House debates

Monday, 29 October 2012

Private Members' Business

Victims of Terrorism

8:00 pm

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the motion relating to the victims of terrorism overseas in the terms in which it appears on the Notice Paper:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) since the devastating terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, over 100

Australians have died and many others have suffered injury as a result of terrorist attacks overseas;

(b) the victims of 'September 11', the two Bali bombings, the London and Jakarta bombings and the Mumbai terrorist attacks, were targeted because they were citizens of countries where people could choose how they lived and what faith they might follow; and

(c) 12 October 2012 will mark the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings;

(2) recognises that:

(a) many Australian families continue to suffer as a result of their loss and injury from overseas terrorist acts;

(b) victims of overseas terrorism have not been entitled to compensation such as that received by domestic victims of crime under the various State and Territory victims of crime schemes; and

(c) the Government did not support amendments to the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2012 which would have provided assistance for any action after 10 September 2001; and

(3) supports the Coalition's request that the Minister make the appropriate retrospective declarations so that all of the Australian victims of overseas terrorism acts since 10 September 2001, or their next of kin, can receive this important, but modest, help.

I do regret that the member for Hume has had his speech interrupted, because it sounded like it was going to be a very thoughtful contribution. I look forward to hearing more from the member for Hume when the debate is resumed.

For me, the matter now before the House is not political; it is personal. I am moving this way because I believe it is right and also because of the personal experience and the personal contact which I have had with some of the victims of terrorism arising from the happenstance of my being in Bali back in 2005 when the second bomb went off. I was the Minister for Health and Ageing at the time and it seemed to me that an Australian health minister in Bali at a time when Australians had been the victims of a terrorist atrocity could not just enjoy a holiday as usual. So I went to the Sanglah hospital, where the victims were being treated. I met up with a remarkable doctor, Dr Adam Frost, a Newcastle doctor who had been travelling with a party which included many of the victims. I spent the next 15 or so hours with Dr Frost and with the then Australian consul to Bali, Brian Diamond, who did a remarkable job, until all of the Australian victims had been safely evacuated either to Singapore or to Darwin.

For me, this is not just another matter before the parliament; it is something which I feel very deeply and very personally. In the course of that day I got to know some of those victims, and since then I have stayed in touch with some of those victims, in particular Mr Paul Anicich, who at that time was the Senior Partner of Sparke Helmore Lawyers, the well-known law firm. He has subsequently been largely unable to work. Paul Anicich is comfortably off, but many of the people who were caught up in that tragedy are not as financially secure as Paul and Penny Anicich. Sure, they have been able to access the Australian health system. Sure, where necessary, they have been able to access the Australian social security system. But many of them have suffered financially and all of them have suffered physically and psychologically, and I believe that we as a nation owe a debt to them, because they were targeted because they were Australian. They were targeted because they were citizens of a country where people are free to choose their own way of life and choose which god they wish to worship. That is why they were targeted. They suffered because they are Australian. I think we need to acknowledge the fact that they were targeted for that reason.

The proposal that evolved in my mind in discussions over many months with Paul Anicich was that we should have a federal scheme that would offer to the victims of terrorism overseas the same kind of financial assistance which is typically available to local victims of crime under the state and territory victims of crime schemes. Every state and territory has a victims of crime scheme, and people who have been the victims of crime can usually access up to $80,000 or thereabouts under those schemes. If I had been the victim of a savage assault, or some other crime of violence, typically, that is what would be available to me. It would not be to compensate for any specific thing; it would nevertheless be a recognition of the way I had suffered. Typically it is provided because the perpetrators of these crimes cannot be sued by victims in the way that others who have been damaged might be able to sue people. So all I have sought is assistance for the Australian victims of terrorist atrocities overseas which is entirely comparable to the assistance which is ordinarily available to the victims of domestic crime in Australia.

I moved this way before I was the Leader of the Opposition. I regret to say that the last parliament terminated before my private member's motion was able to be considered. So I have moved again in this parliament on this issue. I do not believe the government was particularly sympathetic towards it the first time, but, in fairness to the current government, I did raise this in the last year of the Howard government and the Howard government had a bit on its plate and nothing happened. So I do not want to be too hard on the present government for its dilatory approach to all of this.

But, to their credit, the crossbenchers were interested in my private member's bill, and, once it became apparent that the crossbenchers were going to support my bill, the then Attorney-General, Mr McClelland, the member for Barton, indicated that it would be adopted by the government. I thank and congratulate the member for Barton for his magnanimity in taking this approach. Unfortunately, while the government did substantially adopt my bill and incorporated it into a social security act, the whole point has been missed, because the declarations that my bill provided for—that would give this important but modest assistance to the actual, existing Australian victims of terrorism—were not made.

So we have this legislation on the books, we have the capacity for the relevant minister to make a declaration that a terrorist act overseas is a relevant act for the purposes of making these modest payments, and the government is refusing to make the declarations that would mean that the terrorist acts of September 11, Bali 1 and 2, Jakarta 1 and 2, Mumbai and London would attract, at least for the Australian victims, these modest but important payments. What is before the parliament tonight is a motion calling on the minister and the government to make such a declaration so that the 300 Australians killed or seriously injured in overseas terrorist acts can receive this modest help. The help will go to them or, if they are deceased, their next of kin.

