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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5649

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (11:19): I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012, moved by my friend and colleague the member for Fadden. This bill is about fairness and equity. This bill is about inclusiveness and inclusion. I note that the member for Chifley said that he was worried that the bill was narrow in scope. In 2011 we were talking about 10 people serving overseas on lateral transfers. It is narrow by nature. We are not talking about a huge number of people here. There is a narrow band of people asking for this. There is no brand of people for whom we are trying to seek representation. Therefore, it has to be narrow.

The government has had enough chances to do something here and, as soon as the coalition comes up with something, we have another bill in the House. The member for Cook was right when he said that the bill is a carbon copy of our bill. It is, as he stated, petty in the extreme. I like the member for Page. She said that we had 11 years in government. Hawke and Keating had 13 years before that. Fraser had eight years before that. Whitlam had three years before that. Menzies had 132 years in government. And they did not do anything about it. The Labor Party is in government now.

Later transfers are on the increase and, therefore, it is an issue of now. The Labor Party is in government now and it has taken the coalition to bring a private members' bill for the Labor Party to actually do something. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship knocked this on the head previously. It has taken the coalition to bring this thing forward so I get frustrated with those sorts of arguments.

Townsville is home to Australia's largest defence installation at Lavarack Barracks. Our newest member, 3RAR, has a number of British and South African officers and soldiers. Their welcoming parade that was held recently dates back to the 16th century in the UK. So we have strong links, especially military links. The parade starts with an explosion to get people back off the battlefield. Then they go out and pick up the dead and the injured. They bring them back inside and they close the gates. So it is about what has happened before; it is about tradition.

If it is good enough for these soldiers to come to Australia and represent Australia, and to go overseas and risk their lives, surely it is good enough for us to look after their families. To give the families who are coming with them access to Medicare, schools, universities—all the benefits that we should extend—is pure human decency and something that we should extend to them in the soonest possible time. We need to make sure we are helping and make sure we do the right thing by them and get these things to happen. This is a value-adding exercise. These are the people we want in our country. These are the people who are highly skilled in key roles in our country. Their families add to our schools, and they add to our rugby teams and cricket teams—if they are English, they do not add too much to the cricket teams but at least they add to the fabric of our society. They enrich my city and they bring good and great qualities to this country.

This is a two-way street: we win and they win. As the member for Fadden was at pains to explain, this is about fairness, this is about inclusion, this is about looking after those who come with them. We in this House also have families that we leave behind. I have a wife and three children and they have to put up with a lot of things because I am away a lot. People in the Defence Force have no real control over where they go around this country, and they have a lot of things that they have to look after. We must do the best we can for Australian partners and families of soldiers and for those who also have to adapt to a new country. Those are the sorts of things that we must do, that we should be doing, and that is what this bill addresses.

As the member for Fadden said, it is right and just that we move this private members' bill. As I said, Townsville has just farewelled another group, including the lieutenant colonel in charge of 3RAR, to Afghanistan, and in that there are a number of English, Canadian and South African soldiers and officers. Their families are still in Townsville, where recently I had a fair bit to do with the family of a man whose sergeant said he was lucky to keep his leg. He was one of the guys who was shot on parade. If that happens to someone who is not quite an Australian citizen, if that happens to someone who is not covered by Medicare, and if someone were to die—those are the sorts of things we have to cover and this bill addresses that. I urge those on the other side, whichever bill gets up first, to just get this thing organised, because it has to go ahead.