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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6956

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (12:27): I am pleased to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012. The coalition understand the importance of our service men and women to the security and, indeed, the identity of our nation. We honour and respect the sacrifices of our defence personnel, not only those serving but also their partners and families, and this includes both Australian born personnel and those who have transferred from another country. Family members support and encourage our Australian Defence Force personnel and spend untold months worrying about their loved ones when they go overseas. As we have seen over the past 10 years in Afghanistan and Iraq, many families have been left to mourn the loss of a fallen Australian soldier and the wounding of Australian soldiers. As a nation we should be prepared to do all we can to support our ADF personnel, their spouses and dependants, given that they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to serve our country.

ADF lateral transfers facilitate an arrangement which allows those serving in another nation—for example, the UK, New Zealand, South Africa—to move to Australia and serve in our ADF. This is to be encouraged as we are able to fill critical gaps in the ADF's workforce and Australia receives skilled and trained personnel, thereby saving significant time and money. The saving obtained by recruiting personnel who are already trained easily offsets any costs in making the recruitments, and their families also make a great contribution as citizens of Australia. For example, it is estimated that it costs Australia up to $2 million to train a fully qualified pilot, so to acquire such personnel from overseas obviously denotes a saving of $2 million per person. The ADF is looking to recruit up to 300 lateral transfer personnel annually and it is expected that 90 per cent of these will have families who will join them in Australia. Transfer applicants must qualify for permanent residency as PR is a prerequisite for citizenship. Once in Australia, ADF lateral transfer members may be granted Australian citizenship after completing 90 days of permanent service or 180 days service in the reserves. Their dependants and spouses, however, are not offered the same pathway to citizenship and have a four-year pathway to Australian citizenship. This sometimes leads to disharmony in the family, and it is an anomalous situation that could be and should be addressed.

The example is that there are lateral transfer members currently serving in the ADF posted overseas. Under the current legislation, if they were to be killed in action today—God forbid—the service man or woman's partner and children would not be able to access the same benefits available to the spouses and dependants of ADF personnel. Moreover, there would be no legislative guarantee that the family members could remain in Australia, as they would not have reached automatic citizenship entitlements. While I would like to think the Australian government would accommodate such individuals, they ought to have the security of having this entitlement protected through this legislative amendment.

The same difficult situation would be faced if a lateral transfer member divorced his or her spouse. The serving member would be afforded citizenship while the spouse and the dependants would not, leading to a problematic situation which could become quite emotional, I dare say. This could be avoided through this legislation. All of the assistance entitlements and privileges that go with Australian citizenship should be provided to these spouses and family members of lateral transfer personnel willing to move their lives to Australia and serve in our Australian defence forces. We should afford the same citizenship rights to family members of lateral transfer members that the personnel themselves currently receive—in other words, the fast-tracking of citizenship.

The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill that we speak on today is supported by the coalition largely because we presented a near identical bill on 21 May this year, one day before this bill was introduced. I heard the member for Cowan, a former serving officer, talk much about this, so I will not go into much detail. Rather than make amendments to the bill that was introduced by the member for Fadden, Labor has shamelessly presented a carbon copy of the coalition's bill introduced just one day prior to this one before us today. I know that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it really does stretch the envelope of credibility when they claim it as their own.

As I said, the coalition presented a similar bill on 21 May. Labor presented their bill on 22 May. Not only has Labor done nothing to address this situation since taking power in 2007; immigration minister Chris Bowen even wrote to the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Hon. Warren Snowdon, on 4 February 2011 to say they would not. He clearly stated in the last paragraph of his letter to Minister Snowdon:

... I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation.

Here it is in the letter, in the last paragraph:

Taking all these factors into account, I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation.

So what happens just over a year later? They copy our bill. Has the minister changed his mind in the past 12 months or was it altered because he was in fear of being embarrassed by the coalition's bill to address this anomalous situation regarding lateral transfer members, presented just one day before their bill came on?

Defence Families of Australia wholeheartedly support this bill, as I do, as I believe it will provide security and confidence to lateral transfer members and their families, which is the least we can do as a nation for those who are willing to put their lives on hold to serve in our Australian Defence Force.

I saw this myself when I had the honour to go on one of our Collins class submarines, the Dechaineux. We went off Rottnest. I met a number of lateral transfer people, mainly from the United Kingdom, who had come over to help man our subs. I must admit they were very happy in their job. We just have not got enough of them. As we know, we barely have enough people to man our subs as it is. It is obviously not a huge attraction to work on submarines because of the antisocial nature of being a submariner. You spend many days and months below the ocean surface and away from your family. The husband of one of my staff was a submariner, and I must admit she spent many lonely weeks and months on her own while he was at some secret location somewhere in the world. That is why, if we can get people from other nations that are willing to transfer here, we should do so. I must also add that the submariners that had come from the UK told us that there would be more of them if we could make some adjustments to the superannuation and taxation regimes that they face on leaving the British defence forces. So that is something we need to take into account.

I wish to raise the issue, in relation to this bill, of one of my constituents. Last year I was approached by my constituent Mr Chris Keay of Kelmscott, who was inquiring about the possibility of his son Phillip transferring from the British army to serve in our defence forces. Sadly, upon making inquiries with Minister Snowdon's office, I was informed that Mr Keay's son Phillip would be ineligible to transfer as he did not have the required minimum rank, which is sergeant. Phillip currently holds the rank of corporal in the British army. He has completed all the necessary training and assessments to hold the rank of sergeant. He has not yet been promoted, due to the budgetary cutbacks in the UK as a result of the austerity measures being imposed over the past several years, largely due to the huge spending of the previous Labour government and the global financial crisis. So it is not the fault of Phillip Keay that he is not a sergeant. He is just not in a position to be promoted due to the austerity cutbacks on the British armed forces.

As a young, enthusiastic and well-qualified man, Phillip Keay is exactly the person who we as a nation need and who we should be looking to recruit. While the UK may not like the fact that we are effectively poaching talented and fully trained recruits such as Phillip, if he is willing to move his life to Australia and serve in the ADF, I believe we must do more to accommodate and be more obliging when it comes to facilitating such transfers. In other words, we should be flexible and understanding in applying the rules to his case particularly as his father is living here in Australia.

Phillip has served in the British Army for almost 11 years. He has participated in five operational tours including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cyprus. He is an infantry section commander so he is obviously able to lead up to 10 soldiers into combat. Phillip has the skill sets that are required, however, through no fault of his own he is yet to receive the official ranking from the British Army. We should be more willing to consider accepting recruits such as Phillip, because as a nation we are the beneficiary of such transfers. It just seems obvious to me. Opportunities such as this may not remain as attractive as they currently are and Australia should take advantage of this good fortune—and misfortune for the British—while we can.

As I have said, Phillip also has family-related reasons for requesting a transfer to Australia, including the recent birth of his nephew and the fact that a short time ago his father suffered a heart attack, placing greater importance on Phillip's need to be closer to his family in Australia. So for these commonsense reasons we support this bill. We just seek greater understanding from those who make the decisions in this area. I support this bill before the parliament as it is simply the right thing to do. I would suggest to those opposite that in future, instead of wasting the parliament's time with duplicate bills, the government support good legislation that has been created and brought to this parliament by the coalition.