We are talking about a quantum of money which would make a difference for the individuals and the families concerned. If all the 300 Australian victims thus far were to receive $80,000, we would be talking, with administrative costs, in the order of $30 million—not an insignificant amount of money but very modest in the scheme of Commonwealth government spending and, I would say, the least a decent nation can provide for people who have suffered in our name. They have suffered in our name: they were targeted because they are Australian.

I say to the government—and I say this free of any partisan rancour: do the right thing by those 300 Australians who have so far suffered as a result of overseas terrorism. If this is right for people who might suffer in the future, it is surely right for the people who have already suffered. I say to the crossbenchers: thank you for supporting the original legislation. Let us now finish the job we started and pass this motion, and then, I think, the government will have to make the relevant declarations. (Time expired)

Photo of Mike SymonMike Symon (Deakin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

8:10 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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)

8:21 pm

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to support the Leader of the Opposition's private member's motion. With our nation pausing recently to reflect on the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings it is appropriate that the House consider this important motion.

The Leader of the Opposition is to be commended for his tireless advocacy on behalf of the victims of overseas terrorism. Time after time, he has come into this House to draw attention to the challenges these Australians continue to face in their daily lives. Time after time, his request for assistance for the Australian victims of overseas terrorism, dating back to 2001, has been rejected by this government. As long as this issue remains unaddressed, the claim that this parliament stands in complete support with victims of terrorism will ring hollow.

As the motion notes, over 100 Australians have lost their lives to acts of terrorism since 11 September 2001, when people throughout the world recoiled in horror but with an overwhelming sense of sadness at the news of the attacks in the United States.

For every Australian lost to terrorism even more have been injured. In New York, Bali, London, Jakarta and Mumbai terrorists, driven by hatred and intolerance, have struck out at men, women and children because of the values and freedoms that they cherished. These people committed no crime. They were targets because they were Australians and committed to our way of life. On each occasion the resolve of our country was tested and each time it has been shown to be true.

Few events have been etched more deeply in our nation's mind or shaped our view of the world as much as the 2002 terrorist attack in the tourist district of Kuta in Bali. On that night this island paradise was shown not to be as immune from the horrors of this world as we had hoped. The attack killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, and 240 people were injured. For many this attack brought to an end Australia's age of innocence in the way the fall of Singapore and the battle for Darwin did for the previous generations of Australians. That such an act could occur so close to our shores in a place that we loved, amongst a people who had shown us nothing but kindness and hospitality, was a shock on a great scale. In the days and weeks that followed we stood together in tribute to the men and women who risked their lives not just for their loved ones but for complete strangers. We applauded the doctors and nurses who fought off exhaustion to remain at the sides of their patients and our diplomats and police officers who worked with their Indonesian counterparts to bring the perpetrators to justice. In times of greatest need the best in human nature rises to the top.

While 10 years has passed since that terrible time many of the Australians that were there continue to bear physical, mental and emotional scars. They relive the terrorist attack every day of their lives. In this cruel twist of fate their hopes and dreams have been replaced by something that once would have seemed unimaginable. Most of us will never be able to completely comprehend the fullness of their suffering. What we can do, however, is help ease the burden that they have been forced to bear.

In supporting this motion members of parliament will send an important message to the victims of overseas terrorism since 10 September 2001 that they are not forgotten, that our nation stands with them in their time of need and, in a modest but important way, will act to ease their pain. For the many Australians that have suffered a lasting injury this assistance will offer relief from the ongoing pressure of medical bills and other costs. While nothing this parliament does will ever be enough to compensate for the loss of a loved one, this assistance offers hope of a brighter, more secure future.

During the time that the coalition has pushed the government to adopt this initiative other countries have acted. For example, earlier this year the United Kingdom government established a scheme to assist victims of terrorist incidents outside of that country on or after 1 January 2002. Its list of designated incidents includes both the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002 and Mumbai. The United Kingdom justice minister stated that Britain:

… should support and compensate those people who sadly have been injured in overseas terrorist atrocities.

While we will never be able to put right the harm victims of terrorism suffer, we hope this scheme will go some way towards helping them rebuild their lives.

That the British government is able to find the resources needed to pay victims up to 500,000 pounds despite the financial difficulties Great Britain faces, while the Gillard government rejects the modest payment of $75,000, says a lot about this government's values and its priorities.

For the Leader of the Opposition, obtaining government support for the victims of overseas terrorism has been a personal campaign dating back to the 2005 Bali bombing. Holidaying in Bali at the time of the attack, the Leader of the Opposition spent time at the Sengla Hospital working with others to ensure that all Australians had been evacuated. His deep commitment to this cause has grown from a promise that he would seek to see that the victims of overseas terrorism received the same support as the victims of crime in Australia, to legislation that he introduced in 2009 that would enable victims of terrorism to receive similar payments to those received by domestic victims of crime through state based schemes. While the government adopted part of the bill to compensate future victims of terrorism, no provisions were made for past victims. In fact the Labor government voted down an amendment that would have extended this assistance to the Australian victims of terrorism incidents dating back to the September 11 attacks on the United States. How they could do that is beyond comprehension. While we cannot guarantee the safety of Australians overseas, we can make sure that our citizens and their families are looked after in the case of a terrorist attack.

