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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6954

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (12:12): I do welcome the opportunity to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families Bill) 2012. On Saturday I attended a gathering of veterans from the Vietnam war, both veterans from the Republic of Vietnam—the South Vietnamese veterans—and Australian Army service veterans and veterans from all the services. This took place at the Australia-Vietnam war memorial in Kings Park on 16 June. Essentially it was a commemoration of 50 years since the first deployment of troops to South Vietnam. That was in 1962, and as we would recall that was the first arrival of members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, known as 'the team'. It was a good opportunity to hear from the training team veterans, veterans of the Vietnam War more widely and also those who actually fought against the communist north in the entire Vietnam war.

It was a moment where you could really look at the ramifications and impact on families that war brings. At the time when people were deployed—thousands of Australians were deployed—to Vietnam, whilst the contact through media was certainly there and bringing the war directly into the lounge rooms of Australian families, they were difficult times for those families. So, when we look at the sort of bill we are talking about today and how it relates to defence families, it is really one of those policy areas where we need to be always cognisant and aware. For those that wear our uniform, that pick up arms for our country, that do the bidding of this nation and try to do the right and the good things in the world, it is at exactly these times when, in comparison with the tragedies that happened to families from the Vietnam War, that we must always be aware of what we need to do. As a national parliament we need to ensure that the Australian families of servicemen are looked after.

As we know, this bill has wide support. It has the support, I hope, of every person in this chamber and later will have the support of the senators as well. From the coalition, the National and Liberal parties' side, that support is unequivocal and is absolutely clear. It is good that we have such policies and such legislation coming to this chamber. We have always made the point from the opposition that we support good policy. If it is right and is in the best interests of this nation then support is always there. The government like to spin their lines about the coalition and the opposition leader always saying no, but the reality is that when anyone cares to check the public record the vast majority of legislation that comes through here has the support of the opposition. As I said before, there is absolutely no doubt that, when we talk about what is good for the defence of this country and what is good for the families that provide a loved one to serve the national interest in uniform, the coalition, the Liberal and National parties, stand on the side of those families.

When we look at the history of this bill, the way it developed and the involvement of the member for Fadden, the shadow minister, it is very clear that the coalition has stood on the side of defence families in this matter, as it does in all matters. As we know, this bill was introduced in this chamber on 22 May. It was a day after much telegraphing—obviously because a process needs to take place—and it was the day after the member for Fadden's private member's bill was introduced. It was surprising, I guess, after the question of the citizenship of families of those from other defence forces who joined the Australian Army, Navy or Air Force had been raised on many occasions. After these issues had been raised for so long, suddenly, following the member for Fadden's bill, we got a government bill.

Possibly in the minister's second reading speech we might find a little bit of a hint as to some history with regard to the government's motivation. In reading the minister's second reading speech it says very nice things about what the bill will do—and as I said we will support the bill, there is no doubt about that—but what I did note in the second reading speech of Minister Snowdon was that at no point did it mention the build-up to the requirement for this bill. It did not mention the way the minister had written to the immigration minister and been rebuffed at the start of last year. At no point did the second reading speech mention that. It did not actually mention the shadow minister's, the member for Fadden's, bill that was introduced the day before either.

In this place we are used to seeing this government's bills brought in where they attempt to blame the last government. Before 2007 apparently everything the government did in those days was terrible. We are used to seeing that put into a second reading speech in the introduction of bills by the government. We are used to seeing the blaming of everybody else by this government. In this second reading speech that was not there, I guess, because they had to rush this bill into the House. They had to come up with it quickly, with only a couple of weeks notice, so there was not a whole lot of room to fire the shots. There was not a whole lot of opportunity to fire the shots when the government was embarrassed by the fact that a policy initiative that needed to get done, that needed to be brought into this place and needed to be fixed, was actually initiated by the opposition.

There is a little bit of embarrassment, clearly evident in the minister's second reading speech, because they did not talk about all the great work they had done in the lead-up to this bill and they did not talk about how it had been planned for ages. When they finally introduced the bill it was all just purely about what is going to take place as a result of this bill. I suspect that it was really all about the embarrassment, and that is why there were not the negative shots that are normally fired when the government bring legislation into the chamber. As I said before, the government are used to trying to blame everybody else for any issue that takes place.

Let us get to what is really important about this bill, which is the importance of the policy itself. It is the importance of looking after the families of those who have come to Australia to join our defence forces. I think that, given the operational tempo of the Australian Army particularly, and the Navy and the Air Force to a degree, and the way that so many of our soldiers are serving overseas and are, on any day, out on operations, out on patrols, the last thing that that soldier, sailor or airman needs is to be worried about what may happen to their family if something should happen to them. The reality is that when you pick up a weapon and you are out on patrol, lives can be lost. A person might have come from the army, navy or air force of the UK or somewhere else in the world, and the reality is that ultimately their life could be lost in the conflict or on patrol. The last thing we want is for that person, as they are standing in their arcs of fire, as they are out on patrol, to be thinking about anything but identification of the enemy, defending themselves and protecting their mates. The last thing we want is for that person to be worrying: 'What's going to happen to my family? What's going to happen to my kids? What's going to happen to my dependants if this all goes pear-shaped?' So it is right, and certainly overdue, that we should get to this point, with this legislation, where the service person—man or woman—does not need to worry anymore about that aspect of the future should something happen to them.

The reason we recruit people from other defence forces is to fill the capability gaps that we might have. Much has been said about recent rationalisations and cutbacks to the UK defence forces and that that has been an opportunity for us. We are used to seeing reports in newspapers about how difficult it has been to staff the submarine fleet. I guess the UK's austerity package does give us an opportunity to enhance our own capability, and more and more of these lateral transfers can be expected in the future. Obviously they add great value. And when we ask someone if they are willing to lay down their life for our country, it is right that we say to them: 'Great, and you're going to become a citizen now. We will give you citizenship and your family, your dependants, your children, will get the same opportunity.' As other speakers in this debate this morning and last night have said, the full range of opportunities that citizenship allows will immediately be available to the families of the service person, and it is right that that should occur. It is not just a matter of the person who is out on patrol or in the aircraft or on the ship, serving within the particular service; we have to see beyond that and ensure that their family—who have also given up so much to join them in Australia and to allow them to serve in our national interest—are fully supported and have all the benefits that citizenship provides.

There is no downside to this bill. These changes are well regarded and welcomed by the coalition of the Liberal and National parties. As a former serving member of the defence forces I would like to pay tribute to the member for Fadden, himself a former commissioned officer in the Army, for the way he has reached out and provided support and initiatives and worked to make the public policy debate on matters affecting the best interests of defence families one of his finest priorities. Following on from the private member's bill introduced by the member for Fadden, this bill we are debating has been initiated. The upsides are complete now for the families that need to be supported, so I welcome this bill. (Time expired)