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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6764

Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (19:06): I start with the finishing point of the member for Solomon. I have been a little disappointed throughout this debate on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012 that we have not celebrated that the two major sides of this chamber have come to similar conclusions. We should celebrate that because it indicates the importance of the amendments that are included in this legislation.

I first became aware of this two years ago when the wife of a lateral transfer British serviceman came to me. When she mentioned 'lateral transfer' I thought: 'What is it? Is it some sort of condition?' I had to start from the basics. Defence personnel matters are not matters that I get many questions on in the electorate of Scullin. I do not have any defence housing, and I am wedged between Maygar Barracks at Broadmeadows, which now has other uses, and Watsonia Barracks in the electorate of Jagajaga, which is a very important defence installation.

It seemed to me that there was a degree of absolute inconsistency that defied explanation. I am not going to go into this because I do not want to deflect into the partisan debate, but I assume that it had been a problem for quite some time, and the fact that during this period of the Labor government it has been highlighted to a conclusion is something that, as I have said from the outset, I am pleased about. The fact that a year ago in discussions between ministers it did not appear that we were going to get the progress of this amending legislation again gives us all strength as members of parliament that, by due consideration, by advocacy from members of parliament on behalf of those who come to people with a problem, and by the lobbying of interested outside groups government and oppositions in formulating policy can come to conclusions that find solutions.

Eerily, the example that was used by the minister in his second reading speech covers the family constellation of the lady who came to see me, because it absolutely highlighted our inconsistent approach to the defence family unit. Here, we brought to Australia a person who had skills that were required by our defence forces, and because of that employment there was a system that allowed a fast-tracking of that person's Australian citizenship. In the case of the spouse, however, it is business as usual with no fast-tracking. Without going into full details, the unfortunate thing for Australia was that this woman that approached me certainly had, in her employment in Great Britain, skills that could have been used by Australia as a nation, but they were skills in an area which requires the people employed in that sector to be Australian citizens. Not only was there the frustration of not being able, as the spouse of a person who was in the Australian Defence Force and who had become an Australian citizen, to also become an Australian citizen but also this limited this woman's employment opportunities.

Then we had the two children. I recollect that they were two boys: one 14 and one 19 or 20. The 14-year-old was covered; dad became an Australian citizen and the 14-year-old became an Australian citizen. The older lad was approaching the end of schooling and was from a family that had a tradition in the military with, as I recollect, a grandfather who was a serviceman in the British defence forces, and a father who had made a lateral transfer from the British forces to the Australian forces based on skills required by the Australian Defence Force. This young fellow wanted to join the defence forces, but he was not an Australian citizen. He had to wait around, do his time and become an Australian citizen, because he was not covered by the fast track. Again, I note that the minister in his second reading speech makes note of an example very similar to this case that was brought to me.

I pay great tribute to those organisations that represent defence personnel and to the individuals involved. This particular family was transferred from Melbourne to New South Wales, so I lost continuous contact, but this lady, upon first knowledge of the member for Fadden's approach and proposed legislation, sent me an email asking me to support the legislation that the member for Fadden was proposing. I hope she will excuse that I have chosen to give my full support to the government's initiative. At the end of the day there are a couple of differences—and I admit that they might be minor—between the two pieces of legislation, but the people who would find themselves in the circumstances outlined in the minister's second reading speech would not think that they were minor. I think that these differences make things more equitable.

If, for instance, we are talking not only about generations going downwards but about generations above—if grandparents are involved—these are improvements. I have to admit that if we have two similar pieces of legislation—and this is in no way a comment on the ability of the drafters that put together private members' bills, and is no criticism of them—this is something that, once the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship was convinced in liaison with the cases that had been brought to the defence ministers, the whole resources of government could be put behind in a piece of legislation. I think it is really a good thing for it to come before this House so that we remedy something that was obviously unintended. I think that everybody would agree and understand the reason for the fast-tracking of the lateral transferee but, on simple and first blush investigation of the circumstances of family members, it did not seem to be logical. These are special cases and, as other members in this debate have indicated, we should be placing on record our acknowledgement of the support that men and women in the Australian Defence Force get from their families. To think that families do not have to confront hardship when the men and women of the Australian defence forces, for instance, are on deployment overseas would be to not understand human nature and the way that things are in reality.

This is not only the case when family members are deployed overseas. The Australian Defence Force is characterised by a very skilled workforce and those skills are not gathered by people just working nine to five in an office somewhere. They often involve exercises and time away for training. So we should not just think that families have to put up with the loss of the contribution that can be made by the Defence Force family member being around all the time. The fact that this piece of legislation in an indirect way gives recognition to all family members of Defence Force personnel is also important because, in coming to a whole-of-government conclusion, it is really those notions of looking after Defence Force families that have won through. We are left with an inconsistency in citizenship legislation but this has been seen as such a special case that it is worthy of having the amendments.

As I said in response to the conclusion of the member for Solomon and to some of the comments that have been made to deflect and defend against those who have decided to make partisan comments, I think that the House should celebrate this point that we are in. To the degree that the member for Fadden and the people that he worked with deserve credit, let us share the credit around. When you get to the stage where ministers are having exchange of letters and they are in disagreement—and those exchanges of letters are public because they are things that we are using to try to explain the position to our constituents—it is very important to have got to the stage where there is a whole-of-government position. It is a little unfortunate to use debates like this to talk about our partisan views about the funding of defence, post the last debate.

I would welcome us having that full debate because I welcome leaders of political parties on both sides—those that have the interests of the economic management on behalf of those forces—entering the debate. Some well-meaning people on the other side of the chamber have said about the reductions, 'This is another one of those things. It is the end of the world; the sky will fall in.' I would be interested to witness the debate with their economic management shadow ministers to see where things are really going. These are the types of debates that we really should have in totality and try to step back from the politics of the day. Let us really be fair dinkum with each other. For those who see the importance of maintenance of the resourcing of defence forces, especially in a troubled world, let us have the discussion with those that want to return budgets to surplus by three years ago if they could do it retrospectively. These are the debates that we do not have enough of here. We have the absolute use of a piece of really good legislation that we all should be celebrating because it is something that we actually agree on. The differences are at the margins. We have one proposition that we are discussing tonight that has a couple of things that just push it further over the line. Let us celebrate that we have got to this point. Let us say to those that lobbied us, 'This is an example of the way to go about your work, to stick in there even when it seems that nothing is going to change.'

I hate to tell the people from the opposite side of the chamber that have been worried and concerned and wrung their hands in this debate that I have a feeling that, if the coalition had been in power, we would have had the immigration minister saying one thing and a defence personnel minister saying another thing. Hopefully we would have got around, down the track, to everybody agreeing. Let us not hear that this has taken four years. The thing is that it has been done. It is a very good piece of policy that has been achieved as a result of the democratic processes of a nation that is well defended by its defence forces. I celebrate that. I fully support the legislation before the House tonight.