House debates

Thursday, 21 June 2012


Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011; Consideration in Detail

1:23 pm

Photo of Nicola RoxonNicola Roxon (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I present a supplementary explanatory memorandum to the bill and move government amendments (1) to (11) as circulated together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 11, page 10 (after line 12), at the end of section 1061PAF, add:

  (3) The AVTOP Principles may specify circumstances in which the amount of an AVTOP is nil.

(2) Schedule 1, item 11, page 10 (before line 13), before section 1061PAG, insert:

Division 4—Other

(3) Schedule 1, item 11, page 10 (after line 27), at the end of Part 2.24AA, add:

1061PAH AVTOP is not compensation or damages

     For the purposes of any law of the Commonwealth, a payment of AVTOP is not to be treated as being a payment of compensation or damages.

(4) Schedule 1, page 13 (line 2), omit the heading.

(5) Schedule 1, item 15, page 13 (lines 3 to 6), omit the item.

(6) Schedule 1, page 13 (line 7), omit the heading.

(7) Schedule 1, item 16, page 13 (lines 8 to 12), omit the item.

(8) Schedule 1, page 13 (line 21), omit the heading.

(9) Schedule 1, item 19, page 13 (line 22) to page 14 (line 6), omit the item.

(10) Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 2), after item 25, insert:

25A At the end of section 39


  (6) The Secretary may determine that a specified period, being a period that is longer than 13 weeks, applies for the purposes of claims for an AVTOP in relation to a declared overseas terrorist act.

  (7) If, under subsection (6), there is a determination of a period in force for the purposes of claims for an AVTOP in relation to a declared overseas terrorist act, then this Act applies to those claims as if references in subsections (1) and (3) to the period of 13 weeks were references to the period referred to in the determination.

  (8) Adetermination under subsection (6) is not a legislative instrument.

(11) Schedule 1, item 26, page 15 (lines 6 and 7), omit subsection 46B(1), substitute:

  (1) Unless the Secretary makes a determination under subsection (2), a person's AVTOP is to be paid:

     (a) in accordance with section 47; and

     (b) on the date that is determined by the Secretary to be the earliest date on which it is reasonably practicable for the payment to be made to the person.

The House would be aware that these amendments have been available for some time and throughout the period of the debate. These amendments have been identified from the lengthy period when this bill was originally introduced to the debating time and each of these amendments is consistent with the original intent of the bill.

The amendments do a number of things, and I will just quickly take the House through them. They clarify that a payment under the proposed scheme can be between zero and $75,000. This will ensure that funds can be distributed in a fair and equitable manner where there is more than one claimant. For example, where a victim has left behind a widow, a dependent child and a brother, it might be appropriate for the widow and dependent child to receive the full $75,000 and, while the brother might also be eligible, it may be appropriate that he receive a lesser payment.

The amendments will also ensure a payment under the scheme does not adversely affect a person's entitlement to other forms of damages or compensation—those are amendments (2), (3), (6), (7), (8) and (9)—nor any family assistance benefit, amendments (4) and (5). It will allow the period for assessing claims to be extended to ensure that there is sufficient time to assess claims particularly if there is a large number of victims—amendments (10) and (11).

As you would be aware, on 22 March this year the Senate jointly referred the provisions of this bill and a private senator's bill to the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee. It tabled its report. We support six of the seven recommendations and, to implement a number of those recommendations, those details are set out in the revised explanatory memorandum. Having tabled that revised explanatory memorandum, I think this will provide greater guidance about how the Prime Minister will determine whether a specific terrorist act should be covered by the scheme and it will also clarify that the bill enables the extension of the scheme to cover Commonwealth employees working overseas who do not meet the residency test.

Finally, it clarifies how payments under the scheme will interact with other payments. To implement recommendation 6, the government is exploring options for the establishment of a central contact point for Australians affected by terrorist acts. The government does not support recommendation 5, which would double the maximum payment for primary victims. As I have said, the proposed maximum of $75,000 is appropriate for a number of reasons including that it is consistent with the most generous victims of crime scheme, those in Western Australia and Queensland, and the private senator's bill, and it would seem anomalous to award more to overseas victims than to those who are victims in Australia. It will supplement existing measures of assistance and support including the disaster healthcare assistance, ex gratia assistance, consular and repatriation assistance and immediate short-term financial assistance through the AGDRP. It will not adversely affect the victim's entitlement to a range of other benefits including compensation, damages and Medicare.

