorist attack to claim financial support of up to $75,000. Importantly, this bill provides for an appropriate eligibility criteria for both primary and secondary victims of overseas terrorist attacks. We all hope that the compensation provided under this bill is never needed. We all hope that no more Australians are killed or injured in terrorist attacks overseas. Whilst this is one of my highest hopes, we know that the serious threat of terrorism remains. Given this remaining threat, it is appropriate that this government provides support to victims of terrorist attacks that have occurred overseas.
It is fundamental to remember that major overseas terrorist attacks are by their very nature special and extremely tragic events. The world we knew before the 9-11 attacks on the twin towers and before the London underground tragedy is no longer. I recall that morning of the 9-11 attacks. It was the day on which my husband and I were to take our three children on their first trip overseas. We stopped our packing that morning and I remember standing frozen at the side of my bed with an open suitcase and watching the news as it transpired. I wondered how I could possibly take my children on an aeroplane within the next 24 hours and expose them to this new world risk that had occurred.
In the end we did what was a possible response to the threat of terrorism which was to say, 'We will resist fear and we will pursue with hope a future where there is safety and freedom of all people to move around this world.' I think that we made the right decision on that day. Australians will continue to be brave in the face of the fear that terrorism inflicts on our world in a completely different way than before that tragic day.
I know many of us here today have people in our electorates who were caught up in the very tragic terrorist attack so close to home—the 2002 Bali bombings. Eighty-eight people were killed in that bombing. Also, although it was a smaller attack in terms of impact on us, in 2005 four Australians also lost their lives there. We remember, as we promised to do, those who were killed or injured as a result of that mindless terrorist attack. It was an event which will always remain in our national consciousness. Community members, family and friends lost in the supporting attack will never be forgotten.
There are still victims of the 2002 Bali terrorist attack who are dealing with the very real repercussions of that tragic event. Indeed, the Central Coast community was deeply affected by this terrorist attack and the community still deals with those consequences. There were incidences on the Central Coast when high school students, primary school students, staff and their communities lost fellow students to the Bali bombings. The friends and families of these victims will forever deal with that tragic and untimely loss. Indeed, the existence of memorials to the victims of the Bali bombings remind us, as we look at them, of the unjust loss of life that is a product of terrorism.
Ten years is not a long time to heal from such an event. When you lose someone you love it can be 50 years, and a single image, a voice that sounds like the one of the person you lost or a whiff of perfume are sensory triggers that can take us as human beings travelling back to a time before death when we recall, as if it were only yesterday, those we have lost. Grief and loss, and the healing that sometimes follows, sometimes very slowly, can take many years, and always that rent will be there.
Specifically, in my community—the Kincumber community—we remember Lynette and Marissa McKeon, mother and daughter victims of the Bali tragedy. They were widely respected in our community and, to have a mother and daughter taken from the family and from the community, we feel and remember that particular instance. But we are talking about 88 people, right across this country, who were removed in one hit from their families and communities.
That is why this legislation is particularly important—that we remember and honour that loss. We want to make sure that through this legislation there is a greater degree of certainty provided, when tragedies like this strike, for victims of overseas terrorism and their families. Financial certainty is essential in enabling victims of overseas terrorism to deal with the long-term personal consequences that will arise. It also provides financial certainty to the families of the victims of overseas terrorism. It is important to recognise that this payment—the Australian victims of terrorism overseas payment—is in addition to the comprehensive support that the Commonwealth already provides to victims of overseas terrorism. These include, but are not limited to, financial assistance through the Australian government disaster recovery payment and consular assistance.
It is good to put on the record that since 11 September 2001 more than 200 Australians have been injured and more than 100 killed in overseas terrorist incidents. At the time that these incidents occurred, there was, thankfully, significant targeted assistance provided to victims of those events, including disaster—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:53 to 18:09
As I was saying, it is a good thing that people who were caught up in the Bali bombings were able to receive assistance from the federal government at that time. This legislation is important and necessary because it provides a specific payment to support victims of overseas terrorism. Currently victims of domestic terrorism can apply for compensation through state and territory criminal compensation schemes. These schemes are, however, unavailable for victims of international terrorism. As I stated earlier, I sincerely hope that nobody will ever have to apply for compensation under this scheme, but I share with my fellow parliamentarians ongoing concerns about the threats of future terrorist attacks affecting Australians.
The concerns of many Australians have been heightened with the US special forces attack on the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. The destruction of al-Qaeda's leadership is a development that I believe has provided justice to many victims and their families affected by international terrorism. The threat of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, however, remains real, and the threat of overseas terrorism in the short term has been heightened, as reflected by current travel warnings for many parts of the globe. The personal security of Australians travelling overseas has always been an ongoing concern for me, particularly at this time, having just farewelled my own daughter, niece and mother on a trip to the other side of the world. It makes you extremely aware of the risks of international travel. While you still consider the incredible delights and our need to continue to move around the globe to understand our fellow human beings better, this is a concern that remains when particularly young people from all across the world decide to travel. We need to ensure for our young Australians that we support their ability to travel overseas, particularly as we are such a geographically isolated nation. For many young Australians, the opportunity to travel overseas represents a significant cultural, social and emotional learning experience. Indeed, it is a good thing that overseas travel is a high priority for so many young Australians, but it is unfortunate that the risk of terrorist attack has affected the travel plans of Australians and that this threat of terrorism remains real.
Terrorism is a crime that is directed towards nation states but individuals are the victims. It is a criminal act that is indiscriminate in its effect. Often victims of overseas terrorism have been targeted merely for being Westerners, with the attack directed towards the Western world. As stated by the Attorney-General in the second reading speech, it is only fair that states should shoulder the burden of the terrorist action and not the individual.
This legislation will provide a lump sum payment of up to $75,000 for individuals who are injured in an overseas terrorism event. Close family members are also able to apply for the payment in the event of a family member being killed in a terrorism event. An important aspect of this bill is that the payment is only available once the Prime Minister has declared that an overseas terrorist attack has occurred. It is a payment that is only available for victims of such declared overseas terrorist attacks. Given the importance we place on ensuring that these compensation schemes are not abused, this degree of central control over the scheme is necessary.
The discretion to provide payments of up to $75,000 recognises that injuries resulting from terrorist attacks tend to have a lasting effect, requiring ongoing support and treatment. Whilst we sincerely wish that each of us in this room and anybody who will be reading this transcript will never need it, terrorism has occurred and unfortunately it will almost certainly happen again. The availability of a lump sum payment is essential in providing long-term support to victims of overseas terrorism. I commend the bill to the House.
One of the most heart-rending experiences I have had in a long time was when I had the privilege of visiting the site of the twin towers disaster in New York. I visited several years after that event and I could not help but be struck by the enormity of the grief that people were experiencing. My colleague has now returned. Just to finish that, there was also the terrible grief of those people caught up in the Bali bombing and the sadness that lingers after those events. Anything we can do to help the victims is very important. With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, I will hand over to my colleague.
