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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 12308

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (20:10): On 12 October 2012, we remembered the worst terrorist attack our nation has ever known. In 2002, 88 Australians died in Bali, along with 38 Indonesians and 76 others from various places around the world. Some 200 people were injured in that event, all as a result of violent terrorism, extremism of the worst kind. We struggle in Australia to understand what would cause someone to undertake that sort of action—needless, unnecessary. We resolve our disputes in an amiable way and we do it in courts. We do not resort to acts of violence in that way. We defend ourselves, but only when we are attacked. We do not understand the fundamentalism and extremism that motivate people to do these desperate acts. The people who did this are despised, not just in Australia but in Indonesia. The scenes in Bali were more akin to a war zone than anything else.

Today in this parliament we mourn the sad death of Corporal Scott Smith, the 39th Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan. The tragedy of those people who died in Bali is that they were not soldiers; they were holiday-makers, in the main. The Prime Minister compared the bombing in Bali—and the bombing in London, subsequently—to Gallipoli, where something of the Australian spirit dwells on another shore. There is nothing we can do as a parliament to make those people return to their loved ones or to end the suffering of those that still bear the scars and injuries.

Many of us in this place, including me, have had the benefit of travelling to Indonesia and talking to the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian authorities about what happened in Bali. Many of us here in this place, me included, have been to the Middle East and seen the hostility and enmity between Jews and Arabs, seen the hostility between people who fight over water rights, religion, employment, opportunity, education, land, housing and hospitals. They fight over places of religious affiliation and devotion. We have witnessed the viciousness with which those beliefs are often held. But I am proud to be part of a government—and this is the third time I have spoken on these matters in this place—that is providing financial assistance to those Australians who are injured or who lose a close family member as a result of the wanton acts of violence which we call terrorism.

The Leader of the Opposition has raised the issue of compensation which would date from September 10, 2001. Since that time, there have been numerous acts of terrorism. I get it that acts of terrorism must have had a lasting and deep impact on the Leader of the Opposition, and I believe that in part he is sincere in what he has to say, but to criticise us for being dilatory in relation to this issue—and that is the word he used tonight in his speech—at a time when he was a senior cabinet minister in the Howard coalition government is simply appalling. It is a misuse of what he is talking about. It goes to show his bona fides in relation to this matter and that he is not as sincere as he made out when he made that speech tonight.

We have formalised assistance through a WorkCover style arrangement, but terrorism did not begin in Bali and it did not begin on September 11, 2001. Sadly, it has afflicted humanity for millennia. On 19 April 1995 Timothy McVeigh and some friends masterminded the worst act of terrorism on American soil—that is, until September 11. He was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, including 19 children aged under six, while injuring another 680 people. On 21 December 1988 Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members, and crashed into the town of Lockerbie in Scotland, killing a further 11 people.

On 13 February 1978 Australia experienced its own act of terrorism when a bomb exploded outside the Sydney Hilton, killing two garbage men and a police officer, and injuring others. So terrorism did not begin on 11 September 2001. That brand of terrorism caused by al-Qaeda has been etched firmly in our minds, but it has always been around. In fact, what we often call the Great War was formed by an act of terrorism and was initiated by someone who killed a member of the royal family in Austria-Hungary.

Terrorism is not limited to al-Qaeda or extreme Islamic fundamentalism. It has been used as a systematic form of violence for a long time, whether motivated by religion, political aspiration or ideological goals. It has always been around; sadly, it has afflicted us for a long time. The terrorism that occurred on 11 September was a defining moment for all of us and, just like people from generations before us remember where they were when World War II ended, we can remember where we were on 11 September. It was a time that brought everyone together and even, famously, French newspapers said that we were all Americans. Many of us signed cards and sent letters of condolence.

It is really a shame to politicise this issue. We initiated legislation and it was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition. It is the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011. I made a speech on that matter on 19 June 2012. In that legislation we established a WorkCover type of legislation that does take into consideration the nature, duration and impact of disease or injury, the future loss of earnings, the kinds of special injury or damage that people suffer and the circumstances in which that injury or disease was picked up. There are payments which go up to $75,000, exempt from GST and exempt from other aspects as well.

In the past there were ex gratia payments. The Howard coalition government provided these on a case-by-case basis to victims of terrorism, including those of Bali in 2002 and 2005, London in 2005, Mumbai in 2008—we did that—and Jakarta in 2009. These ex gratia packages included financial assistance for family support, funeral and bereavement costs, travel costs and recognition of foregone wages resulting from a terrorist act. So it is not that people in the past did not get that sort of assistance.

The Prime Minister has made it crystal clear to the Leader of the Opposition. If there are instances in which he feels people have not received the assistance they deserve or need he should raise it with her. She has made that clear. It would be unjust to those Australians maimed through acts of terrorism to retrospectively do that by supporting the Leader of the Opposition in his venture today. It is concerning that he did not raise this issue and act upon it when he was a senior cabinet minister in the Howard coalition government. In the past, compensation was ruled out by Prime Minister Howard—in the way that the Leader of the Opposition has now proposed—and by the then Minister for Justice and Customs. But that does not mean support has not been given.

I really do wonder what the Leader of the Opposition is on about with this. When he had an opportunity to put forward a private member's bill on this issue he called it the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2010. It was extraordinarily vague. It was not a well-crafted piece of legislation. With words like 'scheme', 'plan', 'framework' and 'guidelines' it was vague and esoteric. It was not particularised. Even tonight, if you listened to his speech, it was not defined. It was again vague and esoteric.

On a case-by-case basis the Howard government did the right thing by providing ex gratia assistance in the way that it did. I would expect—and the Australian people would expect—all governments to do that. I baulk at saying this, but I am really disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition has in part, if not wholly, politicised this issue. If there are instances where, under former Prime Minister John Howard and the Leader of the Opposition when he was a cabinet minister, people did not get the help they needed or deserved then those things should have been raised directly with us when we came to government. They should have been looked at on a case-by-case basis. They should have been raised with Prime Minister Howard, Prime Minister Rudd or Prime Minister Gillard.

If this were truly bipartisan, the Leader of the Opposition would not have used some of the language he used tonight in his speech. In a spirit of bipartisanship we should be doing everything we can to support victims of terrorism. We should support the legislation that has provided the framework for a WorkCover style compensation to provide for those people. We will never provide for the loss but at least we can provide assistance for those people who are secondary victims as well as for those who are primary victims. (Time expired)