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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6754

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (18:25): It is a pleasure to follow the member for Ryan's wise remarks about this matter, and I join her in supporting this bill, because the coalition is a group of parties committed to the personnel and families of our defence forces. That is why the member for Fadden introduced his private member's bill in the first place. As a person from a service personnel background, who has a long history of interest and involvement in policy making for defence, he saw the gap that had been created in legislation in Australia in relation to lateral transfers.

Defence in the future will require, when you look at the current white paper, a remarkable increase in the number of highly skilled and trained personnel that we will need to operate the equipment provided for in the white paper. For example, there will be 12 submarines at a cost of $37 billion. More importantly, we have to have available trained submariners to be able to man those pieces of equipment that we decide to go with. In the timeframes that we have been given, it is widely conceivable that we will use even more lateral transfers, to take advantage of the expertise of countries that we have interoperability with, such as the United States and other countries, depending on the systems that we eventually choose.

Given that, there was a big impetus for this legislation. The member for Fadden and the coalition understood that this was not a matter that could wait—that those service families who come here on lateral transfers could, of course, be adversely affected in a very substantial and quite serious way—and that a guarantee that the government would somehow simply take care of it, without the adequate legislation, was of course insufficient. We know, as the member for Ryan wisely pointed out, that the government's view was different prior to the introduction of the member for Fadden's private member's bill. That was, of course, that letter that she referred to from Chris Bowen to the then Minister for Defence Science and Personnel indicating that the government's view was that there was no need to amend the Citizenship Act in this regard.

In the view of the minister, his department and his officials, he had for some time considered this matter in detail. He had been written to by the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. He had had the time to thoroughly examine the issues of lateral transfers, leading to his decision about the adequacy of the citizenship legislation and that, in Minister Bowen's view, there was no need to do anything about it. That was the view of this government. We know that in this government they do not have an instinct for defence forces—for our service personnel. Their instinct is not there. I think that is evidenced by the minister's letter. They are taking into account all of the factors, he wrote in his letter. He said, 'I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation. However, I would encourage our two departments to continue to liaise with one another on this issue.'

I do not think it is odd that we are now in the situation today where, three days after we the coalition have introduced a bill on behalf of lateral transfers and service personnel and their families obtaining citizenship, the government duplicates the bill almost entirely except for a couple of amendments in relation to reserve service and a few other matters.

I just happen to have a copy of the changes here in front of me. I do not say that they are necessarily bad changes, but the only differences between the bill of the member for Fadden and the government's bill are, in essence, the reduction in the relevant defence criteria for service from 180 to 90 days. As a former reservist myself, I actually support this in ethos, and I support that reduction. In the event that the member dies before obtaining citizenship, their spouse and independents remain eligible for fast-tracked citizenship. Of course, that is an amendment this entire House would support.

Finally, the extension of the provisions beyond spouses and independent children to any dependent—for example, elderly dependent parents or disabled dependents not considered children—is, of course, another worthy amendment. But it begs the question: where was the government for the last four years in relation to this matter? This is the government. This is the government of Australia. It is its job to produce legislation of this nature in response to the worthy representations of so many groups including defence families of Australia.

Once again in our country it is left to the opposition—the so-called 'negative opposition', according to the government—to come forward with the actual legislative answer, which we have put together and put in a private member's bill in this chamber. The government might on this occasion want to thank the opposition for providing it with the legislative answer to this problem, for coming forward with a positive agenda on behalf of our Defence Force personnel and their families and for being very constructive in opposition in seeing the real needs of serving families and doing something about it. Of course, we will not hear anything from those opposite about the constructive approach taken by the member for Fadden in the opposition. It is really fleecing defence families and serving personnel in saying that it is doing this, but it is really the opposition's bill replicated by the government. It is important to expose that in this debate because we should always expose what governments of any calibre are doing and highlight to people what is really going on. It has been driven to do this out of desperation and embarrassment at the opposition bringing this forward to the parliament. I think that is a very important point for all service personnel and their families to understand, given the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship's earlier rejection of it as not necessary according to his own considered view.