The bill before the House has a long history. It is worth revisiting that history here tonight. On September 11, 2001 the world witnessed in real time a highly calculated and deliberate act of terrorism—the assault on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda terrorists in an operation designed to maim and kill as many people as possible, to destroy significant economic and security infrastructure and to instil fear and inflame hatred across the globe.
The September 11 attacks succeeded on all those fronts and in 2003 the United States of America and their allies, including Australia, invaded Iraq, beginning a prolonged and somewhat futile war. But at the time the special September 11th Victim Compensation Fund provided financial assistance to those injured and the next of kin to those who killed in the 9/11 attacks, including many Australians. Payments under that fund to Australians ranged from between $250,000 and $7.1 million. It was a very generous scheme but it was not an Australian legislated scheme.
In 2002 and 2005 terrorist bombings in Bali brought the brutal reality of terrorism directly to the people of Australia. Since Bali 2002, approximately 100 Australians have been killed and more than 200 Australians have been injured as a direct result of terrorist attacks overseas. The 2005 bombings in Bali affected families in my electorate of Newcastle. We tragically lost three of our citizens: Colin Zwolinski, Fiona Zwolinski and Jennifer Williamson. Seven of our families sustained injury and many people, their family and friends, experienced deep trauma from shock, grief and loss. In fact, the entire Newcastle community shared the pain of this event and rallied marvellously to support the victims of Bali.
Paul Anicich had been terribly injured and was flown to Singapore at the time where he spent a long time in hospital there before returning to Australia. I must digress because the member for Pearce has just spoken. She visited Mr Anicich in Singapore. I was supposed to be part of a delegation but I stayed in Newcastle at the time to support the victims. But I was always very grateful and Paul always remembers that. It is hard for him to remember it clearly. He thinks I was actually there. Member for Pearce, he was very appreciative of that intervention that you so generously and compassionately undertook.
Paul Anicich was moved by the plight of others and began a crusade to bring about some kind of financial payment for victims of terrorism. His efforts in advocacy with Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, and with Kevin Rudd, who became Prime Minister, led to some action on this issue. In 2009 the member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, moved a private member's bill—Assisting the Victims of International Terrorism Bill 2009.
Originally it was my belief that the member for Warringah had intended to move a private member's motion, have that motion debated and then have negotiations with the then Rudd government to move this forward. At the time I spoke against the private member's bill because, as presented to the House, the bill had insufficient detail or specifics regarding the key issues of eligibility, criteria, payment thresholds or administration of that payment over the long term. What did happen, though, as a result of the advocacy of Paul Anicich and other Newcastle victims, was that then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on the night the legislation was dealt with that the government would engage the Productivity Commission to examine the feasibility of a national long-term care and support scheme, a scheme that would address the issue of improving the support of those with special needs, no matter how their injury or harm was sustained.
In his speech announcing the decision, Kevin Rudd made special mention of both Paul Anicich and Tony Purkiss from Newcastle who he had met with and who were in the House that day, acknowledging his recognition of their circumstances and their specific commitment. At the time this was a wonderful outcome: proper consideration of the special needs of people over a long time requiring long-term care. Of course, today it is Prime Minister Julia Gillard who has acted on the Productivity Commission findings and driven the design of a National Disability Insurance Scheme now agreed to by all parties in the parliament and by all states, and now in a trial phase. So I often think that, if that is a legacy, for someone like Paul Anicich it is a pretty wonderful legacy.
That is the background of the legislation we are debating tonight. It was a great outcome for the federal Labor government and a great outcome of the advocacy of many Australians, but particularly my constituent Paul Anicich and all the other victims of Bali 2002, Bali 2005 and, of course, other terrorist attacks. So the member for Warringah's original bill was lost and negotiations were undertaken with the former Attorney-General Robert McClelland and then with Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, pursuing a bill to specifically support victims of terrorism overseas. Arising from those negotiations we now have this bill before the House, and also the Brandis bill, which is in most respects the original bill put forward by the member for Warringah and which is now before the Senate.
In the member for Warringah's original bill, there was no provision for retrospective legislation, but I understand that the opposition will be moving amendments to this bill to make the legislation retrospective. I have to say I am supporting the government's legislation as it is; however, I again have to express some reservations about this approach. First, after Bali 2002 I know that the most important thing of all is that when a terrorist attack injures or kills our citizens abroad the government of the day must respond instantly and generously. No effort can or should be spared in supporting our victims—organising emergency transport and accommodation, providing access to appropriate medical care, giving individualised attention through Centrelink to victims and their families, making sure the Australian Federal Police are responsive and proactive, and setting up the best information and communication systems so that media, families and anxious communities have accurate and reliable information.
The second thing I know is essential is the assurance for victims and their families that there will always be ongoing medical and emotional support and that they can come back at any time and access that support. That is exactly what happened after Bali 2002 and Bali 2005, and that is what continues to happen. There may have been some glitches and some matters that needed special intervention to improve outcomes, but this is what our country does well: we do not pull out support. We have a safety net of services that are ongoing. I never want any government to be in a position where they do less than that because of a cost that may be incurred through a special cash payment of any kind. I never want any government to limit the support they give when these terrible events occur.
Third, although I understand and am appalled that terrorism is an act of violence against a government and that innocent people are the consequential targets and victims, I continue to ask: what is the best way to deal with all victims of war, of terrorism and of natural disasters? Prisoners of war were belatedly granted special one-off payments of $25,000 and the prisoner of war recognition supplement of $500 per fortnight, but innocent victims of war on our soil have never had anything more than the best safety net of care and rehabilitation offered by the government of the day. Victims of natural disasters since the 2007 Pasha Bulker storm in Newcastle have received a one-off payment of $1,000, and the cost of this program does continue to increase as weather phenomena become more extreme. That instant cash payment definitely helped many Novocastrians, and I imagine it has helped wherever it is being implemented, allowing people who have lost everything or are temporarily disconnected from their home and possessions some cash to access emergency accommodation, food and supplies until insurance claims and emergency and disaster funds are set up. But the reality is that no amount of cash can adequately compensate ordinary Australians for extraordinary incidents and moments of great tragedy and loss, no matter the cause or the circumstances.
Fourth, we must always be vigilant in the quest to protect Australians from terrorism—and we are. This is where risk identification and management, cooperative international intelligence approaches, joint policing operations and information sharing, the research of the Australian Crime Commission and the painstaking work of all our security and intelligence agencies are absolutely paramount. Again, we need adequate resourcing for all those things to do the job well.
