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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1826


Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (10:27): I rise to address the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2012, and I want to acknowledge the contribution of senators from both sides of the Senate and the crossbenches who recognise the importance of this issue and the responsibility we as legislators have to the people of Australia. The bill proposes the establishment of a framework to facilitate financial assistance for Australians killed or injured—or their next of kin—as a result of international terrorist acts. The explanatory memorandum goes through a number of the details of the bill in terms of the quantum of the funds, the $75,000 which is in line with state and territory victims-of-crime regimes as well as the sorts of people who are stakeholders that would be engaged in both the establishment and ongoing management of the scheme.

The question, though, that the public may well ask is: why? Why should the government put in place a scheme to financially support Australians who have been targeted by terrorism overseas? As mentioned about the state and territory victims-of-crime legislation, there is a strong precedent in this nation of caring for individuals who have been affected by incidents that are no fault of their own. Victims-of-crime legislation is one example. Compulsory third-party insurance is another example whereby we put in place mechanisms to make sure that people who are injured have the opportunity to have care provided for them. A parallel process, which is in discussion at the moment, is the National Disability Insurance Scheme, where we recognise the ongoing burden and crises that many family face due to circumstances imposed upon them that are beyond their control. It is also worth recognising that opportunities for individuals to take measures to protect themselves against such things as terrorism have been reduced since 9-11. The insurance industry, for example, now routinely places exclusions for terrorist acts on all kinds of insurance, whether it be home and contents insurance, commercial insurance or, particularly, travel insurance. That means that, even if people wish to insure against such things to make sure they can provide for themselves, insurance companies include exclusions which prevent that. The government has taken some steps in terms of commercial insurance onshore to give business some confidence, but that does not extend to what we are talking about here with people overseas. There are precedents in countries such as Israel, the UK—Northern Ireland in particular—and the United States. Those jurisdictions have well-established systems of compensating people who have been the victims of terrorism, so there is strong precedent. It is interesting to note that all of those precedents are in countries that place a high value on the individual. That is one of the reasons we need to look at this issue, because it is a matter of principle that we support people.

Why are Australians being targeted overseas? I use the word 'targeted' quite deliberately, because terrorist acts are not purely random. The incidents are occurring, by and large, in locations which suggest targeting of liberal Western democracies, whether it be in the UK, the United States or places where people such as Australians go. We are all very familiar with the Bali bombings, where Australians were targeted, the London bombings and 9-11. DFAT has quite clearly identified in their paper Transnational terrorism: the threat to Australia that Australia is a terrorist target both as a Western nation and also in its own right. The paper explains that the transnational extreme Muslim terrorists see that:

Weakening the influence of the West would advance their political goals by helping undermine those Muslims they view as corrupt and open to Western influence. We are seen as standing in the way of their goal to transform the Muslim world into a Taliban-style society. According to their simplistic worldview, we are part of the Christian West which, to them, is un-Islamic and therefore illegitimate.

The core values we hold and which are intrinsic to our success as a liberal democratic culture are anathema to these extremists. For them, our beliefs in democratic process, racial and gender equality, religious tolerance and equality of opportunity are mere human inventions at odds with God’s law. These values impede their political goals.

We have seen, recently, decisions taken, and endorsed by people like President Karzai, about the respective value of women compared to men and we have seen the oppression of minorities in countries such as Iran. This Senate has passed resolutions condemning the treatment of minorities in many countries. Different world views place different values on people. In Australia we value individuals, we value men and women equally and we uphold the principle of freedom. That makes us a target. That also means we should look out for those people who have been damaged or hurt in what various members in this place have described as a war against our world view and our way of life.

The coalition has long been a supporter of that principle. Going back to 2009, on 16 November, the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, tabled the Assisting the Victims of International Terrorism Bill. In 2010 Senator Brandis tabled the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill. On 21 February 2011, Mr Abbott again tabled a bill in the other place. This current bill is the latest in a succession of attempts by the coalition to uphold this principle.

The other reason we should be considering this bill is practice. At the moment, because our nation does value individuals, we have provided strong support to people who have been victims. As has been mentioned by various speakers in this debate, that support is somewhat fragmented, somewhat unpredictable and relies largely on a number of small grants and programs bringing together existing streams from departments such as Centrelink and on specific ex gratia payments, which can vary quite significantly. So for the interests of consistency it is appropriate that this Senate and this parliament look to provide a framework which provides some certainty as to the payments that would be made.

I support the comments made that this is not just a one-off for a short-term issue. Whether we are talking about Australians who are injured as uniformed soldiers in a war or whether we are talking about Australians who are injured through acts of terrorism, the actual act and the immediate aftermath, which so often creates a lot of public goodwill and interest, can be a life-changing, long-term devastating incident for those families. So, as a nation, we need to consider not only how we respond to the short term and the immediate but how we respond to those people and support them through a very long journey of recovery. I believe that is an area we will need to continue to discuss and debate in this place so that we can have a viable, affordable method of supporting those fellow Australians who, through no fault of their own, now face a very difficult life because of injuries that have been received, whether in the service of this nation or through being innocent Australians abroad who have been caught up, whether in London, the United States or wherever. We had artists in New York looking to exhibit their works, we had tourists and people working in London and we had people holidaying in Bali. These are all things that we would expect any person to have the right to go and do. When not only are there people killed—with that impact on their family—but there are a large number of people injured, that is an ongoing issue. We, as a nation, need to have a system in place to care for them.

Whether because of the precedent, because of the principal or because of the problems with current practice, we do need a better framework. It has been a long-held principle of the coalition—from November 2009 to 2010 to 2011 to now—to try and bring before this parliament legislation to get a better framework, and for that reason I support the bill.