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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7478

Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (13:17): I would like to thank all the members who have spoken on this bill. It is an area where people on both sides of the House have very strong feelings, for reasons that are extremely justifiable. I want to thank everyone for their contributions and the spirit in which they were given, in particular those members who have people in their electorates who were unfortunate victims or family members of victims of past incidents. I know that for all concerned it is a very delicate subject and one where people are committed to being able to provide appropriate support. No-one in this House disagrees with the fact that terrorism is a terrible crime, that it has a dramatic and long-lasting impact on the lives of victims.

This Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011 will enable Australians who are victims of declared overseas terrorism acts to claim financial support of up to $75,000. The bill establishes a framework for the provision of this assistance. As the bill was introduced some time ago, it will not surprise the House as we flag that the government will be moving some amendments that have already been identified. I will go through those amendments in more detail when they are moved in the consideration in detail stage.

But I would like to address one of the major themes that has been raised throughout this debate, particularly from those opposite, and that is the question of whether or not retrospectivity should apply to this scheme. I understand that that will be the subject of an amendment to be moved by the opposition when we get to the consideration in detail stage. As I said, I respect the speakers who have spoken about this and their genuine commitment. However, I think we do need to look at some of the facts in the history surrounding these particular instances but also the consideration of whether or not retrospectivity should apply. Speakers mentioned in particular the September 11 attacks and the Bali bombings.

In relation to the September 11 attacks and the Bali bombings, the previous government made decisions about support and assistance for victims at the time. In fact, in August 2003, after the Bali bombing, then Prime Minister John Howard ruled out compensation and 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. Of course, support was provided to past victims, and that drew on a number of existing measures, including the Disaster Health Care Assistance Scheme, ex gratia assistance, consular and repatriation assistance and immediate short-term financial assistance through the AGDRP. Since Bali 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 acts. In addition, the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund provided generous financial assistance to those injured and the next of kin of those who were killed in the 9-11 attacks, including Australians.

So I am concerned that those opposite are raising an issue that they did not act upon when they were in government; that this has been pursued well after the opportunity to be able to consider these matters; and that it was ruled out explicitly by the Prime Minister of the day, and ruled out again by the Justice and Customs Minister, a senator from the shadow minister's own state. Here, our government has taken the step to establish a scheme, once and for all, for future events. That is now being politicised to try to make some sort of point about a history which is actually the previous government's history rather than our own. Payments have been made of between $250,000 and up to $7.1 million to the next of kin of those persons who were killed in the 9-11 attacks, including Australians. Accordingly, the government does not propose to extend the scheme to cover individuals who have already been supported.

Our government is very committed to making the changes in this bill. We have welcomed the opposition's support. There has been agreement, in what is a difficult area, about how prospective payments should be capped. I think this is a scheme that will stand Australia in good stead. I am sure that every member of this House hopes that this scheme will never be used. That will mean that we never have Australians in parts of the world where they may be a victim of terrorism. But I fear that despite that ardent wish, we do not live in a world where that is likely to be possible in the future and therefore it is appropriate for us to put in place a scheme which allows for clear support and which sets out the rules and methods for that to be made available to people quickly. I will speak in a little more detail about the amendments that the government is moving when we move to the consideration in detail, and of course I acknowledge that the member for Stirling is also going to move his amendments after that.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for the bill and proposed amendments announced.