In my electorate in Perth in Kings Park tree lined avenues pay respect to the men and women of our armed forces who have fought and died defending Australia. Kings Park is home to the state war memorial. It is a sacred place, offering comfort to those impacted by the horrors of war. Such was the grief felt by the people of Western Australia following the attack on Bali in 2002 that a memorial was established in Kings Park for the 16 Western Australian victims. As I stated in my address at the recent Bali memorial service at Parliament House, so keenly did we share the pain of those who were injured, so aware were we of the loss suffered by their families and friends, such was the outpouring of grief, that a monument was erected in their memory within the same revered patch of earth reserved to honour our fallen soldiers.

I join with the Leader of the Opposition in calling on the House to support the coalition's request that the minister make the appropriate retrospective declarations so that all of the Australian victims of overseas terrorism acts since 10 September 2001 or their next of kin can receive this much needed assistance. There can be no more pathetic excuses from this government. This government must act. The Australian people and this parliament demand it of this government.

8:29 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sadly, terrorism has become a fact of life throughout the world. Hardly a day passes without a report from some part of the world about an act of terrorism. Terrorism has become the new method of fighting wars by those who do not have the military might to engage in conventional warfare. Until terrorism acts directly affected us, they were just seen as another news report and another statistic. For those affected, however, each report meant lives lost or injured and families left mourning and grieving. The attacks on the twin towers in the US and the bombing in Bali changed all of that because for the first time the American and Australian people were the direct target of a major act of terrorism that had been carefully planned and executed.

For the US, the attack on the twin towers sent shock waves throughout the country and throughout the world because this was the first successful attack against the US on its mainland. That anyone would ever dare to commit such an act was previously unthinkable. That it was possible left people stunned. Yet it was committed and it left New York physically and psychologically devastated. Almost 3,000 lives were lost and a towering physical structure was razed to the ground. The world has been a much different place ever since. I recall a few years ago I listened to an address from Rudy Giuliani, who was the mayor of New York at the time. He talked about his leadership role in that crisis. It provided a terrific insight into just what happened in New York and the response at the time. Sadly the focus on security has by necessity been stepped up to the point that it has become a major cost and inconvenience to society across the world. For Australia, the bombings in Bali sent out a very clear warning: that Australians were not immune from terrorism.

As I am speaking about this motion tonight—and I have not chosen to speak on the motion in remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings—I take this opportunity to acknowledge the families of the 202 people killed in Bali on 12 October as they mark the 10th anniversary of their loss. On 12 October I attended the 10th anniversary service of the Bali bombings here in the Great Hall of Parliament House. It was a very emotional service. As I sat in the service, I reflected back to 10 years ago, reliving my recollection of events at the time. I also tried to imagine what it must have been like for those caught in the bombing and how it must have been for their families then and over the past ten years. As the images were shown on the screen of so many people looking so happy and full of life, I thought about Angela Golotta. Angela was one of the three South Australians killed in Bali with Josh Deegan and Bob Marshall being the other two. She was in Bali with her parents, Tracey and John, and with her brother, Michael. I have known the family for a long time. Angela was five days short of her 20th birthday when she was killed. For her family, the 10th anniversary would have been a very difficult time. I quote from a memorial about her from her grandparents that was published in the Advertiser on 12October. It said:

She was ambitious, energetic and with a loving and caring nature. A passionate animal lover. The years have passed but our grief remains. However, we still hold in our hearts happy memories of the most loving and generously caring of girls, an innocent victim who did not deserve to die in this tragic manner.

I have also spoken at length to John Golotta, her father, about events in Bali and for his family since. John, Tracey and Michael had been at the Sari Club with Angela. They left shortly before the blast. Angela said she would stay on a little longer. The family went back to their hotel not far away. They heard the blast from the hotel and John and Michael raced back to the Sari Club. They were, in fact, the first people to enter what was left of the building. What they saw, what they were confronted with and what they have described to me is, quite frankly, unimaginable. I certainly will not go into it in detail.

I spoke to John earlier today and told him I would be speaking tonight, which brings me to the motion before us. He said to me, 'You never get over what happened. You just learn to live with it.' But he also made a second point. It took a long time before any help arrived at the Sari Club and there was not very much help for the families in the days after the event. His plea to parliament was this: if there was to be a similar event in the future to ensure that we can provide assistance as quickly as possible to those affected. He has little doubt that others would have survived had assistance been made available at the time. But it was not.

