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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7475


Mr IRONS (Swan) (13:04): I am pleased to rise to support the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. Australians love to travel. It is part of our national psyche to pack the backpack, the suitcase and the travellers cheques and head for foreign shores. This travel can take our citizens to places that are exciting and very different from Australia's way of life and culture and where they can engage with the locals. Our expenditure overseas on these visits can be vital to the economy, in particular, of some of our closest neighbours.

Australians enjoy a standard of living and way of life that is envied by many and, unfortunately, hated by some. That hatred of Australians and Westerners has contributed to the terrorist attacks overseas in recent years which have left many Australians dead or injured. We as Australians, and particularly as Western Australians, shared the tragedy that was the Bali bombings with the people of Indonesia and the rest of the world. With the deaths of 88 Australians and the dreadful injuries to many others, the dark shadow of terrorism finally came to meet Australians face-to-face in the home of one of our nearest neighbours. In Bali, the holiday playground for many Australians, the peaceful, idyllic destination's ambience was shattered forever with that terrorist act. It brought home to all Australians how cowardly terrorists are given the use of senseless and brutal acts, as well as fear, violence and death, as their tools to achieve their religious and fanatical beliefs.

It is as a result of acts of terrorism like the Bali bombings, the Jakarta bombings, the London bombings and 9/11 that the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011 has become essential legislation. The government bill seeks to provide, for the Australian victims of overseas terrorist acts, compensation payments akin to those received by domestic victims of crime under the state and territory victims of crime schemes. It is a modest and important measure to fill a gap in the support that Australia gives to its citizens who have suffered through no fault of their own.

The bill will (a) enable Australians who are victims of a declared overseas terrorist incident to claim financial support of up to $75,000; (b) enable the Prime Minister to declare that a relevant overseas terrorist incident is one to which the scheme applies; (c) establish eligibility criteria so that payments can be made either to long-term Australian residents who are victims of a relevant overseas terrorist act or, in the event of the death of a victim, close family members; (d)    ensure that victims are not required to repay or deduct Medicare or other benefits from any payment received under the scheme; and (e) enable the enactment of legislative instruments to provide further guidance on the amount of assistance that each victim, or close family member, should receive. The bill proposes two categories of eligible individuals: primary victims and secondary victims. A primary victim will be a person who is harmed as a result of a declared overseas terrorist act; a secondary victim will be a close family member of a person who dies as a result of a declared overseas terrorist act. Payments will be capped at $75,000 for both primary and secondary victims. However, a person who is injured in a declared overseas terrorist act and whose close family member also dies in the same declared overseas terrorist act may claim as both a primary and secondary victim and may receive payments of up to $75,000 in relation to each claim. The payment for secondary victims may be apportioned between eligible close family members.

I think it is vital that Australians should be aware of the detail in this bill and there are two areas that should be raised. They are, first, section 35B—Declared overseas terrorist act. Subsection (1) provides that the Prime Minister may declare in writing that a terrorist act that occurs outside Australia is a declared overseas terrorist act. This is effected by legislative instrument. Not every terrorist act that occurs overseas will result in a declaration activating the Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment scheme. The act must be declared in writing by the Prime Minister as a 'declared overseas terrorist act'. That declaration will then be lodged as a legislative instrument. This measure will ensure that remote events are not drawn into the scheme.

Subsection (2) states that if the Prime Minister makes a declaration under subsection (1) then the minister is taken to have made a determination under subsection 36(1) that the terrorist act is a major disaster. The purpose of this subsection is to deem the major disaster declaration to have been made, avoiding the requirement for the minister to also make a declaration. Item 10 at the end of subsection 36(1) provides for a note to be added at the end of subsection 36(1). The note states that if the Prime Minister makes a declaration under section 35B that a terrorist act is a declared overseas terrorist act, the minister is taken to have made a determination under subsection (1) of this section that the terrorist act is a major disaster. So in simple terms, if you are injured in a terrorist attack you will only qualify for payment if the Prime Minister declares the act is an overseas terrorist act.

Another area I wish to raise is section 1061PAF, AVTOP principles. Section 1061PAF provides for the principles that will assist in determining the amount of Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment payable in any particular circumstance to any particular claimant. Paragraph 2(a) states:

For a primary victim, these factors include:

i. the nature of the injury or disease suffered as a direct result of the terrorist act,

ii. the duration of the injury or disease,

iii. the impact of the injury or disease on the person's bodily and mental functions,

iv. the impact of the injury or disease on the person's life,

v. the likelihood of the person suffering future loss, injury or disease as a direct result of the terrorist act,

vi. the circumstances in which the injury or disease was incurred, and

vii. whether the person was directed by an official of Australia or a foreign country not to go to the place where the terrorist act occurred.