The best immediate response when these dreadful things happen is the most generous support possible at that very critical time, the comfort of a vigorous security regime, as well as a National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure long-term care. They are all vital measures in supporting victims of terrorism. Add to that strong communities with built-in social health and welfare infrastructure that supports ongoing care and ongoing compassion. Those things are priceless, I have always thought. Again I stress that it is so important that we continue to fund the things that make this nation a great nation that gives people the comfort when they travel overseas that their country is there for them and will always be there for them. If we can always ensure that approach in this nation and we can afford additional cash payments such as those proposed in this legislation, then we are indeed a very fortunate nation, a very fortunate people. So we should pass this legislation.
In the case of this legislation the actual payment will range between zero dollars and $75,000, and it will not be retrospective. The regulations around eligibility are still to be written but will be activated following a declaration by the Prime Minister of the day that a relevant overseas terrorist act has occurred. Australians physically or psychologically harmed as a result of a terrorist act will be eligible for financial assistance under the proposed scheme. Close family members of Australians killed as a result of a terrorist act will also be eligible for financial assistance. The bill will ensure a payment made under the scheme does not impact on other entitlements, and that is as it should be.
Also, there is no intention for the proposed scheme to apply to past overseas terrorism acts. That will disappoint Paul Anicich, who has very much advocated for this legislation, and it will obviously disappoint those who have been victims and who remain traumatised in many cases and have been seriously affected. But this is the legislation before us. The opposition leader's private member's bill, when introduced, like this one, did not specify particular events. Nor did it specifically state that it would apply retrospectively. This legislation today, then, is consistent with the position taken by the coalition when in government. For example, in August 2003, after the first Bali bombing, then Prime Minister John Howard ruled out a compensation scheme for victims of terrorism. Further, in May 2006 the then Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, ruled out a compensation support scheme for victims of the second Bali bombing, the one affecting citizens of Newcastle. Although it will disappoint, I think it is usual practice by any government, as is evidenced by the previous decisions.
But it is important to know that at the time of the Bali bombings, terrorist attacks on our citizens, significant targeted assistance was provided, including disaster healthcare assistance schemes, ex gratia assistance, consular and repatriation assistance and immediate short-term financial assistance through the Australian government disaster recovery payments. Since the Bali bombing in 2002 the Australian government has expended more than $12 million on assistance and support for Australians killed or injured as a direct result of overseas terrorist attacks.
We are a generous nation. We are a rigorous nation. We are a nation that does tend to the arms of government in all shapes and forms that keep our nation safe, keep the people of this nation safe around the world, hopefully, and respond to disasters of any kind that affect them. In conclusion, I do support this legislation. I also continue to offer my ongoing concern and support for the people of Newcastle, the families so sorely impacted by the devastating attacks in Bali in 2005.
I rise to contribute to the debate on the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. The bill was introduced by the former Attorney-General, the honourable member for Barton, and it seeks to introduce comprehensive assistance for those affected directly by acts of terrorism. This is a cause that since 2009 has been championed by the coalition through the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Paterson, during which time the coalition sought to introduce a private member's bill into the House and the Senate to make progress on this vital issue. I remark that it is really great to see the government come to the table three years later in order to work towards a common objective of assisting those affected by these tragedies! It is disappointing that this government is yet to demonstrate any element of bipartisanship by voting for an opposition private member's bill in this split 43rd Parliament. We have heard much about a 'new paradigm' from the member for Lyne, but I want to put it on the record that, when a worthwhile private member's bill is put forward by the opposition, it is voted down with the help of the so-called Independent members and then the bills are reintroduced as government bills.
Terrorism is a crime that is not isolated in its impact. It affects society, communities, individuals, victims and their families. Therefore, government should not be isolated in its response. Instead, it should provide comprehensive assistance to Australians affected abroad. Unfortunately, in only the recent past there are examples of Australians being victims of terrorist attacks in other countries. Australians have been killed or injured in acts of terrorism in New York, Bali, London, Jakarta and Mumbai.
These aforementioned acts of terrorism have seen ordinary Australians' lives dramatically affected by loss of life or injury. These attacks involving Australians overseas were not personally motivated but, rather, a political or ideological attack on Westerners. Indeed, in the case of the second Bali bombings, the perpetrators directly targeted Australians, not in retaliation for Australia's actions but because of our beliefs and our way of life.
I take a moment to reflect on the Bali bombings, that fateful day on 12 October 2002, when the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia occurred. Just after 11 pm, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in his backpack in a nightclub. Twenty seconds later, a much more powerful explosive was also detonated. Of course, the brutal strategy behind this was that a lot of Australians gravitate towards those venues while holidaying in Bali. These vile acts of terrorism were absolutely devastating—202 people were tragically killed, including 88 Australians.
We would all remember the tragic stories of the burns victims. I remember seeing photographs of some of the victims who were brought to the hospital. Those terrible images will never leave me. The saddest memorial service that I have ever had to attend as a member was in this House. It was to commemorate the deaths, the loss of life, as a result of the Bali bombings. I was in this place in 2002; I remember it so well. I remember the solemn occasion when John Howard stood and spoke for half an hour on the motion condemning the senseless destruction of lives that had occurred. The member for Hotham, then the Leader of the Opposition, also spoke in support of the motion. It was the saddest time and the saddest service that any member of parliament had attended.
Over the past 10 years, more than 300 Australian citizens have been the victims of vicious attacks carried out in the name of political belief and ideology. We must never, ever forget these victims. We owe it to these Australians to assist them and we owe it to all of those affected by these outrageous acts of barbarism. It must also be noted that after the terrorist attacks, particularly in the past, the government of the day administered financial and medical assistance to victims through government agencies. However, the responsibility of this nation is to its citizens and extends well beyond the immediacy of the cases of those who have been affected.
The Leader of the Opposition, when speaking on this subject in 2010, was right when he said:
There is a lifetime of pain for those people, physical and psychological and it needs to be acknowledged, recognised and in some way made up for by the wider Australian community.
It is hoped that this legislation will begin the process of recognising and making up for the trauma experienced by those seriously affected, either directly or indirectly, by terrorism overseas. This legislation has been a cause championed by the coalition and the Leader of the Opposition for three years and it has remained at the forefront of the minds of those on this side of the House during that time, as it should be at the forefront of the minds of all Australians, as it is a cause that is universal in its benefit to our fellow citizens travelling internationally.
Perpetrators of terrorism, their ideology and their methods should never be accepted by any society. However, society must recognise and must immediately come to the assistance of their victims. The indiscriminate nature of these acts leaves lives damaged. It is therefore only right for a government to actively assist those caught up in these crises abroad.