Regrettably, no amount of monetary compensation will restore or lessen the loss, pain and suffering caused. I accept, however, that when these tragedies occur, as they did for the Golotta family, it can also create a very serious financial burden on them as well. I understand the purpose of victims of crime compensation. My concern with the motion, however, as it presently stands is twofold. Firstly, picking an event, in this case the September 11 attacks, and backdating the compensation to a fixed date without any rational reason for choosing that period in time, I find difficult to justify. Secondly, as the member for Blair quite rightly pointed out, it makes no provision for assistance already provided, assistance quite rightly provided by this government and the previous government to many of the families on an individual case-by-case basis.

Those are matters that need to be incorporated in the consideration of this kind of motion.

I also note that the attack in Bali and the Twin Towers attack occurred during the time of the previous government. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition as he explained his reasoning as to why nothing was done in terms of providing backdated compensation during that time. I accept that he was genuine in his remarks to the House about that. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the previous government chose not to provide that compensation and perhaps chose not to do so for the reasons that I outlined earlier and which the member for Blair outlined in his remarks to the chamber. Those reasons include that there was assistance provided on a case-by-case basis. I also accept that victims of crime compensation is nothing new.

The states have indeed been providing it for some time throughout Australia and for quite proper reasons. I am aware of that and in fact I have been involved in some cases in which I have tried to assist people to secure some of that compensation. I am also aware that other countries provide victims of crime compensation and compensation directly related to terrorism, including the UK. I heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition talking about the UK experience. My understanding is—and I stand to be corrected—that it is specific to six particular incidents. Some will argue that that is not right, either. Each jurisdiction will make their own determination about all of these matters, as the US did. Their legislation dates back to 1984, I believe.

These are sensitive matters. We need to ensure that all people are treated equally. They have suffered and grieved enough. Adding to their heartache by having some kind of system in place that does not treat people equally is something that we need to be very sensitive to when we consider motions like the one before the House. I have no doubt that the minister will consider this motion and take on board what the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have said. But, as I have made clear in my remarks, it is a matter that we need to deal with very sensitively.

8:39 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Tax Reform) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition. As we discuss this tonight, it is natural for us to think back and reflect on the history of the Bali bombings and September 11. If we go back a bit further, on 23 February 1998 an obscure organisation headed by an even more obscure individual published an open manifesto. The declaration featured a list of signatories whose names would soon emerge from anonymity to infamy. The leader of the pack was the late and unlamented Osama bin Laden. The manifesto's signatories also included Ayman al-Zawahari, who moved up to head the organisation once bin Laden was consigned to the depths of the Indian Ocean following his demise at the hands of US Navy SEALs. Entitled Jihad against the Jews and the crusaders, this document was published by a movement calling itself the World Islamic Front. Over the last decade-plus we have come to know this crew of mass-murdering terrorists by another name: al Qaeda.

While bin Laden is rightly condemned for his homicidal barbarism, he could not be faulted on his awful clarify. His 1998 manifesto made his agenda perfectly clear by declaring:

… in compliance with God's order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims:

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it …

Within months, bin Laden's terrorist foot soldiers put words into practice, killing over 200 people by blowing up three embassies in Africa that September.

Throughout the 15 years that have followed, as we know, thousands of innocents have been slaughtered by al Qaeda in New York office buildings, Bali nightclubs, London subways, Madrid commuter railcars, Jakarta hotels, Mumbai hospitals and a synagogue in Ghriba. That tragic roll of terror victims includes over 100 Australian names. Yet our presence on al Qaeda's target list should come as no surprise. After all, Australia exemplifies all of the things jihadi Islam so dearly loves to hate: religious tolerance, gender equality, freedom of expression and government by the ballot, not the bullet. It only stands to reason that a movement seeking to impose a resurrected Caliphate upon the world does not look kindly upon free minds and free markets.

But it was not just our democratic values that aroused the ire of Osama bin Laden; it was our democratic actions as well. In 1999, Australia intervened militarily in East Timor, playing a leading role in the birth of Timor Leste as a free and independent nation. To al Qaeda, this was an unforgiveable sin. Clear evidence to that effect emerged in November 2001 when the BBC published a new bin Laden manifesto. There, amidst the long laundry list of jihadi complaints, was a paragraph denouncing 'crusader Australian forces … landed to separate East Timor, which is part of the Islamic World.' The bombing attacks in Bali that claimed 88 Australian lives took place less than a year later. The liberation of Timor Leste continued. Bin Laden was part of a war annihilation in the true sense of the word.

We have for a long period of time been at war with a totalitarian ideology that believes that the destruction of our civilisation is a prerequisite for the construction of theirs.

This is the same totalitarian ideology that last month motivated Taliban assassins to shoot a 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl in the head for the crime of advocating female education. This war was started by jihadi Islam but must be ended by us because the consequences of defeat are too horrible to contemplate.

In this war, Australians who have been killed or wounded by enemy action deserve to be treated as well as possible. That treatment includes support for the innocent non-combatants who have fallen victim abroad to acts of terrorism, and for their families.

The Leader of the Opposition was advocating for this cause even before he was Leader of the Opposition. In November 2009 he introduced a private member's bill to provide this sorely needed financial assistance. In his second reading speech he gave a telling description of precisely what was at stake and why, but I will not recount it again tonight.

