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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1671


Mr HAWKE (9:15 PM) —I rise tonight to support in the strongest terms the Leader of the Opposition’s motion for the second reading of the Assisting the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2010. In doing so, I think it is important to note that this House has a common, shared concern for the victims of terrorism, and that is good to hear from members opposite. We have all seen the horrific impact of terrorism on our citizens abroad and the ongoing horrific effects on their lives and the lives of their families and others around them. I do find it odd, however, that the government, while having a concerned demeanour and sharing our concern for the victims, does not have a commitment to action.

That is why the Leader of the Opposition’s bill is before us today. We have a commitment to action, to seeing something actually done for the victims of terrorism. Considering that we live now in a world that is so dangerous, where the potential for further terrorist and other acts, both internationally and domestically, is only increasing—particularly when you look at what is happening in the Middle East—and there is a real prospect that Australia citizens will be the subject of terrorist acts in the very near future, it is an appropriate juncture for us to act, to move, to say, ‘We do need to look at ways of compensating the victims of terrorism.’

Over 300 Australians have lost their lives in the past decade, and government arrangements have been unsatisfactory in those cases. I think we can all acknowledge that. Our support is limited to Centrelink, medical expenses, some ex gratia assistance—not what the government is talking about here. The lack of a comprehensive method of delivering real and tangible support to the victims is unsatisfactory. We would all acknowledge that.

The government members’ arguments tonight have been very odd, and I do not think they need to be so political. Whether they are thinking about a whole-of-government approach or waiting for a comprehensive package, whatever it is they have in mind, I think we really ought to all commit to taking the steps that are before us tonight. Both the government members who have spoken in this debate tonight said that the bill is vague in its intent and it is somehow technically imperfect. I find that to be a very flawed argument, because the bill is deliberately vague in its construct in order to give the government the scope to do what it needs to do via regulation to deliver an outcome for the victims. That is why it is deliberately vague in its design—deliberately vague, not accidentally vague. It is not technically flawed but concise and clear in its intention to give the government the scope to deliver the outcome to the victims of terrorism. It is deliberate. I think the members opposite have accidentally read something into the bill that they ought not to have read into it.

We are saying to the government that we are not going to prescribe every single circumstance that people might be in—which is not possible to do. We are saying that there are working examples and models of victims of crime legislation in every state and territory in this country. The member for Fowler, who has just joined us in the chamber, has a great interest in policing matters and knows that victims of crime legislation functions very well. The member for Newcastle mentioned such legislation, and I would ask her to reference it. This is perhaps where we are seeing a flaw in the operation of the federal government. We cannot possibly prescribe every single circumstance to which compensation might apply. We need a deliberate scheme that says that, by regulation, the government can design circumstances that are appropriate to the situations that emerge.

The financial impact of this legislation is absolutely negligible. There has been talk of $75,000 payments. This is a private member’s bill that would have no impact on our bottom line other than the most minor. It would not be open to rorting or any abuse of the system. The kinds of contentions that we are hearing from members opposite are, I think, of a purely political design to attempt to pass off this bill and move on to something else.

I stand here tonight and say to every single member of the Labor Party: if you have a bill in the pipeline, that is fantastic—bring that forward. Bring it forward today. Bring it forward tomorrow. Bring it forward next week. But let us not pass up this opportunity by saying that the Leader of the Opposition is playing politics, if you do not have an alternative strategy or response. Let us see that response. The Leader of the Opposition has put forward this bill with the best of intentions, realising that there has been a lapse in government support over the last decade in terms of the emergence of the terrorist situation. I urge members opposite to get with this agenda and do something rather than express concern about this bill.