This is a worthy piece of legislation, which is why we brought it forward. We all understand how serious service life is and how much of a sacrifice families make on our behalf for their service personnel, who are often deployed on the numerous operations we have around the world. Australia is probably directly involved in more overseas operations than at any other time in its history. That is set to continue given the changing nature of our region and the changing nature of our world.

As I have outlined, I do think lateral transfers will be a more heavily used mechanism by governments of all persuasions to meet the increasing capability that our Defence Force will have in the renewal outlined in the white paper. The majority of lateral transfers come in from the United Kingdom, the original source of the Australian colony, and today that remains the same. It is important to note that at the moment we are taking advantage of the RAN, the Royal Australian Navy, which is cutting back numbers due to cuts, and using those personnel to fill our capability gaps. I can also talk from experience, having visited RAAF Williamtown and having a senior Air Force officer attempt to explain the complexity of training pilots. I can tell you that any member of this House who pretends to understand the mathematical complexity involved in training fighter pilots would be fudging it. It is a very complex process; it is a very detailed process and it is a very mathematically heavy process. The cost of doing that can be prohibitive and sometimes we do not have the right systems in place to attain the goal that we are looking for. To gain a well-trained fighter pilot from overseas is sometimes the right way to go. It is, of course, of great value to our country to receive people of this calibre—highly-trained, professional people who can operate this equipment without having to incur the costs of training. Certainly, that was my experience at RAAF Williamtown. Given our experience coming up with Super Hornets and the Joint Strike Fighter, there may well be excuses and opportunities for us to use the lateral transfers in relation to pilots more often.

It is important to note that about 90 per cent of ADF lateral transfer members have families that they bring with them to Australia. That is the importance of this bill: 90 per cent of people do have family members that they bring. Given the dangerous environment that they are in, and the things that may or may not occur within 90 or 180 days, the provisions of the Citizenship Act are important here because if we do not change this legislation, then it is easy to foresee a time now and into the future when this may have an unusually punitive effect on these families and their dependents.

At the moment, the provision of early citizenship under the act does not include the spouse or partner of the ADF member, nor does it include dependants aged 16 or over—that is, those who cannot be included on the ADF member's citizenship application. This situation can and does upset the families of lateral transfers and create unnecessary tension, which is something we do not want to bring on people we have asked to come here and serve in our armed forces. Most seriously, we are also dealing with a potential situation of extreme injury or death resulting from this service to the ADF. We must take every measure possible in this chamber to ensure that families are looked after in these circumstances. That is why I am very comfortable in supporting this legislation. I am glad that the coalition developed legislation along these lines and put it forward to the House so that the government could replicate it and bring it in to the parliament.

I commend the shadow minister for defence science, technology and personnel, Stuart Robert, and his shadow parliamentary secretaries for designing this legislation, for understanding the need to amend the Citizenship Act and for understanding the needs of our service personnel and their families. They are worthy people to be ministers in a government that understands defence, that believes in the service ethos and that understands the families of those people and what they go through. I commend our shadow spokespeople for coming up with this quality set of proposals. Whichever bill ends up being voted on, which will be a decision of the government, we will be supporting it in recognition of how important this issue is. But I would go back and say to the government and to the party of government, the Labor Party in coalition with the Greens, that this constant assault on defence must simply stop—$5 billion of cuts.

In relation to this legislation, we heard from Minister Bowen that nothing needs to be done for these families for four years. We really need to do better than that for our service personnel and their families. That does not mean just getting up in this chamber and doing it, it means coming forward with the proposals and the legislation. That is why I am happy to support a bill that is a copy of the coalition's bill in all respects, except for some minor amendments. I am happy to support worthy proposals, even if we have to drive them from opposition. But just think what we could do if we were in government. We could certainly drive these proposals a lot faster and make things a lot better for our service personnel.