At the time, the Member for Warringah pointed out the difference between the level of support available to those who suffer from criminal violence at home, and he has done so again tonight. The legislation he has pushed for is aimed at rectifying that disparity. He outlined how it took a long period of time for this to get movement in this parliament, and he also candidly outlined his efforts in 2007, when we were in government.

The legislation to date has not gone far enough, as far as concerns those important declarations that would relate back to the day before September 11. It has the capacity to deal with future atrocities, but not the past, and it does not have the capacity to cover those Australians who have fallen victim to jihadi war against Australia and the West since 11 September 2001.

The Attorney-General has attempted to justify the government's unwillingness by arguing that 'retrospective legislation is not appropriate here'. This has been addressed by those opposite again tonight. I say a number of things about this. With the history I have just recounted, the time frame is very specific for Australia. If there were ever a case for retrospective legislation it is here. The Leader of the Opposition has been careful to limit the application both in time and in scope, back to 10 September 2001. Its fiscal impact is finite.

Another philosophical objection to retrospective legislation derives from the unfairness of imposing penalties after the fact. I have certainly argued against retrospective legislation in this parliament. But this legislation does no such thing. It does not contain punitive provisions, it bestows a benefit to a targeted group of people over a defined period of time.

I call on the government to reconsider its opposition to this today and to consider doing what this parliament feels is the right thing to do. And I say: if not here, where? Certainly, the innocent Australians who suffered in life and limb at the murderous hands of al-Qaeda are deserving of our positive consideration of this motion, here and now.

8:49 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In speaking on this motion tonight I want to pay tribute to some of the brave Australians who have been honoured for their outstanding service following the tragic Bali terrorist attacks on 12 October 2002. But first I want to acknowledge those Australians who lost a family member or friend in the attacks on America in September 2001. Even today the images of that day are frightening and horrific. They are images of terrorism and a barbaric disregard for the lives of innocent people, and they will haunt us forever. Australia has historically close ties to the United States. We have stood together to face global threats through many years and through many wars. Just as the footage and stories from the conflict in the Pacific are ingrained in our psyche, so too are the events of 9/11.

Our then Prime Minister, John Howard, was in Washington when the Pentagon was attacked. Journalist Denis Atkins's account of the situation that confronted Mr Howard, his family, Australian diplomats and the travelling media is compelling. He writes about being 'shocked' and 'amazed' as people in Washington wondered what was going on. He describes the impact on the travelling media and the Australian diplomatic corps as events unfolded.

Mr Howard was actually the first leader to call the 9/11 attacks an act of war, and in many ways he was right to say this. There can never be any justification and there can never be any excuse or reason for the mass murder of civilians. The attack on America, like the attacks on London and Madrid, represent the most frightening element of extremism and the use of terror purely to kill.

As someone who has lived and worked in India as part of Australia's diplomatic mission, I know that the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were felt closely here in Australia. Australians were caught up in that evil act of terror, but many Australians have family and friends in Mumbai and they too have been affected by this act of terrorism. To see these attacks in India was deeply affecting. I love India and the Indian people and, having travelled as well to Pakistan and Afghanistan, I know the everyday people of this region want peace and stability.

Terrorism is designed to cause fear and chaos. Extremists use terror. Extremists use terror to bring instability and anarchy, and that is why we always stand firm in the way we deal with terrorist organisations. Ten years ago the unimaginable nightmare of terrorism was experienced by hundreds of Australians. On that fateful night in October, 202 people were killed, 88 of whom were Australian; 240 people were injured, many of them seriously. I had the privilege and the honour to represent the Speaker at the recent Bali memorial service here in Canberra, in the Great Hall. Senator Stephen Parry was there representing the President of the Senate, and the Governor-General was there. It was an incredibly moving and deeply mournful experience. There wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end of the session. But what I really enjoyed about it was the fact that it was incredibly respectful and also acknowledged the lives lost in this tragedy. It was also, in a way, uplifting in that the families and friends were there to honour those who died on that dreadful night in those dreadful circumstances. Photos were shown of a number of individuals, and that is what really brought the house undone. It was mournful, as I said, but also respectful and in many ways uplifting.

Particularly moving was the fact that the Governor-General wore a beautiful brooch—a dove—on her lapel. I think that sent many messages, but essentially one of peace—hopefully world peace in our lifetimes. It was also wonderful to speak to the families and friends after the ceremony and to hear of their experiences and their tragic loss, as well as how they were rebuilding their lives and at the same time respecting and honouring those they had lost.

In the aftermath of this horrific terror attack, brave and wonderful Australians stepped up to help the many survivors and the families and friends of those who lost loved ones. Many of them were public servants, and I also spoke to a number of them at that Bali memorial service here in Canberra just recently. A total of 199 people were recognised for their efforts. These were people who rescued and helped family members, friends and people they had never met before. Some helped survivors from the burning nightclubs. Others spent hours, days, weeks and months helping survivors. These people are heroes in the true sense of the word. Heroes are people we admire because they have performed a brave act. Heroes are people who have acted above and beyond what is normally expected. They have done something bold or altruistic or they have performed heroic deeds.

