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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6744

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (17:48): I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012. This is a worthy bill that deserves support. It is a shame, however, how this bill came to be before the House this evening. In his inaugural address the great President Ronald Reagan said, 'There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit'. The government's introduction of this bill fails this test. Bipartisanship should never come at the price of bad policy. But where there is good policy on the table, brought with decent and honourable intentions, as was the case with my friend and colleague the member for Fadden's Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012 I think the Australian people have a right to expect that their representatives would work together in good faith on these matters. Instead this government opposed the bill brought forward by the member for Fadden and lodged a carbon copy bill of its own which we are looking at in this place this evening. Frankly, I think they refused to support the original out of spite—and then they tried to claim credit for a policy they had refused to embrace only last year. We will not be so small as to oppose this bill—as the government did with ours—as it is good policy. We will take President Reagan's advice and support this bill.

While it is true that imitation is often the highest form of flattery it is a shame that, in this instance, the government have allowed petty politics to be more important than supporting defence families. In recent weeks Labor have illustrated they are not walking the walk when it comes to understanding the simple needs of our service personnel and the pressures they and their families face. Recently Labor ended recreational leave for single members over 21, affecting 22,000 service men and women. Previously, Navy personnel could take two flights home a year if they were posted to another state, and Army and RAAF troops could take one flight per year to see their families. But now the government have gone back on their word and pulled service conditions that were promised at enlistment.

Our troops and families deserve better. My friend and colleague the member for Fadden put forward his bill to address an inequality, a discrepancy, that existed between the treatment of lateral transfer recruits and their families when it came to citizenship. The chief government whip noted last sitting week that the government's main reason for opposing the member for Fadden's bill is that its definition of 'family unit' is much more narrow in scope than the definition in the government's bill. If the government wished to improve the member for Fadden's legislation, they should have had the decency to come to the member for Fadden with suggested amendments in the spirit of goodwill.

The bill does extend the provisions of the coalition's bill beyond spouses and dependent children to any dependant—for example, elderly dependent parents. It also drops the fast-track citizenship criterion of relevant defence experience for reserve service from six months to 90 days. The coalition will not stand in the way of the government's bill because we have the best interests of service men and women at heart. We support good policy even if it is the result of a petty act of a reactionary government motivated by political self-interest.

Last year when this issue was broached by the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel the Minister for Immigration flatly ruled it out. He said he did not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation. The only thing that has changed between then and now is that the member for Fadden brought in a bill to achieve the purposes that are by and large set out in this bill. This is another example of flip-flop policy from a government at war with itself. Whatever deceitful games it may seek to play, it cannot distract from the fact that this is a worthy initiative.

Australia is an immigrant nation and migrants have made an important contribution to our defence forces. Historian Charles Bean said:

ANZAC stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.

That spirit and those values are not determined by one's birthplace; they are values that bind us together as Australians; they are values that we share and have sought to entrench and uphold in our society. Migrants have stood with us, shoulder to shoulder, under our flag, as Australians and fought for our nation and its values in theatres across the world. They have given their lives in battle and purchased our freedom.

The first Australian soldier to receive the Victoria Cross was a doctor, Captain Neville Reginald Howse, who hailed originally from England. He is still the only member of the Australian forces medical corps to have been awarded that honour. In 1900, during the Boer War, he galloped out under heavy fire to rescue a wounded trumpeter on the front line. His horse was shot dead, but Captain Howse risked his own life and carried on by foot to rescue his mate.

Sergeant Samuel George Pearse was born in Wales and came to Victoria as a child. He won his VC in Russia in 1919 for his bravery, where he cleared a path for his troops through barbed wire under heavy fire and charged single-handedly at the nest of enemy gunmen, taking out the post with bombs. He was killed just minutes later.

Of the 64 Victoria Cross medals awarded in World War I, at least 13 recipients were born overseas. They came as migrants to the Lucky Country from England, Ireland, Wales, Denmark and New Zealand to seek a better life and were prepared to stake their lives for their new nation. There were men like Private Robert Matthew Beatham, who left England bound for Australia as a teenager. He was awarded the VC posthumously for most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice at Rosieres, France in 1918. He disabled four machine-gun crews, killed 10 enemy soldiers and captured 10 others, saving the lives of countless Australian troops. He died two days later as he rushed another machine gun and was wounded. Welsh born Second Lieutenant Frederick Birks was awarded the VC posthumously for his gallant actions in Belgium in 1917. As a stretcher bearer, he had borne wounded men from the ragged cliffs at Gallipoli, and at the First Battle of the Somme he was killed by a shell while defending his men.

