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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5115

Senator WEBBER (2:01 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Family and Community Services. In relation to the tragic bombing in Bali, and particularly the devastating impact it has had on the people of the northern suburbs of Perth, could the minister detail what, if any, financial assistance may be available to victims and their families, particularly those who have had to travel to or remain in Bali to search for or identify loved ones? Can the minister detail what steps the government and Centrelink have taken in relation to this matter, particularly the difficulty of providing financial assistance to those who have had to remain in Bali, perhaps with very limited financial resources?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the senator for her question, some of which I am able to answer and some of which is more appropriately addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. That part which should be so directed relates to what assistance can be provided to people outside Australia. Inside Australia, of course, Centrelink may well have a role to play. That role will vary very much depending on the individual circumstances of the people concerned. There may be people who are already on some sort of benefit who, as a consequence of what has happened to loved ones in Bali who are either injured or now deceased, are entitled to a higher and/or different payment, and they should of course contact Centrelink in that respect.

The more difficult question involves people who are now not on some sort of benefit. There may be people who will, as a consequence of what has happened, be entitled to some sort of benefit. For example, if an income earner in a single-income family is now deceased, the widow or widower may be entitled to some sort of benefit. There may be people who are in difficult financial circumstances and are not able to establish in the short term, in terms of income and asset testing, that they would be able to access a mainstream benefit, in which case they may well be entitled to get a special benefit for a period of, say, a fortnight. Any payments in this respect will be streamlined and expedited and, in that fortnight, we would expect to be able to assist any families, and they themselves would be able to ascertain further details in respect of their own financial situations. Of course, any of those will be looked at as leniently as possible. For example, in relation to special benefit, there is a limit of cash available—that might not be the technical term for it; it really means things you can readily turn into cash quickly— which is $5,000. We would look at that as a long-term amount and be as generous as we possibly can be to assist people. I am aware, simply because of what I have read in the paper, that Foreign Affairs are able to assist people directly in Bali with, I think, up to $300. But, as I say, that question is better directed to another minister.

The short form of the answer is some people may now be entitled to a payment. If they are, that will be streamlined. Sadly, it might mean some will be entitled to bereavement assistance. That will be—or may be—people who are already on a benefit. There are others who are not, and who may not be certain whether they fit into a mainstream benefit, and we may be able to help them with a special benefit for a fortnight. But they should contact Centrelink as quickly as they can and they will get all the assistance they can. Centrelink also has additional services in the form of counsellors. I understand they are available through other means, but they will be available as well.

Senator WEBBER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer. Could she also advise the Senate whether the government has given consideration to extending the criteria of the one-off disaster relief payment to enable the provision of assistance to victims of the bombing?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I did have a look at that yesterday and it does not appear that the disaster relief payment is appropriate in the circumstances. I think the reasoning is that the disaster is meant to be in Australia, as opposed to elsewhere—or the recipient is meant to be in Australia. We have tried to not say, `You cannot have that benefit.' We have tried to look at what we can do rather than what we cannot. We did look at that. That appears not to be an appropriate opportunity, because of the way the legislation is structured. So we have simply concentrated on looking at what we can do.