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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5640

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (10:42): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to speak on my private members' bill, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012. I, like my coalition colleagues, believe very strongly in supporting not only our Australian Defence Force personnel but their families: their spouses and, indeed, their dependants. Spouses or partners of ADF members and their dependants give so much to our nation. They are the ones who, indeed, enable our ADF personnel. They are the ones who have the biggest influence on whether our ADF personnel choose to remain in the service of their nation in uniform. They are the ones who offer the greatest support to their serving family members. They are the ones who so often experience the greater hardships, greater stresses, constant rotations, in many cases constant deployments and certainly constant training schedules. They are the ones who know so many sacrifices that so few of us ever will.

For the families of those who fight I am pleased to be able to speak on my private members' bill on behalf of the coalition. Simply put, the bill will ensure that spouses and dependants of ADF lateral transfer members—those serving members from other countries' militaries who seek to come and serve with our flag on their right shoulder—will be able to gain citizenship at the same time as their serving ADF member. It is the right and fair thing to do. It is just. It honours those who honour us.

ADF lateral transfers are members who have served in another nation's military and have subsequently moved to Australia to serve in our Australian Defence Force. They come from a wide variety of countries, including New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Our Defence Force has a long and proud record of recruiting members from the armed forces of other countries. We do so in order to fill our current capability gaps. We do it in most cases only where it serves or suits the parent country. For example, our Navy is presently taking advantage of the United Kingdom's strategic defence and security review, which amongst other things is reducing the number of personnel across the UK's four services. It is in this context and this move by the Cameron government that our Navy is increasing its recruitment of Royal Navy personnel in order to fill our capability gaps. It could take over a decade to recruit, train, sustain and skill engineers, pilots or other personnel with exceptionally high levels of skill. Having these personnel with their current skills transfer from other militaries into our Commonwealth takes an enormous amount of time and money. According to the 2010 Defence Families of Australia lateral recruit survey, in the past, the vast majority of lateral recruits have come from the UK, are married, have school-age children and, until recently, most have joined the Australian Regular Army. They are most likely to be posted to Darwin or the east coast and are most likely to live in a Defence Housing Authority, DHA, house and choose school and childcare in close proximity to their home. Less than 50 per cent of families had visited Australia before immigrating as a lateral transfer. The majority of families had only a vague idea of what support was available to them and their children through defence and most received information on financing, housing, and general knowledge from other lateral recruits, friends or unit hosts.

The ADF are presently looking to recruit, on their own numbers, up to as many as 300 lateral transfer personnel each year. Importantly, 90 per cent of these will probably have families they will be looking to bring to Australia. It is the care for these families that is foremost in the mind of the decision maker: the lateral transfer member who is seeking to join the ADF.

In terms of the Australian Citizenship Act, all lateral transfers are required by law to qualify for permanent residency visas before a member can take up a position within the Australian Defence Force and subsequently move to Australia. This is necessary as all ADF members are required to be Australian citizens and permanent residency is a prerequisite. Spouses, partners and dependants of ADF lateral transfers, at the time of moving to Australia, are afforded permanent residency but they are not afforded citizenship in line with the lateral transfer member. Under the Citizenship Act, a permanent resident may be granted citizenship after completing 90 days service in the ADF or six months in the reserves. These sections are regularly used in support of lateral transfer ADF members. The provision for 'early' citizenship under the act does not apply to the spouse or partner of the ADF member and nor does it include dependants aged 16 or over—those who cannot be included on the ADF member's citizenship application.

This situation can, and does, lead to discord within families of lateral transfer members. For example, Australia currently has ADF lateral transfer members not only serving extensively within our ranks at home but also serving in combat operations overseas. The figures I have indicated are that at the latter part of last year there were seven lateral serving members on combat operations in Afghanistan with MTF3 and three with the Force Support Unit. There were 10 lateral serving members on combat operations last year in Afghanistan whose families, for the most part, were not accorded Australian citizenship. Their partners were accorded citizenship and fought overseas with our flag on their shoulder, but that right of citizenship was not extended to their families. That is what this private member's bill is all about.

It is noted that, should such a member be killed in training or indeed in combat operations, there appears to be no legislative basis or guarantee that their spouse or dependants would be able to stay in Australia or have access to the range of benefits normally payable to the spouses and dependants of Australian ADF members. This has been taken up with the government, and I appreciate that the government has made every assurance that this support would be provided; however there is little legislative evidence of such assurance. This is one purpose of this bill—to provide this piece of mind.

It is also interesting to note that there are significant issues for dependants for ADF lateral transfer members. Because they are not citizens and are not accorded that right for up to four years they may not be eligible for Centrelink benefits or university HELP based placements. This bill corrects these issues.

The bill reflects the fact that behind and beside every serving member is a supportive serving family. This bill reflects the fact that we request, we desire and we truly want the serving men and women of other militaries to come and stand and serve with us—to bring their skills, knowledge and experience to fill our gaps. This bill reflects the fact that families are foremost in the minds of those members when they seek to make those types of choices.

I know that my opposite, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, actually believes quite strongly in this bill and has been seeking for some time to actually get this bill before the House, to the extent that when this private member's bill went in on Monday the minister's bill then went on Thursday—a bill which seemed to be an exact copy of the bill except that theirs broadens the scope of 'dependants' to include elderly parents and dependents with a disability and to reduce the service component from six months to 90 days.

The minister could simply have amended this private member's bill. I informed him that we would be more than happy to do that and would accept their amendments. But the government, somewhat disingenuously, chose to introduce their own bill—perhaps not wanting the issue to escape from under their watch, even though they have had four years and done nothing. In fact, Minister Snowdon wrote to Minister Bowen on 16 November 2010—and he received a reply 87 days later. So it is good to know that minister to minister takes an exorbitant amount of time, let alone minister to opposition. In that reply, Minister Bowen categorically said no to Minister Snowden's request for such a bill. In fact, he even said.

As I am sure you will appreciate, requests to amend the citizenship legislation cannot be considered in isolation, but must be looked at in the context of the wider migration and citizenship programs.

That is, I guess, until the opposition puts in a private member's bill—and then all of the minister's rhetoric is thrown out the door as they desperately try to show that they too are across this important issue, by introducing their own bill a few days later. Well, we all know that there is no higher praise than imitation, so we accept that the government is putting their bill. Of course, the coalition will not stand in the way, whichever bill is voted on first. The key thing is that those families, spouses and dependants of lateral transfer members are afforded the rights and protections that they deserve.

In conclusion, the coalition fully appreciates the sacrifices that ADF members and their families make, including those members who have come here under lateral transfer arrangements. We recognise the importance of ensuring tight family groupings, and we consider the current lateral transfer arrangements to be failing in promoting this outcome. This bill will remove the inequitable treatment of spouses and dependants of lateral transfer members. It will ensure that they all have access to citizenship at the same time and that spouses and dependent children of lateral transfer members have access to the same benefits as the spouses and dependent children of serving men and women and their husbands or wives who serve beside them. I commend the bill to the House.