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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6766

Mr IRONS (Swan) (19:21): I rise to speak on and support the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012. I thank the member for Scullin for his contribution and the fact that he wishes to celebrate this issue. It is a pity that, with his celebration—his passionate and genuine contribution—there are not more government members joining with him to speak on this bill and join in celebrating with the member for Scullin.

Australia has a proud military history. Values of mateship, sacrifice and courage underscore that history and are a deep source of pride for many Australians. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a country where stability is the norm and where citizens have the freedom to pursue their aspirations in a peaceful and secure environment. There are many places across the globe which are less fortunate, where security is not the norm and where lawlessness leads to poverty and widespread devastation of communities. I often mention this to immigrants at citizenship ceremonies I attend, when comparing where immigrants may have come from to their new country, Australia. We should never take for granted the benefits we receive from the heroic efforts of the many men and women who serve and have served our great nation with courage and honour.

There are numerous elements that contribute to a successful nation. One that is undeniable is a strong and stable defence force. You cannot build a prosperous economy, you cannot continue to innovate and grow and you cannot develop a strong and confident country without security. I share in the disappointment of many Australians —and, I am sure, of the member for Scullin—at the Labor government's recent cuts to defence announced in this year's budget. The devaluation of our defence priorities by the government shows a Treasurer and a Prime Minister obsessed with political survival even at the expense of national security. This is a trend I am sure a coalition government would reverse. I attended a number of Anzac Day services in my electorate this year, as I do each year, and each year I am reminded of the huge sacrifices made by our Defence Force members and their families. Where we can, the government and coalition should support these families. They demonstrate great commitment to Australia, and their service provides immense benefits to the millions of Australians who inhabit this country.

As previous coalition speakers have outlined, the bill currently before the House is very similar to the private member's bill introduced by the member for Fadden on 21 May, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012. We heard the member for Fadden speak at length tonight about the insincerity of the minister and about the process of this bill reaching the House, but I will speak on that issue further on in my speech. Also, the phrase 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' comes to mind. But the fact is that the coalition strongly believes in supporting not only our ADF personnel but also their families. It is important that we support the personnel's spouses and also their dependants.

In all walks of life, spouses or partners play a very important role. The spouses and partners of ADF members and their dependants have to give so much more, just because of the very nature of the work that the ADF member does. Without the support of their spouses or partners, many ADF members would not stay in the role or even initially be drawn to the role of being an ADF member. The commitment and sacrifices made by families of ADF members are ones we will never know, unless we have had the fortunate experience of serving our country. As the member for Fadden said when he tabled his bill:

They are the ones who so often experience the greater hardships, greater stresses, constant rotations, in many cases constant deployments and certainly constant training schedules. They are the ones who know so many sacrifices that so few of us ever will.

As has been mentioned by previous speakers, this bill is designed to assist lateral transfer members who are members of the ADF and have gained entry based on prior experience in foreign defence forces. The various countries from which lateral transfer members arrive are South Africa, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. The majority of lateral transfer members have come from the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, Royal Marines, army or Air Force, and we welcome those transferees to our ADF. They save our country many, many dollars by bring their particular skills learned in different countries. Also the ADF has a need to fill capability gaps in our armed forces and, therefore, those lateral transferees bringing the necessary skills and experience from their overseas forces help improve our ADF's capability while also improving the understanding of critical issues around the globe. The ADF has a long and proud history of recruiting members from the armed forces of other countries.

The purpose of this bill is to enable the spouses and dependants of ADF lateral transfer members—those serving members from other countries' militaries who seek to come and serve under our country's flag—to gain Australian citizenship at the same time as their serving ADF member. For a lateral transfer member to take up a position with the ADF and move to Australia, they are legally required to qualify for permanent residency visas, and this is necessary because all ADF members are required to be Australian citizens. Ninety per cent of ADF lateral transfer members have families that they bring to Australia with them, and this bill is about affording them not just permanent residency but also citizenship, which will confer on them the same status as their serving ADF partner or spouse who has come to Australia as a lateral transfer member. Again, I quote the member for Fadden's speech on his private member's bill:

It is the right and fair thing to do. It is just. It honours those who honour us. ADF lateral transfers are members who have served in another nation's military and have subsequently moved to Australia to serve in our Australian Defence Force.

When a soldier moves to Australia to serve in the ADF, they and their families are making an ongoing commitment to Australia. They are making a commitment to what this country stands for. Assisting them to additionally become citizens is also the beginning of a formal membership of the Australian community for these servicemen and their families. That is a step that will enable them to not just support our Defence Force personnel but to say, 'I am Australian.' Australia's culture and our laws have been shaped by our history. By enabling them to become citizens we are allowing these servicemen and their families to inherit this history and to be in a position to be a part of it. We are allowing them not just to enjoy the benefits of our free and democratic country but to further contribute to it.

