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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5645

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (10:59): I am pleased to rise and speak in support of this private member's bill moved by my friend and colleague, the member for Fadden. Serving in the armed forces, as he knows, is an admirable commitment, but it is a commitment made not only by the person wearing the uniform but also by their partners, families and children, who demonstrate remarkable courage in difficult circumstances and each make a sacrifice for our country in their own unique way. As a nation, we have an obligation to our servicemen and women, but also to their families who so graciously share their loved ones with us. In his famous letter of condolence to Mrs Bixby on the death of her five sons in the civil war, US President, Abraham Lincoln, wrote of:

… the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

To serve our nation, our soldiers and their families make a tremendous contribution and sacrifice.

Australia has a proud military history. The values that underscore that history are etched into stone at Isurava: values of endurance, mateship, sacrifice and courage. On the home front, the families know this as well. The spouses and children left behind wait by the phone and cross off each day on the calendar until their mother or father or loved ones come home. Each day, our soldiers risk their lives to protect this nation and safeguard our freedom, in our name and under our flag—and, far too often, they die protecting those values. We have a duty to support their families through thick and thin, but it is more important than that—it should be an honour. It should be something we willingly and openly pursue.

Furthermore, we as a country are privileged that hundreds of skilled servicemen and women who have served in the armed forces of other nations choose to migrate to Australia to join our ADF and fight under our flag for the freedoms we share and hold dear. Where gaps open up within our own ranks, the Australian Defence Force often looks to recruit personnel from overseas militaries to fulfil these critical capabilities across the Navy, Army and Airforce. These recruits are known as lateral transfers and they bring with them a high level of skill and qualifications that, realistically, could take over a decade for the Australian Defence Force to match by recruiting, training and upskilling personnel. Often, these skill needs must be met in a timely manner, so having the ability for these personnel, who already possess and practice the skills required, to transfer in from other militaries saves the government valuable time and resources.

Our lateral transfer recruits are drawn largely from the United Kingdom, but also from New Zealand, South Africa and, in recent years, the United States. According to research by Defence Families of Australia, lateral transferees usually bring their families and dependents with them to relocate to Australia. Currently, the Australian Citizenship Act makes some provision under sections 21 and 23 to accelerate citizenship for those transferees, but the same arrangements do not exist for their spouse or dependants. The coalition introduced the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirements) Bill 2012 into the House on Monday 21 May in an effort to synchronise these arrangements.

Under this bill, spouses and dependant children of lateral transfer members will be eligible for citizenship at the same time as the ADF members. This legislation will make sure that, by virtue of their citizenship, families and children of these troops will not unduly suffer, whether financially or otherwise, if that transfer member is killed in combat or in training, or leaves the family because of divorce. These are all tragic circumstances. Living with any of those scenarios would be a heavy burden to bear. It should not be the case that these moments of grief are unduly compounded for the family by financial concerns or fears, or by having to uproot and leave their home in Australia.

I note that the government has, in direct response, been shamed into introducing a carbon copy of this bill that is before the House today, rather than simply supporting this measure, and, if there are amendments that the government wants to put forward, approaching the coalition in order to see those amendments adopted, and graciously agreeing to what is a good idea. This government has sought, as we have just heard, to oppose this bill in this place in a petty and small-minded way to try to claim credit for a matter they have not sought to bring into this parliament.

In fact, it is worse than that: I note that in a letter from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel in relation to these matters, where Minister Snowdon had sought exactly the type of arrangements that are put forward in this bill, the minister for immigration says, 'I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation taking all these factors into account.' So we have the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship who has stonewalled this measure for some time—a minister for immigration and citizenship who, as we learned today, is also at odds with his own Prime Minister on other matters. We have a minister for immigration and citizenship who seems unable to find anyone in this government who can agree with him on many matters, and particularly on this important one.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): Member for Cook, you are straying from the bill in front of the House.

Mr MORRISON: Madam Deputy Speaker, I am referring to this bill. On this matter before us today in this bill, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship rejected the offer from the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel to put these very measures in place, yet the government comes in here today and says that this is something it is keen to do. This is a government at war with itself! It is at war with itself over sensible policy. It is a government that cannot agree with itself. Rather than coming in here today in a spirit of bipartisan support for the families that are affected by this measure, the government wants to play petty politics. It wants to play petty games of one-upmanship by introducing another bill into the House, when it could simply support this bill, sit down in good faith and negotiate any amendments it may wish to put forward. The government should, frankly, be ashamed of itself in the way it is dealing with this bill.

The families of those lateral transfer members who are willing to give their lives and services to Australia in our Defence Force should be afforded the same citizenship status as the serving members. The ADF is currently seeking to recruit in the order of 300 lateral transfer members per year. Nine out of 10 of these transferees have families they would wish to bring to Australia with them. The Royal Australian Navy, for example, is currently reaping the benefits of a drop in personnel across Britain's armed services that is largely due to the UK's strategic defence and security review, and using these recruits to fill gaps within its own ranks via the lateral transfer process.

Under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, a permanent resident may be granted citizenship after completing 90 days of permanent service in the ADF or six months of service in the reserves. While this section is often used to support early citizenship for a lateral transfer member of the ADF, these accelerated provisions do not apply to that person's spouse or dependant under 18. Understandably, this out of step legislation can create discord within families of lateral transfer members. It can produce significant financial hardship for families on a day-to-day basis, as the spouse is ineligible for welfare support. The reality is that lateral transfer members are deployed, serving in the theatres and operations around the world, and, if the unthinkable should happen and that member dies, whether it be in combat or in training or otherwise, under current law there is no guarantee that their spouse and children would be able to stay in Australia, or access the support that would normally be extended to the families of Australian ADF personnel. As a permanent resident a member's spouse and dependants over 18 are required to reside in Australia for two years before they are entitled to the majority of social security payments. This often creates significant hardship for the families of lateral transferees. There has been unanimous support for the stakeholders the coalition has spoken with around this bill. In my own electorate of Cook, I met recently with a young lady who was in this exact predicament. Her husband transferred into the Australian armed forces from the UK. They are raising their young family in the shire. Her husband and her school-age children have been granted citizenship but, despite being a permanent resident, she will not qualify until January next year. It makes life difficult being the only person in a family whose residency is completely out of step with everyone else's, particularly given her husband's sacrifices. No-one needs that added level of uncertainty and confusion, especially with everything else this family has to contend with.

These are mums and dads who set the alarm for six every morning and get up without fail to make the lunches and pack the kids off to school knowing their partner is on the other side of the world putting their life on the line. The families have to deal with deployment schedules and constant separation, their hearts skipping a beat each and every time a casualty is reported on television. That is real bravery that far too often goes unrecognised.

This bill offers the families of lateral transfer members peace of mind—and that is the least we can do. The government has made assurances that, under these circumstances, support will be provided. This bill writes this into the letter of the law. In introducing this legislation my colleague the member for Fadden said that it honours those who honour us. This bill is indeed fitting and wholly appropriate and I commend it to the House. I recall that, when the member for Fadden first brought this matter to my attention, I immediately agreed. It was not something that I thought should be resisted at all. I thought this was the least an immigration minister should do to support those serving under our flag, serving our values and seeking to have those values fought for and defended around the world. The minister should be ashamed of his opposition to that measure and the government should be ashamed of their opposition to this bill for nothing more than petty politics.