I understand that the opposition have indicated that they support these amendments. We welcome that support and I commend the bill with these amendments to the House.

1:27 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

These amendments are technical in nature and they do not make any alterations to the purposes of the bill and they are not opposed by the opposition.

Question agreed to.

by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) and (2) together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 9, page 4 (after line 17), at the end of section 35B, add:

(3) The Prime Minister may, within 6 months after the commencement day, make a declaration under subsection (1) in relation to a terrorist act that occurred outside Australia between 10 September 2001 and the commencement day.

(4) In this section:

commencement day means the day on which Schedule 1 of the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Act 2011 commenced.

(2) Schedule 1, item 12, page 11 (lines 7 and 8), omit "the day the close family member to whom the claim relates died", substitute the following:

     the later of:

  (a) the day on which the declaration was made under section 35B of the Social Security Act 1991; and

  (b) the day the close family member to whom the claim relates died.

These amendments provide for this bill to do what the opposition leader has always intended it to do since he first raised this issue several years ago. They make sure that this bill will be applied retrospectively to Australians who have been victims of terrorism in the past. At present the bill does allow for that to occur. It would require the Prime Minister of the day to be committed to making that occur and, unfortunately, in the correspondence that the Leader of the Opposition has had with the Prime Minister and of course the comments of the Attorney-General, they have made it clear that they do not believe it is appropriate for these measures to apply retrospectively.

Obviously, we would hope that once this bill passes this place that it would never need to be called upon, and I join with the Attorney-General in hoping that that never happens. But in saying that, unfortunately, if history is to be our guide, the likelihood is that Australians may well be caught up, again, in terrorist incidents overseas. I do not understand the logic of the government's position in thinking that it is appropriate for future victims of terrorism to be appropriately compensated, but not past victims of terrorism, which of course was the original intent of the bill when it was raised by the Leader of the Opposition and also the member for Paterson, who joins me here at the table and who has been deeply committed to this measure. The logic of that just seems to be completely inconsistent to me.

I appreciate what was said about the fact that in government the coalition parties had not instituted this measure. That is a reasonable point, although I think it is also fair to say that, over time, thinking on these matters can evolve. The thinking of the opposition has evolved on this. I note the Attorney-General smiling. We have gone out of our way not to politicise any of these issues at any stage during this process—

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendments have been designed to do so.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

That is absolute nonsense. Only somebody who would ascribe the most base political motives to everything that people do in this chamber could ascribe those motives to the way the opposition has behaved in pursuing what we believe are very honourable objectives. We have never politicised these measures. We have done everything we can to work in a spirit of constructive cooperation with the government, and we are genuinely disappointed that the government has not seen fit to accept our point of view. I hope that when these amendments are divided upon the House will see fit to accept our point of view.

To compensate future victims is good and appropriate, and I congratulate the government on that, but it makes absolutely no sense without applying it to the Australians who have already been victims of terrorism because of the events of September 11, the events in Bali in 2002 and 2005, and further terrorist events in London in 2005, Mumbai in 2008 and Jakarta in 2009.

If this bill proceeds in its present form and the House does not see fit to accept our amendments, every member should be aware that all previous Australian victims of terrorism will not be eligible for compensation under this measure. That would be a shame, that would be a travesty and it completely defies the whole point about why we are debating this here today, because this bill has its genesis in the Leader of the Opposition and also the member for Paterson being concerned about and talking with and being heavily involved with victims of the 2005 bombing in Bali. The whole reason we are debating this here today is because the original intent was that those Australian victims of terrorism—some of the 300 Australians who have been killed in previous terrorist acts—get access to what we believe is appropriate compensation.