There are similar stories of courage and sacrifice from World War II, including the tale of Richard Kelliher, who was born in Ballybeggan, County Kerry, Ireland and emigrated to Brisbane in 1929 with his sister. When war came, Richard enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1941. He was assigned to the 2nd/25th Battalion and served in the Middle East before he was redeployed to Papua in 1942. He fought at Buna-Gona in New Guinea and in 1943, as the Allies pushed back along Black Cat Trail, Richard was with the 2nd/25th as they advanced towards Lae. In the Markham Valley, in the midst of dense jungle, Richard's platoon was halted by heavy fire from a concealed Japanese machine-gun post. Five of his colleagues were killed and three were wounded, including the section leader, Corporal Billy Richards. It soon became apparent that they could not advance without further losses. On his own initiative, Richard seized two grenades and a Bren gun, dashed out to within 30 metres of the post and took out the position, before then crawling under a hail of bullets to rescue his commanding officer. For his heroism, Richard was awarded the Victoria Cross and was presented the medal by King George VI himself.

They are but a small handful of examples that demonstrate the stellar service and sacrifice borne by Australians who have come to our shores and honoured us through their contribution to our defence forces. We are pleased to support this tradition as it continues today.

Each year, hundreds of people choose to migrate to Australia and take up positions in our defence forces. The bill before the House relates specifically to lateral transfer recruits. Where gaps open up within our own ranks, the Australian Defence Force often looks to fill the positions as quickly as possible with personnel recruited from overseas militaries. These positions often need to be filled swiftly. Having the ability to parachute in personnel who already have the necessary skills and knowledge saves the Commonwealth time and money. Lateral transfers are highly qualified and bring with them a level of skill that would take up to a decade for the ADF to match by recruiting, training or upskilling personnel. These recruits are typically from the United Kingdom but also come from South Africa, New Zealand and, more recently, the United States. Research by Defence Families of Australia suggests that overwhelmingly—in 90 per cent of cases—lateral transfers choose to resettle their families and dependants out here with them. The ADF is seeking to bring 300 lateral transfer members to Australia per year. While the Australian Citizenship Act contains some provision to accelerate citizenship for those transferees, parallel arrangements currently do not exist for their spouses or dependants.

Following widespread industry consultation in an effort to rectify this inequality, the coalition introduced the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill to create consistency. Under this bill, spouses and dependants of lateral transfer members will become eligible for citizenship at the same time as the ADF member—as proposed by the member for Fadden's bill and opposed by the government. This legislation provides a safety net by ensuring that the families and children of these troops will not suffer unduly in the terrible event that a transferee is killed, whether in combat, in training or on leave, or a family breaks down through divorce. It is a consolation, but we should do all we can to ensure that these moments of tragedy are not compounded by added and unnecessary angst such as financial worry or the fear of having to pack up and leave the family's new home in Australia.

Transfer members are willing to give up their lives in service to this nation and their families are willing to honour and support their loved one in that extraordinary commitment. The coalition believes it is only right that those families be afforded the same citizenship status as their serving member. These families make an important and selfless contribution in their own way. Their unique sacrifice should never be undervalued.

Under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, a permanent resident may be granted citizenship after completing 90 days permanent service in the ADF or six months service in the reserves. These accelerated provisions do not apply to a person's spouse or dependant under 18, who currently must meet the residency requirement on their own to become eligible. This should not be the case. This legislative inconsistency is problematic. On a day-to-day basis it can restrict a spouse's ability to access welfare support. As a permanent residents, a member's spouse and dependants under 18 are required to reside in Australia for two years before they are entitled to the majority of social security payments. This includes things like unemployment assistance, sickness allowance, student assistance through Austudy or youth allowance as well as other benefits like a healthcare card.

In the bigger picture, it also adds another level of uncertainty. Lateral transfer members are deployed serving in theatres and operations around the world, and, if the unthinkable happens and a member dies, under current law there is no guarantee that their spouse and children are able to stay in Australia or to access the support that would normally be extended to the family of ADF personnel.

There has been unanimous support from stakeholders with whom the coalition spoke for the bill that we presented in this House through the member for Fadden, and I assume that this support extends equally to the bill we have before us tonight. Within my own electorate, the concerns of constituents have been communicated to me directly. One of my constituents is a lateral transfer member who came from the UK and settled with his family in the shire. I met with his wife recently, and she told me that she will not qualify for citizenship until January next year even though her husband and four children have already been granted citizenship under the accelerated provisions. This bill would make a significant difference to families such as hers, which make tremendous sacrifices and bear an enormous burden in enduring great separation. But they do this willingly to support their loved ones in their important work which they believe in, whether it be in our army, in our navy or in our air force.

A famous and incredibly moving letter was written in the throes of the American Civil War by a soldier named Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah. In it he acknowledges the difficulties his family endure in his absence and the sacrifices they make to enable him to fight for what he believes in. Sullivan writes to Sarah:

If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I am … perfectly willing … to lay down all my joys in this life … But, my dear wife … I know that with my … joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them … with cares and sorrows …

The driving purpose behind the member for Fadden's bill was to better support, through citizenship measures, the families of lateral transfer recruits who serve in our defence force. The same purpose is served by this bill. It is fitting that we recognise in this place the contribution of these people and allow Australia to embrace the families of those who have demonstrated their love for their adopted country so dearly.