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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1835


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:15): It is good to participate in a debate where everybody agrees with the sentiments of the bill before the parliament. I am certainly one who will be supporting this bill, the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2012, and I encourage all other senators to do the same. As I have listened to the debate this morning, I have heard many people relate particularly moving experiences. I thank Senator Xenophon for the brief but very important contribution he just made and I have to say I agree with most of what Senator Xenophon said.

It is clear that the coalition, the Labor Party, the Greens and the crossbenchers think that there is an important point in proceeding with legislation that provides for compensation. As I listened to the debate, I kept asking myself: if everybody agrees, why is it that the bill is not going to be passed because the Labor Party and the Greens will not be supporting it? I say to the Labor Party and the Greens: please, if you have a better bill, bring it forward, let us debate it, let us look at it and, as appropriate, let us move amendments. But let us get on and do something about it. If this bill is passed today, as I hope it will be, then we will be starting the process.

From what other speakers have said—and I was unaware of this until I heard the debate today—this process has been going on for in excess of two years now. It seems to me that in that time we have passed a series of 18 bills that will impose the world's biggest carbon tax on Australians. That very complex series of 18 pieces of legislation was guillotined through this parliament. We are all absolutely confident that there will be elements of those 18 pieces of legislation that will be challenged in the court—in fact we hear on the news today that the whole carbon tax parcel of legislation is going to be challenged because of the alleged unconstitutionality of it.

The point I am making is that the government was able to draft, prepare and ram through both chambers of parliament 18 pieces of complex legislation in next to no time. I say 'next to no time' because we know Ms Gillard promised at the last election that there would be no carbon tax, so the Public Service, the draughtsmen, would have put that out of their mind. As is the wont of this government in relation to taxation matters, promises mean nothing. But the point I am making is that those 18 pieces of legislation were able to be prepared, drafted and rammed through parliament in a matter of months. Yet in respect of this piece of relatively simple legislation—everyone here has said it is not terribly complex and does not involve a great deal of money—for some reason which I do not understand the government seems to be procrastinating in bringing forward what Labor speakers have said is an excellent piece of legislation that will fix everything.

If that is the case, why isn't it before the chamber today? Why aren't we dealing with it? It is a very simple question and I hope that someone might be able to answer it. If someone were able to indicate to me that the Labor government is bringing forward a piece of legislation that has been properly consulted upon and has been discussed with the opposition and the crossbenchers in a nonpartisan way, even without seeing it I would feel fairly confident that I would be supporting that piece of legislation as well. But despite, or perhaps because of, the procrastination of this government on that front, we now have a bill to assist victims of overseas terrorism before the parliament today which can be voted upon and, hopefully, adopted. I am very pleased to support this bill so we actually do move forward.

As Senator Xenophon indicated, there seems to be concern on the government benches that retrospectivity may cost $20 million and we do not know what this is going to cost in the future. I agree absolutely with Senator Xenophon when he says that all of us would hope that this will cost absolutely nothing. That would mean that in the future there will be no victims of overseas terrorism. But, if there are, we as a compassionate nation and a wealthy nation should be making provision for those who are victims of that terrorism.

Senator Xenophon mentioned a figure of $20 million. When you consider that this government is borrowing $100 million each and every day, $20 million to spend retrospectively on victims of terrorism seems to be a mere drop in the ocean. To oppose or not vote for this bill on the basis that it might cost $20 million seems to me to be foolish and disingenuous in the extreme.

This bill proposes, as other speakers have said, to establish a scheme to compensate Australian victims of overseas terrorist attacks. It is proposed that the scheme be similar to those that have long operated in Australian states and territories. State victim of crime legislation was rightly implemented decades ago. There is nothing new, there are no surprises, in how this legislation operates in the states and how it is funded. It seems to me disingenuous that, if the states could do this in years gone by, this federal government cannot bring forward a bill that is universally accepted to deal with an issue which everybody in this chamber agrees upon. So I urge senators to support the bill.