The government's proposed legislation, which builds on the work of the Leader of the Opposition's private member's bill, seeks to provide financial support of up to $75,000 to those Australian citizens injured by terrorism whilst overseas. The legislation also proposes to assist those close family members who are affected as a result of the death of a loved one due to an act of terrorism overseas, and financial assistance for close family members would also be provided, with a payment of up to $75,000 to assist with associated costs. Eligibility for these payments is subject to declaration of an overseas terrorist event by the Prime Minister of the day. Once the declaration has been made, relevant guidelines will assist the assessment of factors that may be used when determining a claim. Those who receive the payment will not have to repay Medicare, workers compensation or other benefits received from the Commonwealth, as is common with corresponding state and territory victims-of-crime compensation schemes. The legislation is about securing long term those who become victims of terrorism overseas and it is about giving them certainty. It is about giving them peace of mind that this country very much stands with them.
We are a united nation with strong bonds forged and shared values as a free, open and democratic country. When a terrorist commits a crime against these shared values and against one of our own citizens, we must always be there to stand steadfast against terrorism and to stand alongside our fellow Australians. We in this parliament must stand alongside all those Australians affected by acts of terrorism overseas through comprehensive assistance to deal with the long-term effects on them and their close family.
Australians will continue to find new possibilities and opportunities across the globe. This legislation is about ensuring that they are looked after if they are victims of a terrorist attack. We owe it to the victims of terrorism to do all that we can in this House to help them well into the future. I commend the bill to the House.
I am pleased to see that the minister has taken up the Leader of the Opposition's proposal of compensation to be provided by the federal government to victims of terrorism overseas and also thank him for his acknowledgement of the opposition leader in his reading of the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2012. This bipartisan belief in the need to support Australian victims of terrorism highlights the importance of this issue and the struggles such victims face in putting their lives back together.
The aim of terrorism is simple: to destroy people's pursuit of a peaceful life. In order to achieve this, terrorists have engaged in horrific acts of violence and manipulation at unexpected times, particularly over the past decade. They have shifted society's mindset toward the security of everyday life in unimaginable ways. As a nation we must never forget the high price innocent Australians have paid at the hands of terrorists. Although terrorist actions are aimed to send a message to the state and its leaders, it is the innocent individuals within these states who are targeted. However, because of the nature of terrorist attacks, victims can often be left feeling like just a statistic. The numbers of people who are killed or injured in terrorist attacks are what make the news—the statistics, not the names. Whilst no-one would deny the empathy felt for these victims, within our society news is reported through statistics and through the place of an attack which, while shocking, in a sense desensitises us to the suffering and experiences of those who actually live through the attack. Terrorists attack the masses, yet at the end of the day it is the individual and their families who must pick up the pieces. The bill before us recognises this and will go some way toward helping individual victims of overseas terrorist attacks. For many there is no going back to the way that things were. They must rebuild a life for themselves after losing, perhaps, what is the last bastion of innocence: the belief that you are safe. For a terrorism victim and their family the fact that they were part of an attack when simply going about their own business, and knowing that these terrorist groups and the terrorist mentality in general is still out there, would be almost crippling.
These victims need to know that their government supports them, not just on a global stage, not just as a nation opposed to terrorism, but supports them personally and individually. That is what this bill does. It also recognises the suffering caused to the family of the victim of an overseas terrorist attack. The loss of a family member under any circumstances is always distressing. However, for families who lose a close relative overseas the pain caused by knowing that person died away from home in violent and extreme circumstances is truly traumatic.
I would also like to draw attention to another part of the minister's second reading speech. In his speech, the minister drew attention to the Australian victims of terrorist attacks that have occurred overseas during the last decade: September 11 in America, the bombings in London and Madrid and, of course, the terrible loss of Australian lives in Bali. The minister has said that the government recognises the suffering of these victims, yet this bill does not apply to those victims.
Regretfully, the government has not given due consideration to this bill after it was introduced to the House in February last year as a private member's bill sponsored by the Leader of the Opposition. The coalition was still left waiting until even as late as today as to whether the government would include retrospective application of this bill. They had more than a year to make that decision. It is a shame that they have come to a decision not to apply these measures retrospectively.
I know that the government has at times accused the coalition of applying a blanket opposition to retrospective legislation. This, however, is a simplistic statement to make. We do not support retrospective legislation where it has an adverse effect on society. However, we support responsible policy formulation, and if the circumstances of an issue are so compelling, retrospectivity should be considered. This bill provides such an opportunity. This bill could provide much-needed support and help to Australian victims of past terrorist attacks and their families. Access to a payment such as what this legislation proposes would give these victims additional funds that they undoubtedly need for support, such as the additional counselling that they otherwise not have acquired. In short, a retrospective clause provides a positive benefit to Australians and therefore should be supported. I acknowledge the minister's advice that the Australian government has provided support to Australian victims of terrorism in the past to a value exceeding $12 million. But the extension of support envisaged in this bill to past victims should also be considered.
Since 11 September, 2001 some 300 Australians have been killed or injured in terrorist attacks. We have all stood in this chamber and spoken about the importance of supporting Australian victims of terrorism. Yet with this bill the government is saying that as a nation we are not willing to help those who have suffered in some of the worst terrorist attacks the world has experienced. It makes no sense to me that the government has not made this positive, helpful and necessary legislation retrospective in order to support victims of past terrorist attacks, while it has introduced other retrospective legislation that has had a negative impact on our society and our economy.
The Leader of the Opposition and the member for Paterson have been fighting for this bill since 2009, and I commend the government for taking it up. The intention behind this legislation is admirable, and I thank the minister for incorporating the principles of the Leader of the Opposition's private member's bill. But the victims of past terrorist attacks also need our support, just as much as the future ones will, and I implore the government to amend this bill to reflect this.
I rise to support the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. This bill is the result of strong bipartisanship from both sides of the House, as it incorporates principles of the opposition leader's private member's bill, the Assisting the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2010. So, while there are many things on which I can disagree with the Leader of the Opposition, I do commend him for introducing this piece of legislation which was taken up by the government.
The bill before the chamber will enable Australian residents who are victims of a declared overseas terrorist act to claim financial support of up to $75,000—small compensation at the time but, nevertheless, a gesture from the Australian government to a family suffering from a horrible event. This payment will go some way towards providing support to victims of a terrorist attack overseas, though we acknowledge that no payment can fully overcome the horror of a terrorist attack.
My best friend, who was a witness at my wedding, and her partner, now her husband, were just down the road when the Bali bombing occurred—and they were down the road, thankfully, though they had been in the nightclub only a few hours before. But seeing how it traumatically affected them, even when they were down the road, gave me some indication as to how people in the middle of a terrorist attack can find it difficult to recover and get on with their lives.
At the general assembly of the Human Rights Council in 2006, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, expressed disappointment that Australia did not have a national mechanism for financially assisting victims of terrorism. This proposed scheme will go a long way to rectifying this and will provide much-needed assistance to victims of overseas terrorism. Let us hope it is not accessed. But, sadly, because Australia is a trading nation and we do what we can to protect trade around the world, and because Australia has a long and proud history of sending the ADF around the world to protect freedom, we are also in some crosshairs as a nation on occasion. That is no reason to go into our shell, but that is the reality. Hopefully, we will at least have a mechanism in place to protect Australians, should they be targeted by terrorists.
