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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1664

Mr NEUMANN (8:47 PM) —I rise to speak against the Assisting the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill 2010. This is not a well-drafted piece of legislation. With words like ‘scheme’, ‘plan’, ‘framework’ and ‘guidelines’ it is vague and esoteric. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to develop a scheme in relation to this matter, he should particularise in great specificity what he actually proposes. Too much is left up to regulation and to ministerial discretion. Even section 10 of the bill does not specify clearly what he wants. It is not well-drafted and, if he wants to be clear about it, he should do so.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr NEUMANN —I have read it; that is why I am making comment in relation to it.

This is an important issue, and I do not believe the Leader of the Opposition when he says he does not want to play politics. Everything that he has said in relation to this matter, in my respectful submission, is about politics. This is an important issue and we take it very seriously. I think the protection of our citizens at home and abroad is simply the highest priority any government can have. We have lost Australians in acts of terrorism in the last 10 years or so. We lost Australians in New York in 9-11, for instance, and since that time we have stood with our American friends and allies in the fight against terrorism. It does not matter which side of politics has been on the Treasury benches; we have fought against terrorism, against those people who would destroy our way of life and who attack our citizens abroad and at home. That is simply what governments of any persuasion ought to do.

Many people have suffered terrible trauma, injury, illness, psychiatric problems and psychological difficulties due to acts of terrorism. We need to take steps to assist them. Since 9-11 more than 100 Australians have lost their lives in terrorist attacks, from Mumbai to Bali to Jakarta. This is a very serious issue. Helping those people and their families recover is simply impossible, but we can provide ex gratia assistance for health and psychiatric help. We can provide the Australian government disaster recovery payment. We can provide all kinds of short-term and long-term assistance. We can provide consular assistance and assistance in relation to counselling.

Of course we want to keep Australians safe from terrorism. We work hard at home and abroad with our partners to bring down terrorist networks. We have seen Australian security forces involved overseas, including the SAS in Afghanistan and other places struggling against Islamic fundamentalism; and the Australian Federal Police in Indonesia, liaising with other security organisations in the Asia-Pacific area. Where terrorists strike, the federal government must be there to help. National security is a top priority and there are a number of ways we help people.

These mechanisms include the ex gratia payments I referred to, healthcare assistance schemes and the Australian government disaster recovery payment, which some people in my electorate have recently received as a result of the floods in South-East Queensland. The Australian disaster recovery payment provides immediate short-term financial assistance to Australians adversely affected by a major disaster. In the past, governments have assisted victims of incidents overseas—such as in the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India—through healthcare assistance schemes. Those schemes assist with a range of costs for health care delivered in Australia, including hospital costs, pharmaceutical costs and counselling costs. We cannot do enough for those poor people who have suffered so much. The government may also, depending on the circumstances of the case, provide financial assistance through the AGDRP. We have provided ex gratia assistance to the victims of terrorist attacks overseas including the events in Bali in 2002 and 2005, London in 2005, Mumbai in 2008 and Jakarta in 2009.

These ex gratia packages have included financial assistance for family support, funeral and bereavement costs, travel costs and recognition of forgone wages resulting from the terrorist act. I think what we need is a whole-of-government approach. One-off things like the Leader of the Opposition is proposing is in my view an attempt to play politics. We need to undertake a comprehensive package to ensure Australians caught up in a terrorist attack overseas get all the help they need. That comprehensive package needs to provide not only assistance to families but also to extended loved ones.

I mentioned before consular assistance. People have made reference to the fact that Australian embassy staff  have provided tremendous help, friendship, fellowship, counselling and guidance. People also need support from health professionals—doctors, nurses and allied health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists. Practical assistance with funeral arrangements are always difficult. Anyone who has had a friend or even a friend of a friend who has died overseas knows how difficult it can be in those circumstances when you are out of your depth and out of your country.

The Attorney-General has made it clear to the Leader of the Opposition and to the member for Paterson that a whole-of-government approach on this package is important and will be considered shortly. Consultations have already commenced with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation. Officers from the Attorney-General’s Department have worked closely with the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Human Services to provide practical ways to provide support for victims of overseas terrorism. On 31 January 2011 the Attorney-General wrote to the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Attorney-General and the member for Paterson in relation to work done by the federal Labor government with respect to the provision of assistance to Australians affected by terrorist incidents overseas. We recognise there are a genuine concerns in relation to these matters and that all members of this House should be concerned to help fellow Australians who have suffered terribly in these circumstances. As such, on 21 February 2011 the federal Labor government provided the opposition with a comprehensive briefing on these issues. We would welcome the constructive and positive engagement of the opposition, should they so wish, on this issue if they want to engage in a comprehensive strategy rather than the one-off thing they are proposing now. The federal government would explore all options in relation to this matter in terms of assistance. Our door is always open if they wish to be constructive.

To summarise, we have provided and will continue to provide targeted assistance to Australian victims of terrorism through financial, counselling, consular and medical assistance. There are a range of mechanisms in place. We remain committed to undertaking a whole-of-government approach on this. We want to consider everything—the costs involved, the relevant policy considerations and the logistics. It is my submission that the bill as it is currently drafted is vague, esoteric and leaves too much to ministerial discretion. As the government has outlined in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Paterson—who is in the chamber now—and the shadow Attorney-General, we are looking to a whole-of-government approach. Should the opposition wish not to play politics on this issue but to work constructively with us in a bipartisan way we will do everything we can to make sure they are in the loop and work cooperatively to get a response so that victims of terrorism overseas and their families can be supported. This is what the Australian public would expect of us, what the Australian public would demand of us and what they would expect of the opposition, rather than playing politics.