There are many benefits of citizenship. Once citizens, these servicemen and their families gain the right to vote in federal and state or territory elections and in a referendum once of legal age. They will gain the benefit of being able to apply for work in the Australian Public Service, to apply for an Australian passport and re-enter Australia freely, to receive help from Australian officials while overseas and even to seek election to parliament. Becoming an Australian citizen is a great privilege and one that, as this bill promotes, should be extended to the spouses and families of those servicemen.

If we look at 21(2)(c) and section 23 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, the early citizenship provisions do not include the spouse or partner of an ADF member, nor do they include dependants aged 16 years or over. An ADF lateral transfer member or a permanent resident may be granted citizenship after completing 90 days permanent service in the ADF, or 180 days in the reserve, and it is these provisions that this bill seeks to pass on to the spouses, partners and dependents of the transferees.

We do it only where it suits the parent country. For example, the Royal Australian Navy is presently taking advantage of the United Kingdom's strategic defence and security review which is, amongst other things, reducing the number of personnel across the UK's four services. It is in the context of this move by the Cameron government that the Royal Australian Navy is increasing its recruitment of Royal Navy personnel in order to fill the capability gaps within our own ranks. It could take over a decade to recruit, train and skill engineers, pilots or other personnel with exceptionally high levels of skill. Having these personnel with these skills transfer from other militaries into ours saves the Commonwealth enormous time and enormous money. The ADF is presently looking to recruit, on their own numbers, approximately 300 lateral transfer personnel each year.

As I have said, under the Australian Citizenship Act a permanent resident may be granted citizenship after completing the 90 days service. The legislation in its current form can and does cause discord within lateral transfer members' families. Australia currently has ADF lateral transfer members deployed on combat operations. One of the issues that can arise is that if a member is killed in training or in operations, there is no legislative basis or guarantee that their spouse or dependants will be able to stay in Australia or have access to the benefits normally payable to the spouse and dependants of an ADF member. I note the government has made assurances that support should be provided; however, this is little comfort to the families and dependants. There is no reason why such assurances should not be put in legislation. The bill will provide certainty to those families considering a lateral transfer to the ADF and it will aid the ADF in its recruitment efforts. It will give peace of mind to the 300 lateral recruits and their families who will be anticipating the transfer to Australia in the next 12 months.

There are also issues for dependants. Whilst currently they gain permanent residency, without citizenship they miss out on important benefits, such as university HELP based placements. This can lead to financial strain on families and makes the transfer to the ADF less attractive for those important recruits.

The bill removes provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 that result in citizenship being granted to ADF members years in advance of their partner and dependants over certain ages. Behind every serving member is a support network. If we want these individuals to join the ADF we need to support these networks, whether they are a family, a spouse or a dependant. Family members of ADF personnel are the ones who, ultimately, offer the greatest support to those serving ADF personnel. Family members also experience the stresses and hardships associated with the role. This bill seeks to achieve that support, by removing discrimination and treating family members equally.

As I noted earlier today, the coalition introduced its bill on 21 May 2012. Labor introduced its near identical bill on 22 May 2012, despite saying in 2011 that it did not support the fast-tracking of citizenship for defence families. Labor made the decision to avoid a vote on the coalition bill by introducing a near carbon copy of the coalition's bill. Previous speakers have also pointed to the fact that the bill currently before the House is an almost exact copy of the coalition's bill introduced on 21 May. I will be supporting the bill, and I note the bill does propose some good changes, but those changes could easily have been introduced as amendments to the coalition's bill, rather than the government playing political games and introducing its own bill—when the government rejected these changes only last year.

The reality is, Labor has done nothing over the past four years and now, suddenly,when the coalition puts up the bill, Labor decides within 24 hours it is time to act. It appears to be a case of more spin from a government motivated purely by political survival rather than by a concern for the welfare of these families. The minister should apologise to the affected families for ignoring the need to act and then, instead of supporting the coalition's bill, resorting to political games. Given the actions of the minister and the government, you cannot help but question the motives of the government. But, as the member for Scullin said, we should now move on from there and celebrate the fact that this has bipartisan support.

This legislation will provide families with peace of mind. It is a policy wholly welcomed by Defence Families of Australia, which has been lobbying the government on this issue since 2010. DFA should be congratulated on its wonderful advocacy on behalf of these families on a wide range of issues ranging from defence housing to spousal support. It has been strong advocates for fixing the inequality for families of ADF lateral transfer members. I thank Defence Families of Australia for its ongoing advocacy and support of the ADF personnel. It does great work. Along with the coalition, I support this bill.