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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4696


Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (10:40): I present the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012 and the explanatory memorandum. I, like my coalition colleagues, believe strongly in supporting not only our Australian Defence Force personnel but also their families: their spouses and their dependants. Spouses or partners of ADF members and their dependants give so much to our nation. They are the ones who enable our ADF personnel. They are the ones who have the biggest influence on whether our ADF personnel choose to remain in the service of their nation in uniform. They are the ones who offer the greatest support to their serving family members. They are the ones who so often experience the greater hardships, the greater stresses, constant rotations, in many cases constant deployments and certainly constant training schedules. They are the ones who know sacrifices that few of us ever will. For the families of those who fight I am pleased to be able to introduce this bill on behalf of the coalition.

Simply put, the bill will ensure that spouses and dependants of ADF lateral transfer members—those serving members from other countries' militaries who seek to come and serve our country under our flag—will be able to gain citizenship at the same time as their serving ADF member. 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. They come from a wide variety of countries, including New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom—and, of course, in publications we saw in newsprint on the weekend, a large number of US personnel are also seeking to join our military. At present the majority of lateral transfer members are still coming from the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, Royal Marines, army or air force.

The Australian Defence Force has a long and proud record of recruiting members from the armed forces of other countries. We do so in order to fill current capability gaps in our own armed forces. 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 amongst other things is reducing the number of personnel across the UK's four services. It is in this context and this move by the Cameron government that the Royal Australian Navy is increasing its recruitment of Royal Navy personnel in order to fill our 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. Importantly, 90 per cent of these ADF lateral transfer members have families that they would be looking to bring to Australia. It is the care for these families that is foremost in the mind of the decision maker: the lateral transfer member who is seeking to join the ADF. In terms of the Australian Citizenship Act, all lateral transfers are required by law to qualify for permanent residency visas before a member can take up a position within the Australian Defence Force and move to Australia. This is necessary as all ADF members are required to be Australian citizens and permanent residency is a prerequisite to citizenship. Spouses, partners and dependants of ADF lateral transfer members, at the time of moving to Australia, are afforded permanent residency, but they are not afforded citizenship in line with the lateral transfer member. Under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, sections 21(2)(c) and 23(a)(i) and (ii), a permanent resident may be granted citizenship after completing 90 days permanent service in the ADF or six months in the ADF Reserves. These sections are regularly used in support of lateral transfer ADF members. The provision for 'early' citizenship under the act does not apply to 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, lead to discord within families of lateral transfer ADF members. For example, Australia currently has ADF lateral transfer members not only serving extensively within our ranks here at home training, but also serving in combat operations. Should such a member be killed in training or in operations, there appears to be no legislative basis or guarantee that their spouse or dependants would be able to stay in Australia or have access to the range of benefits normally payable to the spouses and dependants of Australian ADF members.

This has been taken up with the government and, while I appreciate that the government has made assurances that support would be provided to their families, this is little comfort when there appears to be little evidence of such assurances. There is no reason that such assurances should not be enshrined in law. This is one purpose of this private member's bill in this place this morning—to provide that peace of mind to the over 300 lateral recruits who will be transferring to the ADF in the next 12 months and to their families. There are also significant issues for dependants of ADF lateral transfer members. For example, as permanent residents they are not eligible to receive a university HELP based placement, which may put a significant financial strain on families.

There also appears to be significant and fundamental disjunct between the interpretation of the current act and the departmental immigration policy as it applies to children who are permanent residents. While the act definitively states, under section 21(5), that a person under the age of 18 is eligible to become an Australian citizen if they are a permanent resident, departmental advice states that they must have fulfilled the general residency requirement—despite the fact that the legislation makes no mention of this requirement.

This bill will correct these problems and ensure families are not unnecessarily subjected to significant hardship. The simple fact is that the current legislation can lead to distress for families and should be changed. The bill removes the discriminatory provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 that result in ADF members being granted citizenship years in advance of their partner and dependants over certain ages. The bill reflects the fact that, behind and beside every serving member is a supporting, serving family. The bill reflects the fact that we request, we desire, we want, serving men and women from other militaries to come and stand, serve and fight side by side with Australian citizens. But, to achieve that, we need to embrace their families and treat them equally.

I simply call on the government to support this bill. I also call on the Independents to support these sensible, fair and much needed measures. The policy in the bill is wholly welcomed and supported by Defence Families of Australia. Defence Families of Australia has been a wonderful advocate on behalf of Defence families and across a wide range of issues, ranging from defence housing to spousal support, and is vocal about the need to fix this inequity in terms of the families of ADF lateral transfer members. I know that my opposite, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, holds the Defence Families of Australia organisation in high regard. I have stood by his side when he has made that point. I thank Defence Families of Australia for their continual advocacy.

In conclusion, the coalition fully appreciates the sacrifices that ADF members and their families make, including those members who have come under lateral transfer arrangements. We also recognise the importance of ensuring tight family groupings, and we consider the current lateral transfer arrangements to be failing in promoting this outcome. This bill will simply remove the inequitable treatment of spouses and dependants of lateral transfer members. It will ensure that they all have access to citizenship at the same time. It will ensure that spouses and dependent children of lateral transfer members have access to the same benefits as the spouses and dependent children of the serving men and women their husbands or wives serve beside. This bill will provide families with the peace of mind that, in the event of their father, their mother, their wife or their husband being killed in training or in operational service to the nation, they will be unambiguously, properly cared for. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Lyons ): In accordance with standing order 41, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.