The scheme will be activated following a declaration by the Prime Minister that a relevant overseas terrorist act has occurred. Australians physically or psychologically harmed as a result of a terrorist act will be eligible for financial assistance under the proposed scheme. A close family member or close family members of Australians killed as a result of a terrorist act will also be eligible for financial assistance.
The bill will ensure that this payment does not impact on any other entitlements so that, in some cases, victims will be eligible for a payment under the proposed scheme as well as other forms of damages or compensation. Additionally, victims will not be required to reimburse the government for Medicare benefits received in relation to the injury. Payments will not be treated as income on receipt for social security purposes and will therefore not reduce a person's entitlement to other social security benefits, and payments under the scheme are not compensation or damages under relevant Commonwealth laws.
The government's bill does not specify particular events. Nor will it apply retrospectively. I understand comments from those opposite saying that it should be retrospective. I am not sure—I did not hear all the speeches before me—if they gave a date as to how far back the terrorism events should be covered retrospectively, as to whether it should be 10 years or 20 years or 30 years of 40 years; I did not hear that. I understand, though, why that might be asked, and I do recognise the compassion they would have for the victims of terrorism. But at least this is the start of a process.
However, I point out in the government's defence that significant targeted assistance was provided to victims of past events, including disaster healthcare assistance schemes, ex gratia assistance, consular and repatriation assistance, and immediate short-term financial assistance through the Australian government disaster recovery payment. Since Bali in 2002—which is already 10 years ago—approximately 100 Australians have been killed and more than 200 Australians have been injured as a direct result of overseas terrorist acts. In that time, Australian governments—so, not just the current government—have expended more than $12 million on assistance and support for Australians killed or injured as a direct result of overseas terrorist acts. In addition, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund provided generous financial assistance to those injured and to the next of kin of those who were killed in the 9-11 attacks, including Australians. Payments of between $250,000 and $7.1 million were made to the next of kin of each of those killed in those attacks—again, including Australians.
It is a sad reality that Australians are sometimes targeted in overseas terrorist acts, not as individuals but because they are Australians. Maybe Australians are not targeted as individuals currently, but the reality is that, because we have taken the proud decision to wear the blue beret in almost 60 different locations around the world and because we have taken the proud decision that we cannot sit idly by while people are being terrorised, victimised and suffering violence, Australia does play a significant role. Whether it be in Libya, the Sudan, the Middle East or the Pacific, there are many Australians right now serving around the globe to ensure that people are safe and can sleep safely in their beds at night.
This bill is about the government recognising the collective responsibility that Australians do share to help those unfortunate Australian residents recover from overseas terrorist events. Obviously Australia will continue to have an active role in the world by intervening when necessary. In talking to the parliamentary secretary, the member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, who was previously a legal officer in the Army, we spoke about his involvement in Sarajevo, in Somalia, in Iraq and as a colonel in the Army. Australia does have a strong role to play in making sure that the world is a safer place. Australia does have an important role to play in making sure that the world is safer. Unfortunately that might mean that Australians will be at risk and, potentially, the victims of terrorism overseas. This legislation will go some way to making that journey a little bit easier. I commend the bipartisan way that this bill has been debated and progressed and I commend this bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. There was a time when the term 'terrorism' seemed to be something that only ever happened in very faraway places. Television footage of the aftermaths and at times the continuation of acts of terrorism were from places in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The best remembered terrorist related incident beyond these recent years in Australia was the bomb that was placed in the bin outside the Hilton Hotel. That tragically killed a policeman and two garbage truck workers when the bin was emptied and detonated in the back of the garbage truck. That act took place in Sydney back in 1978. Terrorism, of course, came back to Australia on 23 November 1986 when a car bomb exploded in the car park beneath the Turkish consulate in South Yarra, Victoria, killing the bomber, who failed to correctly set up the explosive device. Levon Demirian, a Sydney resident with links to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an Armenian terrorist group, was charged over the attack and served 10 years.
It is also certainly the case that we have had, to a degree, domestic terrorism. There were attacks on Family Court judges which took place in the early eighties. The Australian Federal Police were involved in the investigation and also in the protection of judges. That was as a result of aggrieved recipients of justice from Family Court judges at the time. This country does unfortunately have a history of acts of terrorism. I recall the time in the 1970s when a bomb exploded in front of the Yugoslav consulate in Sydney, causing a significant amount of damage. That is not something that is expected in Double Bay in Sydney. That was many years ago.
The reality for the world is that things have changed and they have changed radically with what happened in New York on 11 September 2001, with a massive loss of life in New York; the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta; the two Bali bombings; and the London bombings. Unfortunately, and very sadly and tragically, Australians were amongst those killed and wounded—wounded in the physical and the mental sense. We have seen arrests here in Australia of those who were accepted into this country in good faith, only for us to have had that trust so badly abused by those who have planned and taken active preparations towards implementing their terrorist plots. But fortunately the security forces—ASIO, the Federal Police and the state police forces—have been up to the task and have managed to avert what could have been tragedy.
But the reality is that we sadly do have traitors in this country. We have people here who wish to attack and tear down the institutions of our society. We have traitors here who find fault with the foundations of this nation, the principles upon which it was founded and upon which generations of Australians have prospered. We have traitors who wish to replace our democratic system of government and our set of secular laws with alternatives based on a religion that in other places has produced only a legacy of political, social and economic failure. It is a religion that holds the people in those countries back, discriminates against women and fails to recognise the potential of the individual. What is encouraging is that there are people in various ethnic and religious communities around Australia who are prepared to inform on those who seek to betray us. That is why we have had arrests in Australia and effective action taken to cut off the plans of these locally based terrorists.
As the MP for Cowan, representing Kingsley and, by consequence, the Kingsley Amateur Football Club, I am pleased that this bill is being brought to the House for debate. I am the federal representative for a football club that lost seven members in the 2002 Bali bombing. I am pleased to congratulate the Hon. Tony Abbott for his initiatives to support Australian victims of terrorism overseas, and the way in which it has led to this bill. It is right that we keep this fact in mind. We know who initiated this bill and who then followed. Nevertheless, I also thank the government for bringing this bill forward. I understand that since 11 September 2001 some 300 Australians have been killed or injured in terrorist incidents overseas.
This bill acts as an important reminder of that which we should never forget, and that is the high price that Australia has paid due to overseas terrorists. I would also say that it is unfortunate that this bill has not allowed for retrospective support. This bill will not deliver support for anyone at the Kingsley football club, and I think that is wrong. We should also remember that what happened in Bali will be a life sentence for those injured and for the families of those who died. The events of 12 October 2002 will remain with them forever. It is getting close to 10 years since those terrible events in Bali—terrible for those who were there and for those who farewelled their family members at Perth airport on the last occasion on which they would see them alive. Those people now have to carry on, forever affected by the trauma and the loss and, above all, never being able to forget the pain. As time passes the impact on those who remain will not pass.