After the Bali bombing, almost 200 Australians were honoured for being heroes, many of them silent heroes. These special honours were bestowed for acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances; for acts of bravery considered worthy of recognition; for the provision of assistance to victims and to their families; for service in co-ordinating the crisis response for immediate evacuation of Australians from Bali; for assisting in victim identification procedures following the bombings; to members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Bali crisis task force; to members of the Australian Federal Police and Operation Alliance; to those involved in DNA identification procedures for the victims of the Bali bombings; for providing counselling services for victims, their families, and members of the DFAT Bali crisis task force; and for the provision of medical assistance to victims of the Bali bombings.

Many of these people are from Canberra. They were recognised on the Bali honours list, and tonight I would like to pay tribute to them again. Many of them I know from my time in DFAT. I pay tribute to Ross Tysoe; David Chaplin; Ian Kemish; John McAnulty; Timothy Morris; Colin Rigby, who was the DFAT psychologist and who went out on his own after some time in DFAT, providing a wonderful service in Bali and for all the DFAT employees throughout the world over many years; Alex Bartlem; Julie Brownrigg; Robert Cameron; Stephen Candotti; Craig Chittick, who I know well, a wonderful man living in Sydney; Susan Cobley; Kirk Coningham, a very good friend of mine; Susan Cox; Christopher De Cure, another friend of mine; Donald Evans; Francis Evatt; Mark Fraser; John Godwin; Brent Hall; Rebecca Hamon; John Janssen; Kim Lamb; Janette Lynagh; Elizabeth Morris, who I also worked with in DFAT; Charles Muller; Mark Pearson; Tracy Reid; Jeffrey Roach; David Royds; Thomas Sinkovits; Donald Smith; Ruth Stone; Lorenzo Strano, who I was on a short-term mission with in Indonesia; Timothy Toomey; Edwin White; Linzi Wilson-Wilde; Kenneth Hood; William Jackson; Lisa Paul; Richard Smith; Colonel Neil Thompson; Warrant Officer Julie-Anne Willes; and, finally, my beloved and dear friend Liz O'Neill, who is no longer with us; she was, unfortunately, killed in the Garuda fire many years ago, and I have spoken about that in the House many times. So, to all those fabulous public servants, who are quite often silent heroes, I pay tribute. I also pay tribute to those families and friends who lost loved ones in the Bali bombings, and anyone who has lost a loved one through an act of terrorism.

8:58 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion by the Leader of the Opposition regarding Australian victims of terrorism attacks overseas. The Leader of the Opposition first introduced a private member's bill in February 2011 and has since attempted to amend the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2012 to provide assistance to all Australians who have suffered at the hands of terrorism since 10 September 2001. They reflect the importance of supporting the struggles that such victims face in putting their life back together. As the motion notes, these victims have not been entitled to the same compensation that domestic victims of crime receive under state and territory victims-of-crime schemes. Since that fateful day of September 11, 2001, some 300 Australians have been killed or injured in terrorist attacks. Most notably, 88 Australians were killed on 12 0ctober 2002 in attacks that overall killed more than 200 people in Bali's nightclub district. This year hundreds of Australians joined the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to remember those who died.

Although terrorism has seen the murder of thousands across the globe, as Prime Minister John Howard often remarked ultimately what unites us as Australians is more important than anything that might divide us. As I have remarked previously in this House, the aim of terrorism is simple: it is to destroy people's pursuit of a peaceful life. In order to achieve this, terrorists have engaged in horrific acts of violence and manipulation at unexpected times, and, particularly over the past decade, they have shifted society's mindset toward the security of everyday life in unimaginable ways.

As a nation, we must never forget the high price innocent Australians have paid at the hands of terrorists. Although terrorists' actions are aimed to send a message to the state and its leaders, it is the innocent individuals within these states who are targeted. However, because of the nature of terrorist attacks, victims can often be left feeling like just another statistic. The numbers of people who are killed or injured in terrorist attacks are what make the news—the statistics, not the names. Whilst no-one would deny the empathy felt for these victims within our society, news is reported through statistics and through the place of an attack, which, whilst shocking, in a way desensitises us to the suffering and experiences of those who actually lived through the attack. Terrorists attack en masse; yet, at the end of the day, it is the individual and their families who must pick up the pieces.

The motion before us today, as with many motions and bills introduced by the Leader of the Opposition previously, recognises the very real consequences of terrorism, and will go some way toward helping individual victims of overseas terrorist attacks. For many there is no going back to the way things were; they must rebuild a life for themselves after losing what is perhaps the last bastion of innocence—the belief that you are safe. For a terrorism victim and their family, the fact that they were part of an attack when simply going about their own business, and the knowledge that these terrorist groups, and terrorist mentality in general, are still out there, would be almost crippling.

These victims need to know that their government supports them—not just on a global stage and not just as a nation opposed to terrorism, but supports them personally and individually, and that is what the Leader of the Opposition's motion is all about. We have all stood in this chamber and spoken about the importance of supporting Australian victims of terrorism. Yet this Labor government continues to say that, as a nation, we are not willing to help those who have suffered in some of the worst terrorist attacks the world has experienced.

