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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1815

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:31): The Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2012, which was initially foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, is an important acknowledgement of the debt that this country owes to people who have been injured in the course of terrorist incidents overseas. We should never forget the high price that Australia has paid due to the activity, in particular, of Islamist terrorists.

Since 11 September 2001, some 300 Australians have been killed or injured in terrorist incidents overseas. We lost Australians in the World Trade Centre. We lost many Australians in Bali—not once, but twice. We lost Australians in London and we lost Australians in Jakarta. Some 300 of our fellow citizens have been killed or injured. Let us never forget that those bombs went off because the perpetrators of those outrages believe that our way of life is a satanic excrescence. That is what in the perversion of their own minds they believe. The people who died or were injured in those terrorist incidents were targeted precisely because of the way of life, the values and the civilisation of which we are part. Australia has been targeted precisely because we are part of and proud to be part of Western civilisation: a nation which lives by the values and takes pride in its identity as a part of Western civilisation. That is why the terrorists hate us.

It should be remembered that after each of the terrorist incidents the Australian government has been there to help. Centrelink assistance has been rendered. Medical expenses have been paid. I want to congratulate governments of both persuasions for the effort they have made to help Australians and to continue to help Australians who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed in terrorist incidents overseas.

We have to acknowledge the fact that these people have suffered for their country in a way not entirely different from the sufferings that our soldiers have faced in the struggle against terrorism. They were not random victims. They were victims because of the way of life of this country and they were chosen as targets because of the way of life of the civilisation in which we participate. We should not underestimate the ongoing suffering of those who were injured and of the families of those who were injured and killed.

We cannot think that our duty to them as a nation ends simply because they were given Centrelink assistance to come back to this country and simply because their relatives were given Centrelink assistance to do what they could to help. We cannot think that our duty to them has ended just because their medical expenses for the immediate injuries that they suffered were paid. There is a lifetime of pain for those people, physical and psychological, and it needs to be acknowledged, recognized and in some way made up for by the wider Australian community.

What this bill proposes is that the national government establish a scheme to compensate the Australian victims of overseas terrorist attacks that is analogous with the victims-of-crimes schemes which have long operated in most of the Australian states and territories.

If an Australian is the victim of a criminal act in this country he or she will usually receive some form of compensation, some monetary benefit, from the state and territory governments. It is not lavish. It is not the sort of thing which is going to enable people to live in luxury for the rest of their lives—far from it. It is not full compensation in the sense that a lawyer would understand a damages award in a personal injuries case as compensation. Nevertheless, it is an important acknowledgement by our community of the unjustified and completely abhorrent pain and suffering that the victim of crime has been put through.

The bill proposes the establishment of a federal scheme, analogous to the state victims-of-crime schemes, purely for the Australian victims of overseas terrorist acts. It is a modest, responsible, and necessary measure by this parliament for the benefit of those people.

I accept that there are some issues with oppositions proposing measures of this kind that might create a charge upon the revenue. I would be very happy for this bill to be taken over by the government. The coalition would welcome that. The government has proposed a way of helping the Australian victims of terrorist incidents overseas but for reasons that are not clear it has not proceeded. I would be grateful to see it advanced, whether here or in the other place. In the meantime, the opposition offers this private senator's bill in order to meet the need that I have identified.

We must stand by our fellow Australians in trouble and those who were targeted because they were Australians, because they were emblems of our way of life. They deserve this modest measure of recognition, help and acknowledgement. I commend the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbot, who initiated this proposal and has driven the proposal for several years now. And I commend the bill to the Senate.