On 12 October 2002 the members of the Kingsley football club arrived in Bali and went straight to their hotel to relax for the rest of the day. They then went out to dinner to begin enjoying their end-of-season football trip. Then, unfortunately, they decided that they would go to those local night spots in Bali and their first stop was, tragically, at the Sari Club.
The first explosion was at Paddy's Bar and very shortly thereafter the Sari Club itself was blown up in a terrible explosion. The result was that seven of the players from the club were killed, and I name them: Dean Gallagher, Jason Stokes, Byron Hancock, Corey Paltridge, David Ross, Jonathan Wade and Anthony Stewart. Thirteen survived, but two were seriously injured with severe burns and were airlifted back. As we know, money will not bring back any of them. It may not lessen the effect of the tragedy but it can assist the survivors and the families of the victims—those that died. It is unfortunately the case that this bill will not help any of my constituents who were so badly affected by the first Bali bombings, because this bill is not retrospective.
This bill, the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011, creates a mechanism through the social security system to be called the Australian victim of terrorism overseas payment. That payment will provide up to $75,000 to a person injured or to a close family member of a person killed. This will apply in cases of terrorist acts that take place overseas.
Of course, in the detail, the attack needs to be declared—as I understand it—as an overseas terrorism event, with the bill also setting out eligibility criteria in the form of guidelines for compliance in order to access a payment. These include the nature, duration and impact of the injury or disease; the likelihood of future loss, injury or disease; the circumstances in which the injury or disease has incurred; the nature of the relationship between the primary and secondary victims; whether there are other persons who have made a claim; whether there is an agreement by claimants on the amount that should be made to each; whether there was an adverse Australian government travel advisory; whether the person was directed not to go to the place where the attack took place; and what other payments may already be applicable. As was advanced by the Hon. Tony Abbott, the payment will not be taxable and will not result in repayments for paid Medicare, workers compensation or any other benefits paid by the Commonwealth.
We should not forget the fact that these victims of overseas terrorism have suffered for their country. They were victims of overseas terrorism largely because of the way of life in this country. They were chosen or targeted because of the way of life of the civilisation in which they participated, and we should not underestimate the ongoing suffering of those people. There is a lifetime of suffering and pain for those who have been victims of terrorist activities overseas, and this can be both psychological and physical, as I have already said. I believe that this needs to be acknowledged, recognised and in some form made up for and provided for by the wider Australian community.
It is certainly not my intention to speak for much longer on this bill. However, I would say that we are happy to see this bill here in the parliament, but we would want it to be amended to provide the support for those who have already been so badly affected. I do speak for those from the Kingsley Amateur Football Club who will not be the beneficiaries of this bill. They certainly should be. But otherwise, we certainly appreciate that the bill has been brought to the parliament and that those who are the victims of terrorism in the future will be better provided for as a result of this initiative.
It is difficult to comprehend the extraordinary pain and suffering that attends on an act of terrorism, but worse still are the after effects on those who have been injured or left behind. An act of terrorism is an event that no-one wants to remember but is almost impossible to forget. No-one can ever forget the terror and trauma of the Lockerbie bombing, the Twin Towers, Bali, the London bombing and so on.
Quite rightly, in considering this bill before us today we need, as a caring nation, to view those who have suffered the tortures and the after effects of terrorism with immense compassion and care. Terrorism is a crime directed not at individuals but at the state, at a religion or at a targeted movement. But, sadly, individuals—although they are not the targets—are always the victims. It leaves victims with horrific burns, irreparable damage to their limbs, shock, trauma and—the most debilitating of all—the ongoing psychological damage and impact on one's life.
The images of 9/11 are ingrained in our psyche—the horror of the first explosion and then the concertinaing of the upper storeys of the buildings onto the lower storeys, creating an almost unimaginable maelstrom of fire, smoke, debris and dust. Ten Australians are known to have died in the Twin Towers in 2001 in New York. Overall, it claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
Closer to home, in Bali on 12 October 2002, in the tourist district of Kuta, an attack, claimed to be the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia, claimed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 240 people were injured. There is no question that that event was aimed at Australia and Australians, as well as encompassing citizens of countries with whom we are normally allied, including Great Britain, Canada, the US and New Zealand. There we saw firsthand some of the horrific affects of the explosion, in particular the burns victims who were distributed to hospital burns units across Australia. Many of them came under the care of our best doctors, including specialists like Fiona Wood.
In 2005 four suicide bombers struck in central London. That occurred on Thursday, 7 July, killing 52 people and injuring more than 770. Once again, scenes of devastation and injured people, many suffering horrific burns, were broadcast around the world.
But terrorism can take many forms—not always horrific events on a grand scale. There are those of a more targeted nature, for example roadside bombs and booby-trapped vehicles. This came home very clearly to me in 2008, when one of my own constituents, photojournalist Nigel Brennan, was kidnapped in Somalia and held hostage for 462 days. He and Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout were held in isolation, in a tiny room, often in complete darkness. After an escape attempt Nigel was tortured and shackled until he and Amanda were eventually released, 10 months after that event.
It is very clear that this bill we are considering today has the capacity to determine that any event, large or small, can, in the right circumstances, qualify as an act of terrorism. In Section 35B—Declared overseas terrorist act—subsection (1) provides the Prime Minister may declare in writing that a terrorist act that occurs outside Australia is a 'declared overseas terrorist act'. The bill has a fair degree of bipartisan support, and one would hope that both sides of politics would exercise their discretion with decency and compassion and not lay down prescriptive guidelines for the minister of the day that would impede his or her discretion or limit our generosity as a nation. A kidnapping, where perhaps the major damage has been psychological, should not be excluded from the intent of this bill.
The government bill seeks to provide for the Australian victims of overseas terrorist acts compensation payments comparable to those received by domestic victims of crime under the state and territory victims-of-crime schemes. The bill prescribes a payment of up to $75,000, subject to certain conditions. These include the nature, duration and impact of the injury or disease; the likelihood of future loss, injury or disease; circumstances in which the injury or disease was incurred; the nature of the relationship between the primary and secondary victim; whether there are other persons who have made a claim; whether there is agreement by claimants on the amount that should be paid to each; whether there was an adverse Australian government travel advisory in existence; whether the person was directed not to go to the place where the attack occurred; and whether there are other payments from the Commonwealth, state, territory or a foreign country's government or another person or entity. The Australian government has assisted Australian victims of terrorism in the past by providing them with medical and evacuation support, consular assistance and assistance with funeral costs and other expenses on an ex gratia basis. It was in this context that the government commended to the House this Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas ) Bill 2011, building on the work of the Leader of the Opposition and his private member's bill titled the Assisting the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2010. The purpose of the opposition leader's private member's bill was to provide additional financial support of up to $75,000 for Australians who are affected by terrorism while they were overseas.