It continues to make no sense that the government has not made this positive, helpful and necessary legislation retrospective in order to support victims of past terrorist attacks while it has introduced other retrospective legislation that has had a negative impact on our society and economy. Here we are today, more than 10 years on from the Bali bombings, with this Labor government introducing taxes such as the Minerals Resource Rent Tax—a tax designed to raise billions of dollars a year from mining companies but which to date has raised zero dollars—and yet not supporting this inexpensive but very important and significant measure.

The victims of past terrorist attacks need our support just as much as future ones will. I implore the government to give them hope, and support the Leader of the Opposition's motion.

9:03 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this most important motion. It is often said that the world is a different place since September 11, 2001, and in many ways it is, although terrorism has been used as a political weapon across the ages. Who can forget the victims of violent political activism such as the Munich 11 or those lost in the genocidal acts in Western Africa or Eastern Europe? From Mumbai to Chechnya, Sharm el-Sheikh to Dublin, terrorism has been used to instil fear and terror into the innocent civilians who are unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terrorist attacks are designed to target the innocent in an attempt to shatter civilisation as we know it and implant fear to a degree not otherwise imaginable. Terrorism is the personification of evil. It is as low an act as one human can carry out against another.

As the member for Higgins, it is my solemn duty to remember Leanne Whiteside, a lawyer from Prahran who perished in the South Tower in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Leanne's story is not too dissimilar from my own, as a young, female lawyer trying to forge a professional career. Accepting the opportunity of a lifetime, Leanne moved to New York, only to become the victim of a deliberate attack, a deliberate act of violence and extremism. This event horrified us.

Of course, things really struck home when, on 12 October 2002, three separate bombs were detonated in a coordinated attack throughout Kuta in Bali. In what was—and, to this day, still is—the worst terrorist attack in our short history, 88 Australians were slain in the most random and brutal way. A total of 202 people lost their lives on that day. On 12 October 2002, Australia lost innocence. We, as a nation, realised that we were not immune from extremism and from some of the more horrific aspects of human nature.

The pain and mental anguish of those that survived the horror is immense and enduring. I would like to tell you the story of Mr Lawrence Kerr. Mr Kerr is a constituent of mine but was originally from Perth. Mr Kerr travelled to Bali with his local football team, the Kingsley football club, on an end-of-season trip. This was meant to be a jubilant time of year, a team- and morale-building exercise. But the decision to go to the Sari Club on that night changed everything. Nineteen men embarked on that trip; only 13 returned.

Since he returned from Bali, Mr Kerr has suffered from not only his physical injuries but mental ones as well. He has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and the eventual loss of his business, which he had been running for 10 years. Mr Kerr's ambition to seek employment means that he will not take the disability pension that he is entitled to, rather opting for the Newstart program so that he can still be part of the workforce. Mr Kerr feels, though, that he has been badly let down and that other people who are also victims of terror have been badly let down.

As a member of the coalition, I am proud to support the Leader of the Opposition in supporting a compensation package for domestic victims of terrorism overseas. It is inconsistent logic to say that an Australian is not entitled to compensation as a victim of violence purely because the incident occurred abroad as opposed to in Australia, and insincere not to include those that have been the victims of some of the worst attacks on the Australian people—namely, September 11, the Bali bombings, the London and Jakarta bombings, and the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The announcement that the Leader of the Opposition has made brings into line the level of assistance provided to domestic victims of violent crime for both future and past victims.

The government recently spent $75,000 on coffee machines. This is one part of compensation that could be paid to victims of terror. One has to wonder about the priorities of the government.

Although no level of compensation could adequately compensate for the trauma that victims of terror endure, hopefully this gesture will provide just a little bit of hope that these people so desperately deserve. That is why I support this motion.

9:08 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

To some it might appear a little bit shabby that we are engaged or enjoined in a debate over whether or how we provide assistance to those families of people who have been touched by the tragedy of being a victim of a terrorist incident. But the truth is that the debate we are engaged in is not about whether we provide assistance but how. Tragically, since 11 September, 2001, over 200 Australians have been injured and more than 100 killed in overseas terrorist incidents.

Significant targeted assistance has been provided to victims of those events, including through the Disaster Health Care Assistance Scheme, by way of ex gratia assistance, consular and repatriation assistance, and immediate short-term financial assistance through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.

It is true that, until the government moved legislation through this House a few weeks ago, our response as a nation in providing assistance to these victims has been somewhat ad hoc—and I make no criticism of either those members opposite or those members on this side of the House. I believe that, when we see the images of terrorism and victims of terrorism brought home to us, into our lounge rooms via television screens, it is only then that we start to focus on the issues that are subject to the legislation, which was moved by the government a few weeks ago.

It is true that, under the previous government and for several years under this government, there have been ad hoc approaches. That does not mean that that side of the House or this side of the House is any less caring or any less genuine about its sympathy for the victims. What it does mean is that we now have a process through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and through other areas of assistance, to provide generous financial assistance to those injured and the next of kin of those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including Australians.

