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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1834


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (11:10): I will not take much of the Senate's time because much of what I wanted to say has been said by my colleagues on both sides of the debate. It is clear that there is an unambiguous need to give greater support to victims of terrorism. It is clear that the current mechanisms in force are inadequate. It is clear that having ex gratia payments is not an adequate way of dealing with such matters. Current mechanisms are too ad hoc and not part of an overall scheme which provides consistency and reliability.

The issue is how we best advance this. I agree with Senator Faulkner that we need to have a collaborative approach. However, I believe that this bill, the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2012, does have merit. It is not fair to characterise this bill as a piece of grandstanding, as some have. It is important that this bill be debated. It is an issue that needs to be sorted out. This bill has a number of features that are superior to the government's bill, particularly in relation to retrospectivity. Senator Faulkner made a very good point about that, suggesting, as I believe he did, that it could lead to an anomalous outcome in the event that a victim of terrorism has already received a measure of compensation. That could easily be fixed by the regulatory framework, the subordinate legislation proposed and anticipated in this legislation.

It is important that we consider the cost of this scheme. My South Australian colleague Senator Wright indicated some concern about the costs involved and the cost implications. This is not a criticism of Senator Wright, but an upside estimate of the cost of paying former victims of terrorism—to ensure that this bill is retrospective—is of the order of $20 million. If as a nation we can find $16 billion for 100 Joint Strike Fighters and $10 billion for a clean energy fund then I think we can find $20-odd million to compensate victims of terrorist acts. Senator Humphries was correct when he said we do not know how much this scheme will cost because of the very nature of the scheme. I hope that this scheme does not cost anything in the sense that I hope Australians are not subjected to acts of terrorism and people are not injured or killed by such acts, with the devastation and the heartache they cause. We do not know how much this scheme will cost, and I hope it is not much at all—if so, the world is a safer place.

We need to get on with this. Senator Faulkner's comments about a collaborative approach are very worthwhile. We should get the interested parties together in a room and thrash this out, because if we are seen by the Australian people to be bickering about the fundamental issue of some measure of justice for victims of terrorism then that reflects badly on all of us. I think there is enough goodwill in this place and in the other place to sort this out.

I finish by referring to a person I have enormous regard for and with whom I have discussed this issue on previous occasions. I hope to be in a position to catch up with him in the not-too-distant future. The person is Brian Deegan, a former South Australian magistrate. I regard him as a friend and I believe he is an incredibly decent human being with enormous integrity. Brian lost his beloved son Joshua in the Bali bombings, on 12 October 2002. Joshua was on a postseason Indonesian holiday with his teammates from the Sturt Football Club, which had just won the South Australian National Football League premiership. Brian has written a book titled Remembering Josh: Bali, a father's story. It is a very powerful testimony to his experiences and the trauma that he and so many others went through. It took an enormous act of courage for him to do that and to take the stance he took subsequent to that.

But that is not the issue. The issue is that Brian Deegan, as a former magistrate and a practising lawyer, raised the importance of there being a scheme in place to assist victims of terrorist attacks. This bill is a significant step forward in relation to that, as is the government's bill. But for goodness sake, let us all get together, sort this out in a collaborative approach and fix this up once and for all—sooner rather than later. I think Australians demand that of us.