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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6757

Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (18:37): At the outset, like the member for Mitchell, I indicate my support for the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012—and it is, as the member for Mitchell said, about time. I believe that we need to do whatever we can to support our defence personnel, the men and women who come from overseas and those who are from Australia who put their safety on the line to defend the interests of all Australians at home and abroad. As we have heard, the original bill was put together by the member for Fadden, the shadow minister, Stuart Robert, and I commend him for his efforts. He is unrelenting in his representation in this regard, and I echo his concerns about the $5 billion worth of cuts to defence in the current budget.

This is a very important issue. It is very important that faster access to Australian citizenship be extended to the families of those personnel who have completed the relevant defence service. The personnel involved have access but their families do not. This bill seeks to change that. As we have heard, 90 per cent of those who come here in that form do bring their families. So the merit of extending this privilege to foreign nationals who are willing to serve directly in our armed services should really be obvious to us all and should not have taken so long. That is why the coalition, through the member for Fadden, previously introduced the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill back in May of this year.

I would like to see the men and women who are responsible for our defence having a stronger bond to the country they are defending, and I think this is an important way that we can recognise the contribution they make to this nation. It is entirely appropriate that those who serve should be fast-tracked into Australian citizenship and so should their families, so that a new bond of national pride and appreciation cements the relationship that these people and these personnel have with the communities that ultimately they protect. That is what they are doing—they are protecting our communities.

It is not a great step forward to acknowledge that when such personnel align their loyalties to our nation through citizenship it is actually contradictory to deny their immediate family that same honour, opportunity and privilege, as we see it. This simple step, as previously proposed by the coalition, was delayed by Labor just to save political face—though I am not sure why. The legislation put forward previously by the member for Fadden was a very worthy piece of legislation, and I do not understand why the government did not support it, particularly given that the piece of legislation we see before us now is very similar to that. Unfortunately, it represents one more example of the political meanness of this government. I do not appreciate that approach to the members of our military.

Labor came into power promising a three per cent real increase in the defence budget and a white paper that was supposed to structure the force for the next 20 years. This is where we see this ongoing attack on defence—another promise from the Gillard government that, in defence terms, could be described as firing blanks. The government's promised three per cent real growth was actually only 1.3 per cent as at the end of last year—which represents the smallest increase in defence funding since 1938. The government appears to be ignoring the fact that our forces are actively engaged around the world. We are engaged in conflicts and in peacekeeping roles, and ongoing funding of defence is critical. It is obviously a surprise to the government to know that in practical terms these cuts mean additional demands and pressure on defence, not less.

The defence budget under Labor has now dropped to 1.6 per cent of GDP, just above the 1.55 per cent it was in the year before World War II—a period in which the world largely knew it was inevitably headed to the battlefield. Members would be shocked to hear that the defence budget has been slashed by around $18 billion over the last four years, and I have real concerns about this. This includes $5.5 billion worth of cuts under the most recent budget—with $960 million coming from next financial year alone. That lack of support for defence really does concern me. It has meant that significant defence projects have had to be pushed to the out years—and some beyond the out years—and probably will not ever be committed to under this government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): Order! I have given the member for Forrest considerable latitude, but I would ask that she return to the subject of the bill, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012.

Ms MARINO: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am speaking up for the families and the members of the defence forces in all its forms, and I see this as part and parcel of that. As I said when I first started my speech, I certainly do support the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill. It will be obvious to observers that the military security of the world has not altered. That is why we certainly need the types of people who are coming here to serve in our defence forces and why we need to support their families in the same way and offer them the same opportunity. We also need to acknowledge that global financial uncertainty does not decrease global defence demands; it actually increases the need.

This debate is very important. The bill before the House seeks to support the families of those foreign nationals who seek to serve Australia in our armed forces, and I commend them for wanting to be part of this nation and its defence capacity. It is important that, as a parliament, we seek to support all those 50,000 men and women who serve, including the new recruits.

As we know, decisions in defence taken today do take a long time to actually result in actions, and the results of decisions can take years to become obvious. One of the things that has concerned me—and I will touch on this—is the decision to remove the recreation leave travel for single members. This has caused major concern in my electorate and certainly for defence force personnel and their families. I want to mention here tonight a gentleman by the name of Dave, who indicated that he is a returned veteran on a TPI and service pension whose eldest son is now a member of the regular Army. The Defence cutbacks are going to take away the free return travel to next of kin or home address once a year. This gentleman who has served and whose son is serving finds this, in his own words, 'abhorrent'. He said he believes it is a recognition of service given to the country that they do get a free trip home each year. He said, 'I believe this is one area that should remain clear of any budget cutbacks. My son will be posted to Darwin and the only safe way and quickest way is to fly to that destination.' He said this will take away his free flight as a condition of living in a remote location. He will have no alternative but to drive home, which will take three to four days. This will lead to a fatigue management issue, which will then become a duty of care and safety issue. He said young people giving their service to the country need this valued condition to be able to maintain links to their home. I think this is really important.

The gentleman went on to say Defence has had to make some decisions on cutbacks due to the government demands that they return to surplus. He expressed genuine concerns about the safety of his son. The member for Fadden identified in this House a range of Defence programs that have been deferred or cut completely. We have heard frequently about those from the member for Fadden.

In concluding, I do support the government in its efforts in this bill. I recognise and strongly support the efforts by the member for Fadden, who originally brought this to the parliament and, but for a few minor amendments, we see that effort reflected in this bill here tonight.