However, the bill we are discussing today is not necessarily retrospective. In fact, there is a line in the sand from the time it receives assent. It could therefore leave a victim of, say, the Bali bombings and other past terrorist acts without any financial support from this scheme. Some might argue that there were ex gratia opponents. On the other hand there are probably still people out there who could well do with amounts of up to $75,000. We just do not know.
In the coalition's view it would be extremely disappointing if the victims of the two Bali bombings, the two Jakarta bombings, the London bombing and September 11 were not able to access compensation. Further, the bill does not apply solely to the primary event. The bill makes it clear that secondary health problems arising from the initial terrorism event can qualify for ongoing treatment provided the total expenses are contained within the $75,000 limit. For example, if someone had their arms and legs bashed up in some explosion or event and then at a later date was to suffer other problems—such as arthritis, or something of that nature which was directly attributable—they would be covered. Even in that circumstance this bill does not apply retrospectively.
Despite these reservations this bill has a lot to commend it. It would be a shame to walk away from an opportunity to put an additional mantle of safety around injured Australians. As the then Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in his second reading speech:
Terrorism is an unpredictable and stateless phenomenon. It can strike almost anybody, in any place and at any time.
It is best, then, that we are ready, and it is in that spirit that I commend the bill.
I rise tonight to speak to the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas ) Bill 2011. It is my pleasure to speak to this bill, which will offer assistance to some of our most vulnerable Australians, this bill that acknowledges who we are as Australians and what we believe in.
Australians are renowned for their intrepid sense of adventure. With their larrikin personalities, young Australians are revered for fearlessly and boldly exploring the world around them. For generations we as Australians have ventured to countries far and wide to learn about other cultures and people and to enjoy the veritable smorgasbord of international experiences on offer. It is the value our culture places on experiences that drives our young people to exercise their sense of adventure, trying to do and see the things that they have never before done or seen. It is this boldness that encourages our young people to take gap years in between school and university, or between university and full-time employment, and to spend the time travelling overseas.
Increasingly, family holidays are more often spent overseas than in our own country. Many families travel together to our neighbours in Thailand, Bali or Fiji, or even further abroad to, for instance, our friends in the United Kingdom and the United States. More than ever, we are upwardly mobile. We are a country of people who enjoy overseas travel and, with the value we place on experiences, we consider travel to be one of the best experiences on offer. And this should not change. Travel has become a favourite pastime and the future ambition of many Australians, an ambition that we continue to aspire to and should be entitled to aspire to. There should be no reason why we cannot enjoy all that life has to offer, including overseas travel.
Unfortunately over the past decade much has changed. On the international stage, overseas terrorism has come upon us like a dark cloud. The events of the past decade mean that no longer can Australians boldly and carelessly explore the world without risk. I hope we never come to the point where we lose our sense of adventure, but the state of the world has changed. The purpose of terrorism is to scare. The point of these overseas terrorism attacks targeting Australians has been to frighten Australia into submission and to compromise the values by which we live our lives. Overseas tourism has become increasingly prevalent and its intended victims are not random. The crosshairs are on our way of life and our cultural values. We cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that these acts of terrorism are purposely designed to cause maximum damage to those who embody the values we hold so dear. They are deliberate acts to protest our Western civilisation for reasons that we cannot pretend to understand or respect.
In recent years we have collectively wept as members of our extended Australian family have become victims of acts of overseas terrorism. We have watched as we lost brothers and sisters in the World Trade Centre, in Bali, in London, in Jakarta and in Mumbai. There have been some 300-odd Australian victims of overseas terrorism in total and 300 lives that have been unnecessarily altered forever. We have watched as members of our community have become victims of an attack on Australia, Australians and the Australian way of life. Even now, more than a decade on from September 11, it is impossible to find a context to understand or excuse what has been done. And despite our current and continued efforts with our allies to stamp out these atrocious acts of terrorism and the dangerous organisations behind them, we are still engaged in a war on terrorism and it will be some time yet before we able to claim victory.
This is an ongoing effort which continues to see our troops working in Afghanistan and our Federal Police fighting for those values which are so very important to us. It is an effort we are committed to, to stand up for what we believe in, so that our children and our children's children will grow up sharing the same freedoms we enjoy now. Sadly, as yet, as a nation, it is not within our power to ensure absolute protection to those travelling overseas. As we have witnessed in the tragedies of the past decades, we cannot guarantee the safety of all Australians overseas. But this does not mean that when these insidious attacks take place we should not do everything in our power to assist those that have been attacked in our name. As a nation we owe a debt to our brothers and sisters who have been injured in these attacks on our way of life simply for being an Australian. Similarly to those who are serving in the Armed Forces in the war on terrorism, these Australians deserve our full support. The psychological and physiological damage will in many cases be long term. They will live with the sacrifices they have made permanently. Many of these victims are unable to continue to live their lives as they did previously. Many are forced to give up their jobs and their livelihoods because of the injuries they have suffered which make it untenable for them to continue their work. There are sacrifices that should be acknowledged and compensated for by the broader Australian community.
This is not to say that these victims have been left without any assistance. The Australian government has always been forthcoming with assistance for medical costs incurred as a result of these foul attacks. But payment for medical bills for the injuries alone does not make up for the difficulties endured by the victims and their families. These individuals, who have been victims simply because of who they are and the Western ideals that they represent, do not deserve to be ignored or forgotten by the government. They do not deserve to be abandoned in their time of need. These victims deserve to be supported by our country. That is exactly what this bill is about: it is about taking care of those who happen to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and who fall prey to the insidious attacks of overseas terrorism. This bill creates a mechanism that enables an Australian victim of terrorism overseas payment. Upon the Prime Minister's declaring a terrorist incident as one which the program applies to, the payment will provide up to $75,000 for individuals who are injured or to a close family member of a person killed as a result of a terrorist attack committed overseas. The bill allows for the creation of instruments to help determine what payment up to $75,000 each victim receives. This bill will ensure that those receiving the payment will not be required to repay other benefits or deduct Medicare from the sum. This is a payment which will go a small way in righting some of the wrongs that victims of terrorism are punished with.
Sadly, many of those who have lived through these incidents and attacks survive only to be unable to resume their prior lives. They are plagued by injuries—both injuries that we can see and those that we cannot see. Frequently they are simply unable to return to work as a result of the injuries and find themselves struggling financially. Those individuals left in this position should not need to fear how their immediate bills will be paid. They deserve to be confident that there is some assistance available to help during the difficult times. By no means can a payment such as this wipe away the past, but this payment is intended to offer support in a small way to those who need and deserve it most.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the government on adopting the Leader of the Opposition's private member's bill on this issue. I note the significant contribution that the Leader of the Opposition has made by focusing attention on the need for a payment to be established for Australian victims of overseas terrorism. It has taken a long campaign to be where we are today, at the point where we are debating this bill, but this is a long-overdue measure which will make a big difference in the lives of those affected by overseas terrorism.