If for some reason the Labor Party thinks that it has a better bill, bring it on. Let us have it before the chamber. Let us see if it does need amendment. Let us move and debate amendments. Let us look at costings that the Public Service may have been able to bring forward. But, please, let us get on with it. Do not wait another two years before this issue can be addressed by this federal parliament. If nothing else, hopefully this bill will have said to the government: 'Look, get on it; don't procrastinate. You have been able to do it with taxing bills. When you want to raise taxes, you get those things very quickly through the parliament.' We are dealing with some of the most complex pieces of legislation in the Senate this afternoon with the mining tax bills—more taxing bills that the Labor Party is very able to prepare, to draft, to fund and to get before this parliament in a relatively short period of time; yet this bill, which by comparison is simple and not complex, seems to have the Labor government stalling.

While I am speaking on this bill relating to victims of terrorism, can I just digress ever so slightly with the concurrence of the Senate to acknowledge the men and women of the Australian defence forces who do such a lot in the fight against terrorism. All Australians know that we are in the war in Afghanistan because it is a war against terrorism that we must win. We know it has the universal support of all Australians. The sorts of things that happened in New York on September 11, in Bali and elsewhere are abhorrent to any decent human being in this world. That is why in the case of Afghanistan we have gone to war to try and address terrorism and the root causes of terrorism and those people who would conduct terrorist activities and create death and mayhem and the victims which this bill is all about. It is the men and women of our defence forces who are the frontline in this war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Speaking as a Queenslander and an Australian as well—I do not want to be partisan about the states—I come from a place up in the north of Queensland at Townsville where we have Australia's largest Army base. Daily we see the very fine individuals who constitute Australia's Army and Air Force and irregularly the Navy as it calls into Townsville to pick up troops and to deliver goods to the Lavarack Army base in Townsville. Our troops—our soldiers—our sailors and our airmen are the best in the world. Their training is impeccable. It is rigorous. They know how to conduct their warlike operations but at the same time be careful, as you have to be these days, of civilians who are in the area of conflict. That is no easy task. Our men and women do a fantastic job. I think all Australians recognise that. The increasing numbers that turn out at military parades on Anzac Day, Kapyong Day and Armistice Day are a testament to the fact that all Australians are attending not only to commemorate the event but also to give support to the troops of today who always participate in those commemoration services. The troops do a mighty job.

You will excuse me for being a little parochial as a Queenslander, but we do have Australia's largest Army base at Lavarack. We have two of Australia's finest training areas in Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton and at High Range behind Townsville and also the jungle training up near Innisfail and the old Canungra training ground. I do not think it exists any more, but they do train around that area. We have Enoggera in Queensland, another very substantial Army base. We have one of the most significant Air Force bases in Amberley and again in Townsville at Garbutt, air bases with very long history. I am always proud to mention a fact not many people understand and that is that Australia's second largest east coast naval base is situated in Cairns in Far North Queensland. I would certainly hope that in the not-too-distant future, as Sydney Harbour gets more crowded and other activities intervene which make it less appropriate to have Australia's biggest naval base in the centre of Sydney, the naval base at Cairns will be expanded to accommodate more of the vessels that of necessity must leave Garden Island.

In this debate on victims of terrorism I acknowledge the great work that our defence forces do in defending us against terrorism by their activities overseas. I note an incident quite recently where, thanks to the good work of the security services and the police, a proposed terrorist attack on an Army base was thwarted. It shows, as other speakers have mentioned in this debate, how targeted Australians are and, I have to say, how targeted our Australian servicepeople are because of their excellence in combating terrorism wherever it occurs. I know, in those words of commendation and congratulations I offer to the men and women of our defence forces, there would not be a senator in this parliament who would disagree. I would like those troops to know that we as legislators and as parliamentarians acknowledge, respect and understand the great work that they do.

To get back to this bill: I think it is important that, if people are the victims of overseas terrorism, they should be compensated. If Australians are victims of criminal acts in Australia, they will invariably receive some compensation, some monetary benefit, from the state or territory government. It is not a lavish amount; it is not a sum of money that will enable people to live in luxury for the rest of their lives. But it is an important acknowledgement from our community of the abhorrent and completely unjustified pain and suffering of the victims.

This bill proposes a federal scheme that will be similar to the ones in place currently in the states and territories of Australia. The amount involved, as I was just saying, is not a huge amount—$75,000 is proposed. Nothing will overcome the loss, hurt or damage to body and soul that terrorism can cause to people, but it is a token that will help people get on with their lives and help the families of victims to get on with their lives. I think it is a bill that is long overdue and urge the Senate to support it.