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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7070

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (20:58): I rise tonight to speak on the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill. It is a very worthwhile bill. It is a bill that has been a long time in coming. It originated because of the tenacity of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. Tony Abbot had personal experience with the acts of terrorism when he was in Bali. By coincidence, when Tony Abbott was in Bali the people that he helped after the Bali bombings happened to be personal friends of mine.

I commend the government for bringing this bill forward. It is a little late but it is well recognised. There is one fundamental flaw in this bill. That fundamental flaw is that it is not retrospective for those who have already suffered at the hands of terrorists. It does not matter whether those terrorist acts occurred in New York, Washington, Bali, London, Jakarta or Mumbai if the victims are our fellow Australians. During these acts people's lives were destroyed—they were ended—and family structures were torn apart. Communities were torn apart. I am not saying that the coalition government who was in power at the time of some of these acts and the current government have not provided medical or support services. But this is the payment of a compensatory amount of $75,000 that would enable people to get on with their lives. We are not talking a huge amount of money. Over the past decade about 300 Australians have been killed or injured in acts of terrorism overseas. That is an average of 30 a year. If we apply that average of 30 times $75,000, the estimated cost would be around $2¼ million per annum. It is not a lot of money, so what I cannot understand is why this government is not making it retrospective.

I have made a number of speeches in this parliament on this issue and surrounding the acts of terrorism on Australians. I do get concerned and I would like to point to a couple of incidents. In November 2009, then Prime Minister Rudd gave a commitment to this House that he would push to have this incorporated as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In fact on that day in the parliament Prime Minister Rudd berated me for questioning the integrity of that scheme and how it would apply to people who had been affected by acts of terrorism such as the twin towers attack in September 11, the 12 October 2002 Bali bombings in which 88 Australians were killed, the London bombings in 2005 where one of my constituents, Louise Barry, was affected, and the October 2005 bombings at Jimbaran Beach where four Australians were killed, including three from the Hunter Valley, Jennifer Williamson, and Colin and Fiona Zwolinski.

I have regular dialogue with one of the victims of these bombings, Paul Anicich. Paul Anicich was a leading light, a leading legal mind, one of the senior partners in Sparke Helmore. These events meant that he could no longer work. His capacity to apply his brilliant legal mind was taken away from him. His wife, Penny, also suffered from the explosions. Their path of recovery has taken a long time. Paul has been one of the strongest advocates for this victims of terrorism compensation fund. The Leader of the Opposition was fair in saying that Paul Anicich is one of the people who has driven our side of parliament into pushing this as an agenda. Paul quite rightly admits that it is not he that needs the money—it is people like Tony Purkiss, a great guy who had a good job but was blinded by the bomb blast and is now not able to work, and like the young boys Isaac and Ben Zwolinski who lost their parents. How do they get on? We are not talking a huge amount of money. I understand the coalition will be moving amendments through the Leader of the Opposition to make this retrospective, to pick up the tab and provide some compensatory funds for those who truly deserve it.

On 13 May 2010, just over two years ago, in question time, then Prime Minister Rudd responded to a question that I asked him in relation to how the victims of terrorism bill was progressing. He said:

… the honourable member for Paterson asked about compensation for victims of international terrorism. I am aware of the private member’s bill that has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition on this matter—and about which the member for Paterson has spoken. It proposes the establishment of a compensation scheme for victims of terrorism overseas. We appreciate the spirit in which this private member’s bill has been put forward. I am sure I speak on behalf of all members of the House when I say that we support victims of terrorism and appreciate the interest that any member of this House takes in their particular and individual circumstances. We are happy to examine the bill which has been put forward and see what practical things could be done to assist Australians in these circumstances. To that end I have asked the Attorney-General to speak further in the course of the next month with the member for Paterson on its details. We condemn, as I am sure all members of this place do, all acts of terrorism. We stand by all Australian victims of terrorism.

This is the key point. Here was a Prime Minister saying, 'We stand by all Australian victims of terrorism'. That was on 13 May two years ago, and this bill is only coming to the floor of the parliament today. I think that the time this has taken to actually come to the floor paints in a bad light some of those who have expressed their concern for these victims.

How do you say to someone who has suffered a family member's life ending from an act of terrorism, or to a person whose life has been rendered partially useless because of a senseless act of terrorism because of people attacking what we stand for—freedom and democracy not only in our country but across the world—that they deserve any less than what applies to any victim of crime across the states? If I am not correct someone will correct me, but the amount of money paid across the states to victims of crime is $75,000 a person.

I am very disappointed that this bill is not retrospective. That was the crux of the bill moved by the Leader of the Opposition—to apply to those people who had already suffered. Creating a bill before any terrorist event occurred would have been something we would have all looked at and said, 'Well, this is never going to happen,' but these events occurred nearly seven years ago and it is only today that we are here debating this bill on the floor. For seven years people have sat around wondering what the government would do given the promises and the commitments that were made. I sit and think regularly about Paul and Penny, and Tony Purkiss and how they are getting on with their lives. I think of the young boys Ben and Isaac and how they have grown into fine young men without their parents. As I say, we are not talking a large amount of money. We are talking about an amount of money which will make a difference to the lives of these people. This bill is in line with state and territory victims-of-crime regimes, and we support that. I ask the government, as I have on many occasions before, to actually have a heart. Have a heart; it is not a lot of money. If we compare it to other schemes and expenditure of government—and I am not going to get overtly political on this—the total quantum of money is very little in comparison. I urge the minister and I urge those local members who represent the families or the individuals that have been affected to have a heart and to make sure that they stand up for them in this time of need. I again congratulate the government for finally getting this bill to the floor of the House, but we have been given so many commitments before. We need to see a final resolution of this so that people can get on with their lives, and I look forward to joining in the debate on the amendments to be put forward by the Leader of the Opposition.