In relation to subparagraphs 2(a)(i) to (a)(iv), the nature of the injuries, whether they were a direct result of the terrorist act, their duration and impact are factors that can be taken into account in the assessment process. In relation to subparagraph 2(a)(v), the likelihood of future loss is an important consideration to be taken into account when making an assessment. As a primary victim may only submit one claim, it is important that this claim reflects the true loss or harm from the terrorist act. Victims may wish to lodge a claim quite quickly following the terrorist act due to financial pressures. However, if the victim's injuries have not yet stabilised or there is delayed psychological injury, the assessed quantum may not fully realise the extent of future loss. The intention of this provision is to allow for future loss when making the determination. The victim should obtain medical advice in order to provide a correct prognosis of future loss. This would cover a situation, for example, where a person receives injuries to his back and breaks his leg as a result of a terrorist attack. An assessment based on the cost of his present medical expenses and injuries is $30,000. However, if the person develops severe arthritis 12 months later which is ongoing, the person is no longer able to work and is in continual pain, it would not be possible for the person to submit a further claim because it would create unnecessary ongoing administrative expenses. There needs to be an incentive to delay claims until all injuries are apparent. Accordingly, it is appropriate that possible future injuries be taken into consideration when determining quantum. It beggars belief that someone who has been a victim is going to know what, if any, or how severe any future medical conditions may be. I trust this is an issue that will be dealt with to ensure this amending legislation will provide the best possible assistance to any victims.

There also were concerns raised by officers of the Attorney-General's Department that should there be a major terrorist incident the scheme could be in danger of a budget blow-out. The safety net for this scheme is that it should only apply to people who are Australian domiciled as well as Australian citizens. In that way Australian citizens who are not living here in Australia at the time of the terrorist incident would not be covered. Over the past decade, since 11 September 2001, over 300 Australians have been killed or injured in acts of terrorism overseas. However, acts of terrorism are unexpected and unpredictable. As a result, it is likely that the cost of this scheme will vary over time. It is likely there will be no payments made some years but a significant number of payments made in other years.

I know this is a bill which the opposition leader, Mr Abbott, along with the rest of the coalition, supports. At the time of introduction the Leader of the Opposition issued a press release saying:

I congratulate the government on taking this sensible measure. I thank the Independent MPs who had indicated to the government that they would have backed my private member's bill ... The government bill, as my bill did, seeks to provide for the Australian victims of overseas terrorist acts compensation payments analogous to those received by domestic victims of crime under the state and territory victims of crime schemes. An issue which the government has yet to resolve is whether the bill will have retrospective operation.

I do believe there is an amendment to be moved by the shadow minister, the member for Stirling, who I also know has a close affiliation with victims of the Bali bombings, many of whom came from his electorate. Obviously it would be deeply disappointing if victims of the two Bali bombings, the two Jakarta bombings, the London bombing and September 11 were not able to access the compensation that will shortly be available. The Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011 before parliament is not necessarily retrospective. It could therefore leave victims of those Bali bombings and other past terrorist attacks, as flagged in the March 2011 press release, without any financial support. I have spoken on the Bali bombings in this place on quite a few occasions and have attended the remembrance service in Perth, in Kings Park, with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and member for Curtin and the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, during the past few years. I have met victims of the Bali bombings and their families, and if anyone ever qualified for support from this government they certainly do. The Leader of the Opposition and member for Paterson have consistently said in the past that the Australians who were killed or severely injured in the second Bali bombing were the inspiration for the original bill. To keep faith with them, the coalition will move amendments, as I have previously mentioned, to ensure that they also have access to compensation.

I will now make some further comments about the Bali bombings which I have shared with the members of this place previously. The bombings took the lives of 202 people in the district of Kuta in 2002. As Australians and as Western Australians we shared this tragedy with the people of Indonesia and the rest of the world. With the deaths of 88 Australians and the injuries to many others, the dark shadow of terrorism finally came to meet Australians face to face in the home of one of our nearest neighbours. It brought home to all Australians how cowardly terrorists are. This was a tragedy for the peace-loving Balinese, who welcome all Australians and many other world visitors to their beautiful island. They shared the pain and tragedy suffered by many Australians and others from around the world who lost loved ones. Out of this tragedy, we have strengthened the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, and we are closer now in 2012 than ever before. We have found new strength not only between our governments but also between our peoples and our cultures.

Australia has been a friend and ally of Indonesia, our closest neighbour. At the closest point between the two countries there is less distance between Australia and Indonesia than there is between Sydney and Canberra. By being so close we have been able to share in great opportunities for relationships to grow on so many levels. The close proximity of our two countries has also meant that the security and prosperity of Australia is intimately linked with the security and prosperity of Indonesia, and we as a nation are committed to growth and stability for their nation and the region. We stood by Indonesia as they fought for their independence in 1948. Now, in 2012, we must also stand by the victims of the bombings who inspired this bill. I commend the bill to the House.