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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 101


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:39 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Bali atrocity is, of course, in the consciousness of all Australians and has gone down in our nation's history as a defining event. It continues to make itself felt throughout our nation in various ways, obviously in particularly painful, ongoing ways to those people who were directly affected by that event. The Senate committee inquiry into that event and into security threats in Australia and South-East Asia in general, whilst contentious in parts—and that is not surprising, given the emotions that always come to the surface following events such as that—was also, I believe, very valuable in getting some information into the public arena and in moving beyond the immediate shock and imagery of the situation to some of the broader policy and government issues.

I should say I was not part of that inquiry. My colleague Senator Stott Despoja played a key part in establishing that inquiry and was involved in the conduct of the inquiry over a period of time. Whilst still working, she is not able to be present today to speak to this motion owing to travel restrictions. But it is an issue that affects all of us.

The government response is a comprehensive response to the various recommendations—more comprehensive than government responses often are—and that should be acknowledged. Broadly speaking, their responses to some of the recommendations are reasonably well thought through, although I am not necessarily saying that I am in agreement with them. But there is one area that I am disappointed with—that is, the government's refusal to support recommendation 4 of the committee report. A lot of the publicity around this inquiry focused on whether or not the travel advisories were appropriate, whether or not there was information that the government was aware of that they did not pass on or whether there were breakdowns in the system. It is important to look at those matters.

With the benefit of hindsight, as I think everyone has acknowledged, there are areas that can be and are being improved. Above all else, I would say that many more Australians now take the time to look at travel advisories. The reality is that, whatever the travel advisory may have said in the past, many people would not have bothered looking at or paying much attention to them. Now, I am sure, many Australians do pay attention to travel advisories. At the end of it all, they still make their own decision about whether to travel or not. That is as it should be but people should have at least as accurate information as possible to form their judgments on. That area is an important one.

The area that I am in some ways more concerned about is the response of the government to the explosion and to helping the people who were affected by it. That is an ongoing issue. People are still being affected and people are still needing help. Some people will need help for the rest of their lives. Whilst we all hope there is never another event like this, there is always the possibility—some would say probability—that there will be. We need to ensure that, as much as it is possible, survivors, victims and their families are given prompt and effective help in every way possible. So I am disappointed that the government has not supported that recommendation in any way. It has not even supported in spirit the recommendation which suggested the government explore establishing a national compensation scheme for victims of terrorism related crimes and calling on the national council of Attorneys-General to develop a proposal for the harmonisation of state laws dealing with compensation for victims of crime in circumstances such as a terrorist attack.

That second part of the recommendation, to deal with the national council of Attorneys-General developing harmonised laws for the compensation of victims, was not even addressed. It was just rejected and there was no further explanation at all as to the reason. The first part, suggesting that the Commonwealth at least develop a paper considering the establishment of a national compensation scheme for victims of terrorism related crimes, was also rejected. I think that is very unfortunate.

The government's response is that they do not support this. They believe that financial and other assistance should be considered on a case-by-case basis. I am sorry, but I do not think that is good enough. I am sure that there was evidence presented during this inquiry—and I am aware of some myself separately—of people who do not believe that they have got adequate assistance. That is not necessarily money or compensation payments; sometimes it is information or access to other forms of support. Those are areas where we do need to do as much as possible. We have to acknowledge that the trauma created by events like this can live with people for a lifetime. It can affect families and friends and a wider group of people and, if we do not deal with those things as effectively and as quickly as possible, the shockwaves, the ramifications and the consequences are much greater than they otherwise would be or need to be. It is easy to say and hard to do—I acknowledge that. But we have got to at least accept, I believe, that we need to be doing a lot more.

During the election campaign I tried a couple of times to emphasise flaws in our compensation and insurance schemes in Australia for certain victims of crime and people in certain situations. One-off payments such as the government may provide and suggest may be appropriate for people are often not adequate. One-off compensation payments are often not adequate for people that have lifelong health consequences. They need ongoing support. We need to look at establishing support more widely, in my view, than just for the victims of terror related crimes to ensure that there is proper assistance for people who are victims of crime in general where there are no other insurance mechanisms to assist them if they have ongoing medical expenses. They can be extremely expensive and can go on literally for 50 or 60 years of a person's life down the track, and impact on their families and on carers.

I am very disappointed that there has been a blanket rejection of the recommendation to look at establishing a compensation scheme for victims of terrorism related crimes. Obviously we want to do as much as possible to prevent such crimes occurring, but if they do occur in the future we have to make sure as much as we can that there is adequate help for people. A national compensation scheme is a far more reliable way than just relying on government to decide on a case-by-case basis what sort of help they will provide. It makes people in that situation have to beg for assistance. It provides an extra level of stress not to know for sure what is available and to have to just rely on what the government of the day may decide they want to pay, in what way they want to pay or what type of help they want to provide. So whilst a case-by-case approach may sound more efficient in some ways, the reality undoubtedly will always be that a whole range of factors will come into play determining what sort of help is provided by government and not all of those factors will be related to ensuring that people's needs are appropriately met.

So that is a very disappointing response from the government. In an inquiry that was valuable and where a lot of the focus was on the adequacy or otherwise of travel warnings, I think the part of the whole Bali tragedy that has not got the attention it deserves is what happens to the people afterwards and whether there are ways we can better help people and their families. We are still a long way short in this country in a whole range of areas in acknowledging the impact and the role that carers and support people play in helping others who have been harmed by incidents or illnesses or disabilities, and this is another example of that. So I would urge the government to reconsider that broader issue as well as the narrow rejection that they have come forward with here in relation to this issue.

Question agreed to.