House of Representatives

Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2012

Second Reading Speech

Mr McClelland (Attorney-General)

I move: That this bill be now read a second time.

Terrorism is a crime that has a unique and dramatic impact on the lives of its victims.

It is a crime directed not at individuals, but at the state-but individuals are the victims.

Presently in every Australian state and territory victims of crime, including terrorism, are eligible for lump sum payments under criminal injuries schemes.

However, there is no comprehensive scheme that covers Australian victims of terrorism when those incidents occur overseas.

In the past decade Australians have been killed and injured in terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Bali, London, Jakarta and Mumbai.

Terrorism is an unpredictable and stateless phenomenon.

It can strike almost anybody, in any place and at any time.

It is a sad reality that Australians are sometimes specifically targeted in overseas terrorist acts.

Other times, they are merely caught up in attacks launched indiscriminately at 'Westerners'.

In either case, these individuals fall victim to attacks with a political or ideological motive, rather than a personal one.

In that context, it is only fair that the burden of the attack be borne in part by the state, and not by the individual victim.

It is important to acknowledge the collective responsibility of the Australian community to help individuals recover from overseas terrorist events.

The Australian government has assisted Australian victims of terrorism in the past, providing them with medical and evacuation support, consular assistance and assisting with funeral costs and other expenses, on an ex gratia basis. The value of that assistance to date exceeds $12 million.

There is, however, more that can be done to ease the suffering and to provide support to Australian victims in the longer term.

It is in this context that the government today commends to the House the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011.

It should be noted that the bill builds on important work by the Leader of the Opposition, and the member for Paterson by incorporating principles of the opposition leader's private member's bill entitled 'Assisting the Victims of Overseas Terrorism'.

The purpose of the opposition leader's private member's bill was to provide additional financial support of up to $75,000 to Australians who are affected by terrorism while they are overseas.

The government's bill adopts this approach by instituting a new mechanism for providing financial assistance to victims of overseas terrorism, called the Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment.

The payment will provide up to $75,000 for individuals who are injured in an overseas terrorist event or to a close family member of an individual killed as a result of a terrorism event overseas.

Eligibility under the scheme provided for by the bill requires the Prime Minister to declare an overseas terrorism event in the first instance.

Once an overseas terrorism event has been declared, set eligibility criteria will apply, primarily that an applicant is an Australian resident and did not contribute to the terrorism event.

The bill also sets out principles, which will be accompanied by relevant guidelines, that provide guidance on the factors that may be considered when determining a claim, including:

the nature, duration and impact of the injury or disease;
the likelihood of future loss, injury or disease;
the circumstances in which the injury or disease was incurred;
the nature of the relationship between the primary and secondary victim;
whether there are other persons who have made a claim;
whether there is agreement by claimants on the amount that should be paid to each;
whether there was an adverse Australian government travel advisory;
whether the person was directed not to go to the place where the attack occurred; and
other payments from the Commonwealth, state, territory, a foreign country or another person or entity.

Consistent with assumptions underlying the opposition leader's private member's bill, the scheme will also provide that victims who receive the payment will not have to repay Medicare, workers compensation or any other benefits received from the Commonwealth. This is also consistent with current victims of crime compensation schemes around the country. The payment will also be exempt from taxation.

The discretion to provide payments of up to $75,000 acknowledges not only that injuries resulting from terrorism events tend to be very serious but also that they can have a lasting effect, requiring ongoing support and treatment.

That Australians should be injured or killed in a terrorist act is a horrible thought to contemplate. But it has happened and-unfortunately-it will almost certainly happen again.

Terrorism is a crime that is indiscriminate and has many victims. It devastates not only those directly impacted but their families as well.

It is a crime designed to strike at the heart of all we hold dear in a free and democratic society.

But we are determined that terrorism will not affect how we go about our lives.

The government supports the rights of Australians to continue to explore the world, to continue to discover new places and to represent us abroad, secure in the knowledge that the Australian community, and its parliament, will continue to support them, their families and the Australian way of life.

I would like to again acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Paterson for their work in relation to this important issue and for their constructive and positive engagement with the government to achieve the realisation of this outcome.

I commend the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Turnbull) adjourned.