Under that compensation fund, payments of between $250,000 and $7.1 million were made to the next of kin of six Australians killed in those terrible attacks. Retrospective application of the scheme would effectively duplicate assistance that has already been given through that compensation fund and through the other areas of assistance that I have already alluded to. Calls by the Leader of the Opposition, however genuine—and I believe they are genuine—to apply the government's financial assistance for victims of terrorism scheme to victims of past incidents are inconsistent with the position the coalition took when they were in government. In relation to September 11 and the Bali bombings, those opposite made decisions about support and assistance for those victims. I can only assume they made those decisions based on the best information that was available to them at the time.

The support provided to past victims drew on a number of existing measures, including the Disaster Health Care Assistance Scheme, ex gratia payments, consular and repatriation assistance, and immediate short-term financial assistance through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.

This government has taken action by implementing a scheme which will ensure that assistance and support provided to Australians affected by terrorism overseas or who are victims of any future attacks is appropriate and sufficient. The Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Act 2012 was enacted for that purpose. It provides for financial assistance of up to $75,000 to Australians who are harmed by an overseas terrorist act and to Australians whose close family member or members have died in an overseas terrorist act.

As has been mentioned by previous speakers in this debate, there is nothing that we can do by way of financial payments which will serve to ease the pain and suffering of those families and those close to the victims of these terrible attacks. The $75,000 or the payments through this scheme of up to $75,000 are designed to provide some financial assistance in their hours of need. (Time expired)

9:13 pm

Photo of Luke SimpkinsLuke Simpkins (Cowan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians and our interests overseas have been targeted by terrorists on more than one occasion. I remind the House that 11 Australians were killed in the September 11 2001 attacks in the US. In fact, earlier today we offered our condolences on the commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the Bali bombings where 202 people were killed, 88 of whom were Australians. What that means is that, regardless of what is happening in the world, regardless of our foreign policy decisions, there are going to be terrorists that see value in attacking Australians. While I say value, some of them may see political or publicity value in killing Australians, but others may just have a pathological hatred of anyone who could be seen as representing western liberalism.

The reality is that terrorism is now almost exclusively the practice of radical Islamic groups or Islamists. They seek to expand a way of life and the political system of a religion that degrades the place and opportunities of women, that promotes medieval laws and that restricts freedoms that we hold dear. These Islamists are offended by our actions in Afghanistan, by our support for Israel and of course by our alliance with the US. Regardless of any of those foreign policy matters, they are offended by our refusal to become Muslim, by our consumption of alcohol and probably countless other sins.

While the apologists on the Left in this country may rationalise and even excuse terrorist attacks on Australians as resulting from our 'terrible' actions in places like Afghanistan, the reality is that the Islamists find fault with anyone who does not adhere to the same religious fanaticism that they do and anyone who lives in the decadent West. The truth is that Australians will be targeted in the future by these enemies; and turning the other cheek or embracing them, out of some misplaced view of seeking empathy and understanding, is pointless and a betrayal of this nation. The point is that while there are Islamists there will be terrorism and while there is terrorism Australians and all people from liberal Western democracies will be targeted. The outstanding efforts of ASIO here and the security agencies of other nations combine to help detect the threats, but overseas we cannot always expect the terrorists to be stopped and therefore we cannot rule out that there will be more Australians killed or injured such as at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.

Beyond countering the threats, it is therefore important that we have had the capacity to respond when they have taken place. I am talking about not just the highly successful efforts of the Howard government in 2002 but now also the ability to provide financial support for the victims. In June 2012 the House debated the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2012. The government brought that bill in to counter the private member's bill of the Hon. Tony Abbott. The trouble with the government's bill was that it was not retrospective and therefore would not assist those that had been in previous attacks. I of course hope that every future attempt by terrorists to hurt Australians will be interdicted by security forces and stopped; but, just as has been the case with the attacks in Bali, Australians affected have been left with having to deal with the effects for the rest of their lives. That should be acknowledged and retrospectivity applied for these past victims.

The government's attempt at social security for victims of terrorism overseas excluded one of the most important aspects: declarations to give assistance to actual existing victims of terrorism. I join with the Leader of the Opposition to call on the government and the minister to make a declaration so that the families of the 300 Australians killed can get this modest but important payment. As said earlier, we are talking about only $30 million, which is fairly modest in the scheme of Commonwealth government spending. This is the least a decent nation can do for the people who have suffered. Many victims and family members of victims of overseas terrorism have suffered not only financially but also, in a large number of cases, physically and mentally.

This private member's motion is in response to the coalition's recognition of the need for a federal scheme to offer financial assistance similar to that which is currently available to local victims of crime under state and territory schemes. This financial assistance is usually up to $80,000 and, as we heard from the Leader of the Opposition, it is not specifically to compensate but, rather, to recognise the suffering that the victims have incurred. As I stated, the Australian victims of overseas terrorism suffered because they were Australians; they were targeted because they were Australians. This is not a political issue, it is a personal issue. If financial assistance is okay for those who will suffer from terrorism overseas in the future then it should be right for those who have suffered from overseas terrorism in the past, and continue to suffer, to also be provided for.

Debate adjourned.