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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6770

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (19:36): Again we find ourselves in this position. The coalition, with the limited resources we have in opposition, identify a policy gap that the government refuses to address. We develop a bill and present it to parliament. The government reject the bill purely because they did not think of it themselves and because they could not possibly support something that comes from the coalition. Then the government introduces an imitation bill because it actually was a good idea in the first place.

We saw this earlier in the year with the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, which was not worthy of government support. It was retitled to the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill and, suddenly, it was a government-led initiative. Too many times to count, in this parliament the coalition have suggested variations to government bills through the proper process—we write an amendment and submit it during the second reading. Mostly these amendments are rejected by the government, but most observers would surely think that all legislators have since learned that the most suitable way to progress is to make an amendment to a bill, not to rewrite it from scratch.

The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill, introduced by my colleague the member for Fadden, is a good bill supporting good policy. Yet the government have stated they cannot support it, instead choosing to introduce this, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012, because of a key difference: a definition. I quote the second reading speech of the government's first speaker on the original bill, the member for Chifley:

The government's main reason for opposing this bill is that the bill's definition of a 'family unit' is much more narrow in scope than that in the government's bill.

And yet, for the sake of a definition, we need a new bill. A cynic might think the government is actually playing politics with this issue; somebody who is not a cynic might think the same. The coalition will support this government bill because it is good policy. We support all good policy. As a matter of fact, last year the coalition supported 87 per cent of the legislation submitted to the House by the government. As opposition it is our job to identify bad policy and to oppose it, as we did for the other 13 per cent of the time. On the other side of the scale, when the government have agreed with a coalition initiative so expressly they want to attach their own name to the policy, they have still voted against the coalition policy every single time. The reason I am harping on this issue is that these figures, and the reality of actions in this parliament, show that it is the government which always say no. They often accuse us of relentless negativity. They use this term incessantly, obviously thinking that if they say it often enough people will start believing it. Yet, whilst they are spending all their time attacking us, we are identifying policy gaps and writing new pieces of legislation.

The great irony of this bill is that not only did the government do nothing on this issue for four years but, when the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel wrote to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship suggesting this exact change in November 2010, Minister Bowen wrote back on 11 February 2011: 'I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation.' It seems it was only when the coalition's shadow minister for defence science and personnel wrote his private member's bill that Minister Bowen suddenly realised that if the coalition is suggesting it then it must be a good idea—and here we are back again.

This bill highlights the coalition's strong support not only for our ADF personnel but also for their families. Spouses and dependants of ADF members make just as many sacrifices for our nation as the members themselves. They experience the hardships, the constant rotations and deployments and the stresses placed on ADF families. This bill supports the families of lateral transfer members who have chosen to help defend our nation, bringing unique skills and experience.

The ADF has a long and strong record of recruiting lateral transfer members, as is currently happening in response to the UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review, which is reducing the number of personnel, providing the Royal Australian Navy with a great opportunity to fill capability gaps within its own ranks. The net benefit that Australia gains from lateral transfer recruitment and the associated savings in training costs far exceed the short-term costs of fast-tracking the citizenship status of the spouse and dependants. Ninety per cent of ADF lateral transfer members have families who they bring with them to Australia, and it is timely to ensure that the families of those willing to serve Australia in the ADF are provided the same citizenship status as the serving member.

I note that both the coalition's and the government's bills include the support of Defence Families Australia. A new development by Defence Housing Australia in the suburb of Ermington, in my electorate of Bennelong, will provide a lot of housing for defence families, and our local community warmly looks forward to their arrival. We look forward to the families in this new community that have joined our nation through the lateral transfers scheme being provided with fast-tracked access to citizenship and all the rights and protections shared by other family members of ADF personnel as their loved ones serve overseas in the defence of our nation.

I applaud the government for this bill. The process to get here may have been purely political, but the end result is a good policy written by the coalition to which the government are affixing their label. There is an old saying that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. This bill, just like the Assisting Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill I mentioned earlier, must make the coalition blush. We often get attacked by the government with the claim that we are not announcing all our policies. This bill highlights the real reason why—the government are so busy attacking us that they are stumped for ideas and they want to steal more from the coalition.

Many commentators have referred to the very effective tactics of the member for Griffith in the lead-up to the 2007 election in copying Prime Minister Howard's policies. Some even referred to him as 'Howard Lite', but felt this tactic was somewhat justified due to the minimal resources afforded to opposition members in comparison to the huge government bureaucracies. Now it seems they are back to the same old tricks, but this time from government they are copying the coalition in opposition. I thought I had seen it all. I commend the coalition's policies and this bill to the House.