The 300 killed and the countless hundreds who were injured were killed and injured through absolutely no fault of their own. They were completely just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were targeted because they were Australians and because they were Westerners by, quite frankly, very evil people who are attacking us because of who we are and because they hate what we stand for.

I would urge all members of the House to think very seriously about how they vote on these amendments. The government's position is inconsistent. There is absolutely no reason to apply this only to future victims of terrorism. I would sincerely ask every member of this House to think very carefully on their vote, because we believe it is completely appropriate to compensate all Australian victims of terrorism, regardless of when they fell victim to it.

1:33 pm

Photo of Bob BaldwinBob Baldwin (Paterson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a bill that is extremely important to me, important to the Leader of the Opposition and, most importantly, these amendments are important to the 300 that have already suffered at the hands of terrorists: people such as Colin and Fiona Zwolinski and Jennifer Williamson, locals in the Hunter who were killed in Bali, and to people that came home, like Paul and Penny Anicich, Tony and Maryanne Purkiss, Eric and Jenny Pilar, Aleta Lederwasch, Nicholas and Jennifer Scott, Kim and Vicki Griffiths, and Bruce Williamson, who lost his wife.

There is a time when the government must stand up and do the right thing. This government has had no restriction at all in spending money as displayed by previous evidence in this House—money that was spent on pink batts and wasted; money that has been overspent on BER projects. But this government, which always talks about having a social conscience, cannot do a single thing to help out these victims of terrorism. They are asking for no more than what the state would provide them if these acts had occurred in Australia. I am saying to this government and in particular to the members for Newcastle, Shortland and Charlton, who represent these people in the Hunter: have a heart and come and support these amendments. These amendments do what is fair and right in providing support to those victims of terrorism.

We have been arguing this for a number of years. This was going to be part of the national disability support scheme, according to the former Prime Minister. It is not a lot of money. Averaged out over the 10 years this would have been $2.25 million. The Attorney-General might be questioning that. It was actually here in question time that former Prime Minister Rudd, in trying to admonish me for raising this—

Photo of Nicola RoxonNicola Roxon (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Former Prime Minister John Howard—

Photo of Bob BaldwinBob Baldwin (Paterson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

It was former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Attorney-General, who said in this House that it would be included in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is yet to come to true fruition. These amendments need to be supported because they are fair, right and justified. If the government cannot see that it needs to support our fellow Australians in this way then this is a truly mean and tricky government. You need to support fellow Australians. You have got billions of dollars to waste in other areas. What about supporting your fellow Australians? You are an absolute disgrace if you do not step up to the mark and support these amendments. Our fellow Australians deserve it and I call on all of those members on your side of the House that have had constituents affected by this to support their constituents instead of walking away. You have no problem in wanting to introduce retrospective taxation into this House; you should introduce retrospective payments for people who have been severely affected.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind the member for Paterson, as I have others, on the use of the word 'you'. Please, it is a reflection on the occupier of this chair.

Photo of Bob BaldwinBob Baldwin (Paterson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I do apologise, but you can understand my emotion. I meant my comments to be made to the government.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I cannot understand. I just make the general point for members on both sides of the House. It has crept into the debate on both sides of the House too often.

1:37 pm

Photo of Nicola RoxonNicola Roxon (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I will speak very briefly, because I understand that it is in the interests of the House for us to vote on these amendments. As I have said, the government does not support these amendments. The reason the government does not support them is that retrospective legislation is not appropriate here. Those opposite have pretended that they do not want to politicise this; I do not think that has been evidenced in the debate, but I understand that people feel incredibly strongly about this issue.

I remind the House—all those who are about to vote on the amendments—that the previous government ruled out taking this action in 2003 and 2006, and made other payments to do this. Our government is now taking action to ensure that the people whom the member for Paterson and others talked about in such a heartfelt way will never again be in the position that they were in before—they depended on the goodwill of the government of the day, who did not take the action that we are now taking.

We support the introduction of this bill and are pleased that the opposition supports it, but we reject the politicised comments about retrospectivity and do not support the amendments moved by the member for Stirling.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

1:47 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That standing order 43 be suspended until the conclusion of this debate.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.