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Thursday, 24 May 2012
Page: 5475


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (10:04): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012 provides a pathway for certain family members of current and future overseas lateral recruits to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to satisfy the residence requirements in order to be eligible for Australian citizenship at the same time as the ADF member.

Generally, most permanent residents who wish to apply for Australian citizenship by conferral must satisfy a general resident requirement of 'four years lawful stay', with the last 12 months as a permanent resident immediately before the day the person applied for Australian citizenship. This is an objective way of demonstrating that applicants for Australian citizenship have a commitment to our society, a society in which they are seeking to be a full and formal member.

However, it has long been recognised, both in policy and legislation, that there is more than one way to demonstrate a commitment to Australia.

One of these other ways is to undertake military service in the ADF, in defence of our nation.

This is an honourable and often dangerous vocation.

Australian citizenship law has had specific arrangements to acknowledge that service in the Australian military demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to Australia. These arrangements have been in place since the then government decided that 'aliens' could join the Australian Army in 1952.

Currently, under section 23 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, for the purposes of section 21 a person has completed 'relevant defence service' if the person has completed:

at least 90 days service in the permanent forces of the Commonwealth; or

at least six months service in the Naval Reserve, the Army Reserve or the Air Force Reserve; or

was discharged from that service as medically unfit for that service and who became so unfit because of that service.

However, there are three issues that the government considers must be addressed and this bill addresses these issues.

Firstly, the Australian Defence Force recruits certain highly proficient technical specialists, so called 'overseas lateral recruits', who have previous experience in other defence forces to maintain the operational status of our military forces and to train other ADF personnel.

These specialists often migrate with their families to begin a new life in Australia.

As currently structured, the arrangements offer a reduced residence requirement to become eligible for citizenship by conferral to the permanent resident ADF recruit and their permanent resident children under the age of 16 years. Their permanent resident children aged 16 and 17 should meet the general residence requirement of 'four years lawful' or be refused under the minister's discretionary power in subsection 24(2), unless refusal would cause 'significant hardship or disadvantage'.

However, their permanent resident spouse and any children 18 years and over must fulfil the general residence requirement, in order to be eligible for citizenship by conferral.

We do not believe these arrangements are fair and show due respect to families.

As the law stands, members of the same family unit are treated differently—for example, a father who serves in the ADF and a 15-year old child will become eligible to become citizens after his 90 days of service but the spouse and an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old child would have to wait up to four years, effectively splitting the legal status of the defence family in Australia into two.

It seems contrary to the ideals of fairness that our nation holds so dear to fracture a family, especially the children of that family.

The families of these 'overseas lateral recruits' have accompanied the ADF member to Australia. They too have uprooted their lives and they too have significant challenges in settling into a new life here, while continuing to provide support to the ADF member.

This bill seeks to provide a more consistent approach to eligibility arrangements, allowing an ADF family who migrates together and adjusts to life in Australia together, to be eligible for Australian citizenship together.

The bill will also assist the families of recruits in accessing employment opportunities and education assistance, and demonstrate that we welcome them to Australia, as a family.

Also, and very importantly, the bill provides a pathway for family members to access the relevant defence service eligibility in the tragic event that the ADF member dies while undertaking service. In this instance, the family will be treated as if the ADF member had completed their relevant defence service.

While the loss of their loved one can never be replaced, we as a nation can share that loss with them and assist them in rebuilding their lives.

The scope of this bill is confined to family members or 'relatives' who were members of the family unit of the defence person at the time the defence person was granted their visa to migrate to Australia to serve in the ADF, and those relatives hold the same kind of visa because they are a member of the family unit of the defence person. These 'relatives' may include the spouse or de facto partner, dependent children of any age, and a dependent parent.

The new arrangements will apply to those overseas lateral recruits who were granted a visa prescribed in the Australian Citizenship Regulations on or after 1 July 2007, the day the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 came into effect.

Undecided applications now before the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, as well as new applications for Australian citizenship will be considered under these new arrangements.

This has been done in order to give substance to the policy intent. Therefore, it does not extend to those family members who subsequently decide to come to Australia on another visa or those people who migrate to Australia with their families for another purpose and then decide to join the ADF.

Also, these new arrangements do not change the application fee structures that currently apply to ADF members and their families.

The second issue the government seeks to address here is to clarify what constitutes the relevant defence service requirement as it applies to members of the reserve forces.

As set out before, the current arrangements specify a member of the Naval, Army or Air Force Reserve has completed relevant defence service if the person has completed at least six months service. Supporting policy sets out that 'six months service' corresponds to 130 reserve force full days attendance. The spirit of the current arrangements is to extend Australian citizenship to reservists who are actively engaged in the ADF.

It is not intended to extend a preferential treatment to persons who join the reserves and who are not actively engaged in military service. For instance, the current arrangements were not intended to benefit a person who joined the reserves and only attended duty for, say, one day or one week across those six months.

A decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has cast doubt on whether the current law reflects this intention clearly enough. The bill removes this doubt by specifying that service in the Australian reserve forces will be counted where the person has undertaken a total of at least 90 days service—a day being one which the person was required for, attended and was entitled to be paid for duty in one or more of the reserves—whether or not that service was continuous.

The bill also clarifies that a person undertakes service in the permanent forces or the reserves only if the person is appointed, enlisted or transferred into any of the permanent or reserve forces. This is to make clear the government's intent that these arrangements are for ADF members only and not persons who may enter into a contract with the ADF to provide other services, such as contracted interpreting and translating staff.

However, in addition to the technical amendments I explained earlier, the government's bill provides broader and more equitable coverage than the private member's bill which was previously introduced by the member for Fadden. I am aware the member for Fadden introduced his private member's bill on 21 May and I acknowledge and welcome the member's support for improvements to the policy area.

For instance, this bill will extend the reduced residence requirement to all migrating children of the ADF lateral recruit, not just those who are aged under 18 years or who are students aged under 25. Disabled children and children who are not students but who are wholly and substantially dependent on the ADF parent and who have migrated with their ADF parent will also be eligible to apply for Australian citizenship under the bill the government is now introducing.

Also, the bill will cover a dependent parent, so families who migrate to Australia and who bring an elderly loved one who is dependent on the ADF lateral recruit can also enjoy the benefit of an earlier pathway to Australian citizenship. The legislation gives expression to the government's clear intent to support the ADF families who migrate together, and adjust to Australian life together, to apply for Australian citizenship together. Very importantly, this bill will ensure that, on the tragic occasion of the death of a service man or woman, the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship can be extended to the family members.

I am pleased to acknowledge the role of Defence Families Australia in pressing for these important changes to the relevant defence service requirement and for their passionate advocacy on behalf of the families of ADF personnel. This organisation has blossomed from its beginnings as the National Consultative Group of Service Spouses, which the Hawke Labor government established in 1986.

This bill will allow a key group of migrants—the families of those service men and women who have chosen to migrate to Australia to offer their skills and expertise in the defence of our nation and ultimately their lives—to become full and formal members of our society at the same time, not as a group of individuals but as a family. I look forward to welcoming these families to join the 4.5 million other people who have chosen to become Australian citizens since 1949.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.