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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6748

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (18:01): I am very pleased to rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012. It deals with a particular group in the Australian military who are known as lateral recruits. They are people who invariably have incredibly high skills in an area of the military where we are short and where training, because of the length of time it takes, cannot be undertaken to fill a vacancy. They are incredibly valuable members of our military. We recruit them from overseas, and they become very much a part of our military.

We have recognised, since we first started recruiting into the military people who we used to call 'aliens' back in 1952, that we should make extraordinary and specific arrangements to acknowledge the service of these people in our military by making specific arrangements for Australian citizenship. Whereas ordinary citizens, people who come to Australia under skilled migration, family reunion or the many other form of immigration and who wish to apply for Australian citizenship must satisfy a requirement of four years lawful stay, with the last 12 months as a permanent resident, immediately before they apply, we make special arrangements for lateral recruits. They can apply for citizenship after 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 where they were discharged from that service as medically unfit for that service and became thus unfit because of that service. So we have made very special arrangements for these members of our military since 1952.

Currently, the person who joins our military and any children they have under the age of 16 are eligible to enjoy these special arrangements; however, other members of the person's family—their husband or wife, a 17-year-old child or maybe an older child who is dependent—are not entitled to enjoy the same special arrangements, and they have to meet the usual requirement of having been resident in Australia for four years' lawful stay. This bill extends the special conditions to the other members of the defence member's family, and that is a good thing. We all know that when a person commits to serve in the military of our country, whether they are an Australian by birth or an Australian by citizenship or a lateral recruit, they make an extraordinary contribution to our way of life. They contribute to our safety, and they put their very lives at risk. Their families also make extraordinary contributions. I worry about my partner when he rides his motorbike, so I cannot even begin to imagine what the families of defence force members go through when their loved ones are serving elsewhere.

This bill, which allows the families of people who serve us as lateral recruits to share in the citizenship of this nation, is part of the contribution we make to people who serve us in this way. The bill also provides assistance in finding work and education, so it also assists the family to settle in this country. It is an extremely important that, if we ask a person to serve in our military and risk their life, we also give them the security of knowing that their family here in this country share in their citizenship. You can imagine the circumstance if one of our lateral recruits was killed in action and their family were still not citizens. It would of course be an appalling circumstance for all. It would also be a dreadful circumstance for a person who was serving in the military in that way to worry that their family might find itself in such a circumstance. So, as said, I am very pleased to be speaking on this bill. It is surprising in many ways that it has taken this long, but it is quite a nice bill. The new discretion will cover people listed as family members on the recruit's permanent visa application. That will include their spouse; dependent children, regardless of age—as I said, currently it only applies to children under the age of 16; dependent children of dependent children; and relatives of the recruit who do not have spouses or partners, who are usually resident and dependent on the recruit. That might, for example, mean a dependent parent. So it recognises that when a person joins the Australian military their entire family effectively comes with them. This will cover current serving and future lateral recruits and non-historical cohorts. So it also applies to those who are currently serving.

The bill defines ADF personnel and family members consistently with the Migration Act, as current and future lateral recruits are sourced from overseas. Understandably, everyone covered by this will still have to meet the other requirements of Australian citizenship: identity; character; understanding the nature of the application; responsibilities and privileges associated with citizenship; sitting and passing the citizenship test; and making the pledge. But it makes it possible for family members of lateral recruits to make that decision at the same time as the recruit does.

With the agreement of the Department of Defence, it is also proposed to amend the act to specify that relevant defence service includes required attendance of at least 90 paid service days in the Navy, Army or Air Force reserves. Currently the requirement is six months service, but this recognises that reserves may not work a lot of days. In the six-month period the reduction from 130 days under policy to the proposed 90 days recognises that priority is given to members of the permanent forces over members of the Defence Reserves in relation to training, meaning that sometimes members of the Defence Reserves in practice may only spend a small number of days each month actually performing paid service. Again, this is a proposal. There still has to be agreement and discussion with the Department of Defence. The proposed amendment also clarifies that 'defence service' refers only to appointed and enlisted personnel in the Australian Defence Force.

There is currently an urgent need to attract personnel to specialist roles in the military as lateral transfers from overseas. The kinds of roles that you might see there are at the pointy end of technical expertise. There are positions on some of our ships, for example, where if we do not have a person to fill that role the ship cannot sail. And just as there are demands for skilled workers through areas like mining, there are also sometimes demands to take skilled workers from our military services into those areas as well. In fact, I welcomed the HMAS Parramatta back to the docks one time when they came back from the Gulf and there were recruiters standing at the front gate waiting for them to leave the ship. Our military are also in very high demand and we find ourselves sometimes with an unexpected shortage of those highly skilled roles that took years of training. It is important that we recognise the need to attract specialists from time to time from overseas.

The numbers that we are talking about are not great. Since 1 July 2007, citizenship has been granted to 536 applications in this lateral recruits group. That is—what?—107 a year since 1 July 2007: a significant number and an important number but not a large number. But I am sure that all those will be greatly relieved that their families will be entitled to the same citizenship rights that they are. Again, a nice bill.

Military service is dangerous and the families of military personnel bear a share of this danger. It is worthwhile us all remembering that, while we quite rightly honour the people who give their lives for our country, sometimes the cost is paid in a life lived. It is paid in a life lived with the memories of things you should not have to remember. It is life lived with wounds that you should not have had to bear. It can be a life lived without a loved one in your life or dealing day-to-day with what your partner carries following their years of service. So it is incredibly appropriate that we in this place recognise the contributions that families make and welcome them to our country in the same way that we welcome their partners when they choose to serve in our military. There are more ways to demonstrate your commitment to a country than the years that you spend in it, and there can be no greater demonstration of a commitment to a country than to agreeing to serve in its armed forces and moving your family here to fulfil that role.

I am very pleased to speak on this important bill. In many ways it is a small bill—it is a bill that corrects an inequity, if you like, for families of a certain group in our defence forces. I am pleased to speak on it. I commend it to the House. It is a great bill.