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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7075


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (21:21): It is a privilege again to rise in this House to speak on this matter as I did on 28 February 2011 in response to the Leader of the Opposition's fine private member's bill. It is very important to acknowledge the role of the Leader of the Opposition in bringing forward this legislation today because, without his inspiration in understanding that this gap was there in Australian society and in the legislative framework in dealing with the victims of terrorism, we would not be here in this chamber today. I do commend the government for finally moving on this but, as I remarked in February 2011, there are still some significant concerns with how this will apply to the existing victims of terrorism that have been so tragically affected by those awful and terrible acts we have seen in many parts of the world in the past few years.

We know that 300 Australians have died and their families are still here in Australia suffering. The Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011 is designed to help those people who are victims of events that the member for Blair outlined in speaking on the provisions of this bill. One of the concerns that we have as a coalition is the fact that this is not necessarily retrospective. That is of fundamental concern and ought to be of concern to the member for Blair, who indicated his surprise that no government—of any flavour, as he put it—had brought forward this kind of legislation before. I am surprised that we have this legislation before us today and the government is still not understanding the fundamental proposition that this is about dealing with those victims of terrorism that already exist in our society today. This is what we have identified. The Leader of the Opposition identified the suffering of those people and put forward the idea that we arrange for their circumstances to be better after suffering, through no fault of their own, these terrible acts.

I do think there is a disconnect here between the government and the opposition on what this means. We, of course, want to see future terrorist acts covered, and this legislation will be a big improvement on the situation. But we do need to consider very carefully that if we do not make it retrospective or we are not clear on the retrospectivity of this legislation then it will not cover the people who have been the impetus for this very legislation coming to the House. I am a proponent of, in general, not passing retrospective law in this place where it is to somebody's detriment. But this is not about detrimentally affecting any of these people; it is about ensuring they receive and access the benefits we are providing if we pass this legislation in the House. In February 2011 the Leader of the Opposition was very clear in highlighting all of the tragic circumstances—the people remaining after the Bali incident, the communities and families that were affected—and that this legislation was coming about and his private member's bill was in relation to these people's circumstances.

The disconnect goes a little further sometimes. The member for Blair understands the law very well and was speaking about legal eagles and lawyers. But I do not really accept that this bill is essentially the same as a workers compensation proposition. I do not think it is a helpful comparison. I know he did not intend to make it, but I do not feel that that sort of assertions, that this is somehow related to workers compensation matters, is useful in this debate. In a genuine fashion I am saying that to him. This is an extraordinary piece of legislation to cover an extraordinary gap arising from an era that most Australians would not have been able to predict and that we are unable to deal with very effectively. Even with all the instrumentalities of government and even with all of the absolute right of the state to use force, we still struggle in dealing with terrorism all around the world. While our soldiers are fighting a very brave fight overseas, terrorism is a very difficult problem to solve and dealing with its consequences is a very difficult problem for us to deal with.

That is why the Leader of the Opposition proposed a private member's bill that was deliberately vague in its provisions to allow the government scope to ensure that there would be maximum flexibility in its design of legislation and maximum adaptability to ensure that the benefits were received by the victims without the rigmarole or the legal approach of government. I understand in the complex world that we live in, with all of the laws that we have passed—and there are too many of them covering too many topics—that we do have to look into every provision of every different social security bill and other arrangements to ensure that people are not penalised. But, equally, the intention of our legislation must also be clear—and that is to avoid turning this into a style of workers compensation or other matter. It is just simply to assist those people and their families who are victims of terrorism.

We have heard about the amounts of money that this bill deals with. They are negligible. There is really no substantial serious impact. And while I am never lenient with taxpayers' dollars, and I never ask this place to be, this topic and the reasons and the impetus for this legislation are such that we can, I think, excuse $75,000 payments. I think they are appropriate and go some way to assisting with the very serious situation that people find themselves in. We have seen the horrific impact that terrorism does have on our citizens abroad and the ongoing horrific effect on the lives of the families here.

I spoke on 28 February 2011 about this legislation and the government has now got this bill before us. While at the time I made a point about the government criticising the private member's bill for not being technically accurate, I am still not sure why it would take that period of time to make this bill technically accurate and yet still not cover the topic of retrospectivity to cover the very victims that we are all so concerned about and that we all on both sides of this chamber want to assist. I am speaking here tonight to urge the government to continue to improve the quality of what it is doing in relation to this as quickly as humanly possible.

I understand that the Leader of the Opposition will be moving amendments to this legislation. They are considered amendments with a very positive intent to improve this legislation, to ensure that the very people that are the reason for this legislation are covered by it. The government in good faith should consider carefully its approach to amendments when an opposition does come up with good ideas. This is not the kind of topic where the opposition will say: 'We got one over you. We thought of something you didn't.' This is the kind of topic where we are genuine, where the Leader of the Opposition's intention is genuine, in trying to do something about a very serious gap and a capability gap.

The member for Blair spoke about his surprise about any government not doing anything. It is surprising, given the fact that terrorism came up, that no government has moved to do this and it is time for us to do it. I would urge the government to think very carefully about their approach to the amendments to ensure that we do have a very bipartisan approach to these matters and to ensure that we do accept worthy ideas for improvement. We must clarify the retrospectivity concerns and we must look at what is going to happen to these very badly affected victims who have provided the impetus for this legislation. Without too much further ado I would simply say that the original design of this was vague to allow the government scope to do it. There is nothing wrong with getting the opposition's assistance in this case and ensuring that we have a high-quality bill.

Debate interrupted.