I find fault with only one aspect of this bill. Since September 11 2001, we have seen several acts of overseas terrorism and some 300 Australians have become victims of terrorist acts. However, under this bill as it currently stands these 300-odd people and their close families will not receive the Australian victim of terrorism overseas payment. The very people whose cause has highlighted the need for this bill will themselves not be eligible for its benefits. While we can all agree that it is vital we ensure the payment for Australians who become victims of terrorism in the future, it is equally important that we look after those who have already experienced the pain that acts of overseas terrorism can cause. As a nation it is important that we can come together on this issue and begin to mend some of the injury that has already been caused. These individuals and their families have already endured so much. To deny them this opportunity would be a slap across the face for all they have experienced in Australia's name. Estimates are that making this bill retrospective to be inclusive of pre-existing victims would have a financial impact of $12 million. In the scheme of the war on terrorism this is a negligible amount, but the impact that this money would have for the 300 victims and their families would be extremely significant.
Strong fiscal management is an important key to government. Waste and mismanagement of taxpayers' funds is unforgivable and unacceptable, but the purpose of strong fiscal management is to ensure that those that are most vulnerable in our society are able to receive the support they need. The victims of overseas terrorism do indeed qualify as some of our most vulnerable, and they have not come to be vulnerable by their own making. These individuals and their families are victims of acts which they have no control over. They were targeted for who they were—for being Australian. For this, they deserve the support, understanding and consideration of our government, regardless of which side of the political fence it sits. An amount of $12 million in retrospective payments is a small price to pay for the families of 300 Australians to have some peace of mind. After the horrors they have endured, the least the Australian community can do is to provide a small amount of relief for the financial pressure they may experience.
This bill represents an important step in recognising the sacrifices that many Australians have made because of the lives we live and the values we hold dear. Whilst we cannot take back the horrors of the attacks, we can support the victims and we can continue to do everything in our capacity to stamp out the onerous actions that are forced upon them by terrorists who seek to deny our way of life. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise in support of the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. This legislation results from a private member's bill, Assisting the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2010, put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and adopted by the government. The opposition leader's private member's bill intended to provide financial support of up to $75,000 to Australian individuals who were injured or to a close family member of a person who was killed or who died within two years of suffering injuries resulting from an act of terrorism committed overseas.
In adopting the opposition leader's bill, the government's bill has established a mechanism for Australian victims of terrorism overseas payments, AVTO payments, through the social security system for such payments. I note that the bill will enable Australians who are victims of a declared overseas terrorist incident to claim financial support of up to $75,000. It will enable the Prime Minister to declare that a relevant overseas terrorist incident is one to which this scheme applies. It also establishes eligibility criteria so that payments can be made to long-term Australian residents who are victims of a relevant overseas terrorist act or, in the event of the death of a victim, to a close family member.
The bill ensures that victims are not required to repay or deduct Medicare or other benefits from any payments received under this scheme and it enables the enactment of legislative instruments to provide further guidance on the amount of assistance that each victim or close family member should receive. To quantify this further, the payment is not set at a maximum of $75,000 but on a sliding scale dependent on circumstances at the time. The Australian victims of overseas terrorism payments under this bill will see a person qualify for consideration for payments where the person is a primary victim or a secondary victim of a declared overseas terrorist act, where the person or person's close family members are not involved in the commission of the terrorist act or where the person on the day the terrorist act occurred is an Australian resident. A primary victim refers to the person who was at the place and was harmed as a result of the terrorist act, whereas a secondary victim is a close family member of a deceased primary victim and refers to a partner, child, parent, sibling or guardian of the deceased person.
Acts of terrorism have impacted Australians both through the loss of life and through the ongoing trauma faced by those injured and by the loved ones left behind. No measure will ever take away the pain or heal the mental and physical injuries which result, but this bill does provide a very real and valuable mechanism for support. Historically, the federal government has funded disaster assistance for many Australian residents caught up in disaster incidents in other countries by way of ex gratia payment arrangements. The power of authority to make such payments comes by way of executive power to the Commonwealth under section 61 of the Australian Constitution. Such payments include provision for the evacuation of injured people, reasonable travel costs and reasonable medical costs where no other means to pay is available and reasonable costs for counselling and psychological care for families of Australian victims.
The Northern Territory, and in particular Darwin due to its geographical locality, has a very close affinity with the impacts of terrorism. For Territorians, Bali, for example, is just a two-hour flight away. For many, the opportunity to travel, particularly where the costs of airfares and accommodation can be less than the cost of an airfare to one of Australia's southern capitals, makes it an affordable destination for a holiday. I was there just recently. Many, many Territorians take their families there because it is so affordable and so close to where we live. But Territorians have also been scared by terrorist events. The Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 come to mind. Our medical facilities, particularly the Royal Darwin Hospital, became pivotal and a major asset in the recovery and treatment of many of the victims of those two terrible, terrible events. The Territory's close proximity to our northern neighbours naturally fosters broader relations far beyond those witnessed through the formal processes of government. As a close neighbour of East Timor, Bali and wider Indonesia, and more broadly Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, for example, the Territory community is a strong multicultural mixed pot with ties throughout the Asia region.
Although the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 struck at the heart of international terrorism around the globe, the battle against terrorism remains ongoing. More recently, on Sunday, 18 March 2012, as a result of a covert surveillance operation, Indonesian police took decisive action to detain a group of five people identified as members of a suspected militant group. The five members were believed to be planning a bombing at a local bar frequented by Australian tourists in the Seminyak area of Bali. In terms of terrorist threats, this is a timely reminder of the importance of always remaining vigilant.
Additionally, and just as importantly, this is a moment in time for us to consider how we support the victims and their families—those Australians impacted by these events. Israel and Northern Ireland have similar schemes in place for compensation or access to mechanisms for compensation relating to local acts of terrorism. The United States supports a compensation model not provided by the government purse but accessible as a required policy product offered by private insurance companies.
In conclusion, I support the bill before this House and I recognise the efforts of the Leader of the Opposition in his work on this very, very important issue. Terrorism is a hateful crime. It is indiscriminate in nature, targeting civilians, and is designed to have a significant impact, but it is yet to attain a universal definition. Regardless, this bill is about the value of putting in place mechanisms to provide compassion to Australians who are injured and the close family members of Australians who are killed as a result of a terrorist incident. With the most recent activities in Bali and the deaths of five suspected terrorists fresh in my mind, I believe the value of this bill and the efforts of the opposition leader and the government on this issue cannot be overstated. I commend the bill to the House.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:33