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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5123

Senator RIDGEWAY (2:43 PM) —Mr President, I also offer my condolences and deepest sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of those involved in the Bali tragedy. My question is the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Helen Coonan. Minister, given changes in the travel insurance industry post September 11, what measures is the government putting in place to ensure that travellers affected by the October 12 Bali bombings will be fully covered by their travel insurance?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I thank Senator Ridgeway for the question and for his concern about this issue. It is an opportunity for me to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy conveyed yesterday in the Senate. As the enormity of this tragedy sinks in, our hearts go out to those Australian families who have lost loved ones and particularly, I think, to those families whose loved ones have not yet been identified. While the government's immediate priority must clearly be ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Australians in Bali and caring for those who have been injured, I can provide some practical information about the status of travel insurance.

The government has been in close contact with the Insurance Council of Australia on this issue. As it is just days since this attack, I understand that many insurers are still working urgently to determine what the position is for Australians holding travel insurance policies. Perhaps more than any other lines of insurance, travel insurance policies tend to vary widely. What is covered is likely to depend on the wording of individual policies and the amount of cover that people elect to take out. Since September 11 last year we have seen a greater prevalence of what are called terrorism exclusions. In the same way that exclusions for acts of war in many policies limit what claims insurance companies will meet for damages caused in war, terrorism exclusions impose limits on the claims insurance companies will meet as a result of acts of terrorism. I think it is yet another reminder of the way in which the world has changed so suddenly and unforgettably since September 11.

However, I do have some very good news for the Senate. I have been informed this morning through the Insurance Council of Australia that, regardless of the likelihood that Saturday night's attack in Bali was an act of terrorism, many policies that Australian travellers are holding will still cover their medical and evacuation expenses. I can inform the Senate that all major travel insurers have indicated that they will be covering the medical and repatriation costs of those injured in the Bali attacks. I understand that insurers have also indicated that they will provide coverage for the personal effects of those directly involved. This is a welcome development in these very difficult circumstances, and I understand the anxiety of those who need to have this point clarified.

In view of the unforeseen tragedy and terrible loss of life, I have urged and indeed continue to urge insurance companies to act with compassion and to take a generous view of other claims arising from this cowardly attack. I should also add that the government is currently working on guidelines to ensure that Australians injured by the attack in Bali are not left out of pocket because of medical or evacuation expenses that are not covered by insurance. Such a scheme would also relate to meeting any uninsured costs of repatriating those Australians who have lost their lives in this attack. It is important, as I am sure all my colleagues would agree, that we make this commitment as a government to give those insured and the families of those who have lost their lives some peace of mind in the most difficult of times. When I have some further details I will provide them to the Senate.

Senator RIDGEWAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer for her answer and pay tribute to the government for showing leadership on the issue. I am aware that the minister is aware of the exclusion clauses in travel insurance policies. If the government is now advising Australians not to travel to Bali or other key strategic destinations or advising them to defer travel or travel with care because of security concerns, what steps will the government take to ensure that Australians with prebooked travel plans will be covered by their travel insurance if the terrorism exclusions for cancellation or curtailment of travel continue to apply? Will the government also consider, in conjunction with industry, the establishment of a travel compensation package, as it did in the case of Ansett, to refund those individuals for loss of moneys if travel plans are cancelled?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you for the supplementary question, Senator Ridgeway. I can provide some further information about that. In relation to people who have suffered from the tragedy, including those planning to go to Bali, we are seeing various travel wholesalers, travel agents and airlines providing refunds for travel and accommodation already booked but not yet undertaken. Qantas have said passengers will not pay a penalty for amending, deferring or cancelling travel to Bali, and I have been informed that Garuda are allowing people to cancel flights at the moment without penalty. Qantas and VIVA! Holidays have both announced that they will not impose penalties on customers due to travel to Bali before late October who cancel or defer. I would once again urge any other airlines in the travel industry generally to take a similarly compassionate view.

I should also say, in the moments available to me, that if people do need to identify their insurance policy or if they do not have those details then they can contact Insurance Enquiries and Complaints Ltd. There is a toll-free number: 1300 780 808. That company will be able to provide advice and assistance.