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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1838

Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (11:33): I agree with the sentiments just expressed by Senator Macdonald. I think this, the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2012, is a very important bill. It is very timely and it does address a very real problem in terms of compensating and helping to look after people who are the innocent victims of terrorism overseas. I commend the authors of this bill, who have recognised the importance of this issue and proposed to assist victims of overseas terrorism. Regrettably, in this day and age terrorism is much more prevalent around the world than it ever has been. We now live in the world of the urban terrorist who can plant bombs in parked cars and in rubbish bins, as we saw in Sydney many years ago when a bomb was placed in a garbage bin outside a hotel. In London there were the bombings on the buses and on the underground trains. There have been bombings in Spain and, of course, bombings closer to home in South-East Asia—in Bali, where we all recall the devastation which occurred following the bombings in 2003.

As it happens, that is the closest I have ever been to a terrorist incident. I was in Indonesia with a parliamentary delegation a week before the Bali bombings and visited Surabaya and East Java, nearby where, we later heard, the Bali bombings were in fact put together. So bombing from terrorism is not an issue that is unlikely to occur. There are terrorists in all parts of the world and, sadly, bombings and indiscriminate terrorist actions are now a factor which has to be considered when travelling.

This bill proposes the establishment of a framework to facilitate financial assistance for Australians—or their next of kin—killed or injured as a result of international terrorist acts. These may occur in hotels, in bars, in shopping centres, in trains, in buses and even in aircraft, as we know from the Lockerbie bombings, from the sad crash of that 747 and from the gentleman who was apprehended at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport with a bomb strapped to his underpants on Christmas Day a few years ago. That would have brought down an aircraft full of people. Acts of terrorism are now very common, very widespread and we all have to factor in the possibility of being a victim of terrorism when we travel overseas.

It is proposed that the framework of this bill will be administered by the Attorney-General's Department and that it will provide eligibility criteria for claimants of financial assistance. The financial assistance provided must be available to those who suffer or have suffered injury requiring hospitalisation as a result of an international terrorist act. In the event that such an act causes the death of a person, the assistance will be available to the person's next of kin. The proposal is that Australian victims of overseas acts of terrorism would each receive up to $75,000. The scheme is modelled on state and territory laws and schemes which provide compensation to victims of serious crime. It is proposed that the payment would be on a sliding scale, with more serious injuries receiving a higher payout—which is only right and proper. I heard some mention earlier in this debate that $75,000 as a maximum was not a great deal of money for somebody who has suffered a severe head injury, but it is at least a start and it would be very helpful, for example, to the widow of a victim who died from terrorist bombing in that it would enable a family to meet its financial commitments during the period of the immediate aftermath of such an incident.

I understand that over the past decade about 300 Australians have been killed or injured in acts of terrorism around the world, which is about 30 people a year. That is quite a significant number in the sense that it is indicative of the fact that overseas travel is no longer without risk. I think that 20 or 30 years ago we would not have taken into consideration the risk of terrorist action, but it is something we certainly need to do now. Using the average of 30 victims a year, the maximum payment of $75,000 would cost an estimated $2.25 million per annum, which is not a lot of money in terms of the federal government's budget. Of course, these payments would be only intermittent.

I think this is a very important and timely piece of legislation which does address a real need, and the people who have put this legislation together should be congratulated on seeing this need and addressing it. Having said that, however, I think it is very important that when people travel overseas they take as much trouble as they can to protect themselves and to provide cover for themselves should they be the victims of a terrorist act. Many people would know that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade these days has a Smartraveller scheme which enables a person who is travelling overseas to go to the DFAT website and enter their name and their itinerary so that if some incident occurs the department is at least aware that there may be Australians within the general area. That is a very important scheme and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should be congratulated for establishing that scheme. I think that the existence of the Smartraveller website should be more widely known.

Another very important thing that people travelling overseas should do is to take out comprehensive travel insurance, because, whether it is a terrorist attack or an injury from other causes, medical treatment in other countries is often very expensive, and that often comes as a great shock to Australians, especially to those who need more sophisticated treatment, such as a period of time in an intensive care unit. In Australia that would be free of charge under Medicare in a public hospital, if you chose to be treated in a public hospital. In other countries, however, the cost of intensive care treatment can be horrendously expensive. I think that the risk, however small it may seem, of requiring that kind of treatment should be reason enough for everybody to take out comprehensive travel insurance. When you do so, it is very important to read the small print on the policy to make sure that the policy does provide for air evacuation to Australia if needed after an accident, injury or terrorist act. The cost of air evacuation can be very expensive. If it is done by scheduled airline, the companies that provide medivacs—medical air evacuations—have to occupy six or eight seats in the plane, which inevitably costs a fair bit of money. There are doctors and nurses who have to travel with the victim and often they have several teams of such people if the distance back to Australia is long. Coming from Europe, for example, at some point along the route there would be a second team of doctors and nurses put on the plane to look after the individual. It is very important for people travelling overseas to always have comprehensive travel insurance and to always read the finer details of the policy to ensure that they are getting the coverage they imagine they are getting when they buy the policy. It is very important to buy a policy from a reputable service provider. You can buy one online from some of the big international travel agencies and companies or from a local travel agent whom you trust and respect.

I come back to the issue of international terrorism and particularly the assistance provided to the victims of overseas terrorism. As I said, terrorism is sadly now a fact of life in the modern world. We must always be aware of the danger of terrorism, particularly when going to Third World countries where there are political issues, to the Middle East, to Africa or to some parts of Asia. Some countries are much more risky to visit than others. Before travelling to such countries, it is important people go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website and have a look at the travel warnings, which the department puts out on every country in the world to advise of the risk to individuals in travelling to those countries. There has been a need for this kind of compensation to be paid or to be available to the victims of overseas terrorism for some time. I am very pleased that this bill has been proposed. It fills an important gap and I commend this bill to the Senate.