The Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011
Terrorism is, sadly, no new phenomenon. A quick internet search suggests that, from the time of the assassins in the late 13th century, terror and barbarism were widely used in warfare and conflict. However, it was not until the French Revolution in the 1800s that the first uses of the words 'terrorists' and 'terrorism' were recorded. Since then those words have become firmly a part of our vernacular, able to evoke some of the most violent and devastating images, particularly for those of the most recent generations, X and Y, who have not yet known a major international war.
In November 2004 a report of the United Nations Secretary-General described 'terrorism' as: 'Any act intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants, with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act.'
By 2004 acts of terrorism were increasing and have now become a feature of our world. The United States Embassy in Beirut was bombed in 1983. In 1995, 168 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. In 1988 the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 killed 270 people over Lockerbie, in Scotland. In 1994 a Philippine airlines flight over Manila was bombed, as was the London underground in 2005.
It is five weeks from the Olympic Games. We are reminded that the greatest sport gathering in the world is not immune to terrorism. The 1972 Munich Games saw, as we would all recall, a terrorist group take 11 hostages, all of whom were executed. And, at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, two people were killed and over 100 injured by a terrorist pipe bomb. Terrorism is very common these days.
The New York World Trade Center was first bombed by terrorists in 1993, eight years before the world watched in horror as the devastation was repeated tenfold on September 11, 2001. Images that day of aircraft flying into buildings, petrified bystanders covered in ash and brave firefighters and police officers rushing to help are in many ways the very images that have come to symbolise modern-day terrorism. Since then terrorism has edged closer to our shores. Long Australians' favourite holiday destination overseas, horror came to the island of Bali in October 2002 when terrorists deliberately targeted a nightclub frequented by Westerners, especially Australians, and 202 people were killed, 88 of them Australian citizens. As it happens, I had been in that area only a week before, in Surabaya and Malang, East Java, where, as those of us there were subsequently informed, the bombers were actually making the bombs used in the Bali bombings. In an attack indisputably directed at Australians, our embassy in Jakarta was bombed in September 2004, killing nine people. As confidence was returning to our northern neighbour, terrorists struck Bali again, in 2005, and on that occasion claimed the lives of four people.
Australians love to travel, so many of our young people choose to take a gap year after completing high school and spend 12 months abroad—perhaps as an au pair in the UK or a ski instructor on the Canadian slopes or a counsellor at popular Camp America. Families too love to travel. In my home state of Western Australia there can be as many as nine direct air services to Bali a day. Singapore is a very popular destination as well, with up to seven flights a day from Perth, and the ski fields of New Zealand are close enough for a long weekend over there. But all of those destinations now have the shadow of a potential terrorist attack hanging over them as Australia has become a terrorist target largely perhaps because of our activities in recent Middle East wars in which certainly as a nation we have taken a stand against terrorism and those who purvey that kind of action around the world.
At its heart, the Social Security (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill 2011, is about protecting our citizens abroad. Already each state and territory has legislation to protect those killed or injured as a result of domestic terrorism through existing victims-of-crime legislation. There is no need, therefore, to extend the scope of this proposed act for that purpose. The purpose of this bill is to establish a legal mechanism to provide financial assistance to those Australian citizens who have been directly impacted by terrorism abroad. Specifically, the bill would apply to Australians who are injured as a result of an overseas terrorist act and close family members of Australians who are killed or who die within two years of suffering injuries as a result of an overseas terrorism act. The new payment would be known as the Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment, the AVTO Payment.
Australian governments already have a long and justifiably proud record of supporting our citizens at times of trouble abroad. Following the Bali bombing in 2002, the Howard government provided access to rehabilitation services from the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service as well as financial assistance for medical expenses not otherwise covered and, of course, people were evacuated to Australian hospitals where necessary. After the second Bali bombing in 2005 the then coalition government flew the Australian flag with pride, providing medical evacuations for all injured people, regardless of nationality. For Australians, financial assistance was provided in a range of areas, including reasonable costs of counselling and psychological care both for those directly affected and for their families. Out-of-pocket medical expenses were also covered. When the London Underground suffered a terrorist attack in the same year, the government again came to assist. The Egypt bombing and Middle East crisis of 2006 and the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 also saw the Australian government of the day lending a much-needed hand to Australians who found themselves the unwitting victims of terrorism on foreign soil.
We cannot escape the fact that Australians are being deliberately targeted by terrorist groups by virtue of the very fact that they are Australians, or Westerners more generally, and because of our actions in the Middle East. They are targeted, very often simply because they are Australians, by people who have a hatred of our way of life, our freedoms and liberties and the morals and values we are fortunate to espouse. While these examples highlight the fact that the Australian government has always stood by its citizens when disaster strikes abroad, they are also all too vivid reminders that Australians are not immune to international terror.
This bill formalises government assistance to victims of international terrorism, providing the same kind of support that would be extended to the victims of crime at home by state and territory governments. The bill will allow a payment of a compensatory amount of up to $75,000 to those who qualify for it, these being Australians who are injured as result of an overseas terrorist act and, secondly, close family members of Australians who are killed or who die within two years of suffering injuries as a result of an overseas terrorist act. One might say that $75,000 is not a lot of money, but at least it is a contribution to assist people through a time of crisis. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York in 2001, about 300 Australians have been directly impacted—either killed or injured—by overseas terrorism. That is an average of 30 people a year, so that would cost the government roughly $2,250,000. The bill has bipartisan support and I commend it to the Senate.