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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5647

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (11:09): I rise to speak against the bill by the honourable member for Fadden not because I do not support the mover's intent and the sentiment of the bill—clearly I do, as other members do—but because the government has a bill before the House in a very similar area that broadens the categories of the member for Fadden's bill. That means I will be speaking somewhat to the government's bill by way of explaining why I am supporting it and not the private member's bill. I was pleased to hear the honourable member for Fadden say in his contribution that he would support whichever bill gets up first. You are far more gracious than the honourable member for Cook, who is extolling us to graciousness with ungracious comments. So I will try and stick to graciousness with this bill; it is important because we are talking about the defence forces and those people who serve our country and our nation.

The government bill in this area enables family members of current and future overseas lateral recruits to the Australian Defence Force to satisfy the residence requirement for Australian citizenship at the same time as the enlisted ADF member. The current provision is that an ADF member and any children under 16 are provided with concessional residence requirements. That means they can apply for Australian citizenship after 90 days of service in the permanent forces or six months in the reserve forces. Spouses and other family members, including children over 16 and elderly parents, do not receive the same concession and must wait for at least four years. This is an important point because a family is not just the spouse; it is also children and can be parents and other family members. The way the current provision applies is discriminatory because, if someone who comes here to serve our nation has children of whatever age and dependent family members—it might be their elderly parents—they should be entitled to have the same citizenship provision apply.

What the government's bill does that is broader than the honourable member for Fadden's bill is improve fairness by extending the same residence requirements to the spouse and family of ADF personnel, acknowledging that they are migrating to Australia together as a family group and face similar challenges and issues as the primary person would. The agreement will assist the families of recruits in accessing employment opportunities and education assistance. As well, it will assist in developing their close and continuous relationship with Australia.

What the amendment aims to do is assist Australia to attract personnel to highly specialised roles in the ADF where we require people to fill those positions. As I have travelled around visiting various defence bases I have met with members of the defence forces who are subject to this bill. It is always pleasing to meet these people, talk to them and find out what they are doing here. I can understand why they want similar courtesies and considerations to apply to their families.

The opposition's bill, which is the honourable member for Fadden's bill, does not cover all children over 18, such as disabled children and dependent children under 25, and it does not cover a dependent parent who migrates here with their family. The government's bill includes the broader category and therefore it has a broader definition and operation for 'family'. The honourable member for Fadden's bill does not clarify whether or not the family members need to have permanently migrated or whether the family members remain eligible for citizenship in the event that the ADF member dies before they become citizens. I have read the explanatory memorandums on both bills—the bill we are currently debating and the government's bill. The point about the member dying before they become a citizen is not clear to me in the honourable member for Fadden's bill.

There are couple of other things that I want to say. I think I heard the honourable member for Fadden say that the government had four years to do this. If we are into looking at why it was not done before, I can say the opposition had 12 years, and I did not see them making any fast moves on it. It is being done now and it is being done by the government and that is a good thing.

The explanatory memorandum with the government's bill talks about what it clarifies. It uses the word 'fairness' as well. It says:

The amendments … will improve fairness by extending the same residence requirements to the family of ADF lateral recruits—

but it adds—

… families of ADF lateral recruits migrate to Australia as a family unit and all face similar settlement challenges. The amendments in this Bill will assist these families settling in Australia …

That is really important.

It also says:

The financial impact of these amendments is low. The cost of implementing these amendments to the Act will be met within existing resources of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Quite often bills of this nature would attract some considerable costs, but they are costs that can be borne within and they are low.

I also looked at a statement of compatibility with human rights attached to the explanatory memorandum. It is also pleasing to note that, with the operation of that law and the committee, we are getting these statements attached to legislation. It is one of the first things that I think a lot of members now read. It say clearly that the bill is 'compatible with human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed' in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) 2011—the bills that are associated with what we often call the International Bill of Human Rights. It concludes that:

This Bill is compatible with human rights, as it does not raise any human rights issues.

My comment on that is that it actually gives effect to the rights of families to be together as a family unit and have the same considerations apply to them, and that is a good thing.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Mr Snowdon, in his second reading speech in this place on the government bill said that 'Australian citizenship law has had specific arrangements to acknowledge that service in the Australian military' demonstrates a number of things. He noted that there have been provisions in the legislation over a long period of time but that 'there are three issues that the government considers must be addressed and this bill addresses these issues'.

The honourable member for Fadden's bill addresses some of those issues, but it does not extend to the broader issues that need to be addressed, specifically the three issues. I have mentioned what they are in terms of the broader definition of the family that includes various categories of children and those with disabilities and elderly parents in the situation if someone dies.