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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6959

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (12:39): I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012 and to support the comments of my coalition colleagues who have spoken in favour of this bill. Firstly, I would like to congratulate the member for Fadden for his important work in this area. The member for Fadden is a good man—someone I greatly respect—and one who strongly advocates for the men and women whom he bravely served alongside. If I were in the trenches, I would want a man like the member for Fadden standing alongside me.

However, the bill we are debating here today is not his, though it certainly appears to be remarkably similar to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill that was introduced to the chamber as a private member's bill last month by the member for Fadden. In fact in this debate we find the government introducing a bill to do exactly what the private member's bill introduced by the member for Fadden proposed to do.

So why do we have a government bill that appears to have been taken directly—it was a cut-and-paste job—from the private member's bill of the member for Fadden but included some minor administrative amendments? This bill is being presented as a government initiative when it is quite clearly an initiative of the opposition. But as the old saying goes: imitation is the highest form of flattery. So here we find two near-identical bills which are designed to respond to an issue previously ignored, where the government and this minister have been forced to finally act in response to the strong efforts of the member for Fadden.

This government has been dragged to this issue kicking and screaming, and I know other speakers have pointed out the government's immigration minister's opposition to this bill. In fact, in a letter to the Minister for Defence Science and Defence Personnel, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the member for McMahon, said of the fast-tracking of citizenship for defence families,'I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation.' Clearly, this letter from the minister for immigration, dated 4 February 2011, made it crystal clear that the Labor government did not support the fast-tracking of citizenship for Australian Defence Force personnel and their families.

So why the backflip? I suggest the government's backflip on this position is related to the rundown in defence spending that we have seen under this government whereby our nation's defence spending has been reduced to the lowest level of GDP since that fateful year of 1938. The cuts have included the punitive and penny-pinching axing of the recreational leave travel entitlement for single Defence Force personnel. And after finally being forced to act on this issue, this government have returned to their default position of playing politics. One might ask why we have two bills when the government could have simply shown a positive and constructive approach and amended the private member's bill. We all know that it is simply not in their DNA.

Fifteen months ago the immigration minister outlined his opposition to acting on what most observers would accurately describe as a 'gap' in the legislative framework supporting Defence Force personnel and their families, and we all know that there would have been no action on this issue had the member for Fadden not taken the initiative and introduced a private member's bill. This is yet another example where the coalition is providing the leadership this country so desperately needs, and is doing so from the opposition benches. The member for Fadden has stepped into the breach that has been left by this divided and dysfunctional government. He has stepped in to fill the breach for something that this government has deserted, and I applaud him for that.

This is an important bill. It is a bill that allows those who come from other countries to serve in our armed forces to bring their families here to Australia and to join our population with full citizenship rights. If these men and women are allowed to serve in our Defence Force, why are their families not allowed to benefit from the very freedoms that we ask them to protect? Australian citizenship is one of the most treasured gifts someone living in this country can have. In ordinary circumstances an application for citizenship requires a minimum period of four years residence in the country. The act makes special provision for someone serving in the Defence Force where a much shorter time is required if the candidate for citizenship completes a certain period of service. As the law currently stands, lateral transfer members of the Australian Defence Force—those serving in other countries' militaries who seek to come here and serve our country—are given a fast track to citizenship after serving this required period in our armed forces. However, shamefully, no such provision is given to the families who give the love and support that is so essential in the life of a soldier, a life that is not easy, with endless rotations and isolation from loved ones. How much harder this would be in the case of a lateral transfer soldier, transferring from across the world to serve in the military of a new homeland, with his family being such a critical support base able to endure those challenges alongside the soldier, if they are not given the same rights to citizenship. This bill enables spouses and dependants of ADF lateral transfer members to gain citizenship at the same time as their partner serving in the Australian Defence Force. This is entirely appropriate when you consider the importance of the family support base that goes along with a lateral transfer to our military services. It is unsurprising that 90 per cent of the lateral transfer recruits to the Australian defence forces have families they seek to bring to Australia with them.

In the past, we have sometimes been far too eager to hand out citizenship to individuals which have no respect for our nation, and in fact some who have been prepared to intentionally harm it. It was only a little over six months ago, back in December 2011, that Justice Betty King sentenced three men to 18 years in prison for their part in a terrorist plot against the Holsworthy Barracks in the electorate of Hughes, which I represent. They aimed to infiltrate the Holsworthy base and shoot as many Army personnel and others as they possibly could until they were killed or captured. In sentencing, Justice King said:

The fact that Australia welcomed all of you, and nurtured you and your families, is something that should cause you all to hang your heads in shame That this was the way you planned to show your thanks for that support …

She added that all three were unrepentant radical Muslims who would remain a great threat to the public while they held their extremist views. But, of the three, only one terrorist can actually be deported on his release from jail. The other two have Australian citizenship.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Hughes I think is drawing a long bow in terms of the bill before us. I would ask him to come back to the bill before the House.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will come back, because this bill is about Australian citizenship and the importance of it. If we are looking for what qualifications we would seek for someone to become an Australian citizen, then what higher standard, what better applicants could we find than the families of defence force members from countries such as England, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the USA who are prepared to fight under the Australia flag to protect our way of life? The Australian Defence Force has a longstanding practice of recruiting members from the armed services of compatible countries, and it is one that in the past has served our nation well. It is a practice that is necessary in order to fill the capability gaps in our own armed forces and is obviously important as new equipment is introduced into each of the services in our Australian defence forces.

Currently, the Australian Defence Force seek to recruit 300 lateral transfer personnel per annum—which may well increase as, among other examples, our ageing Collins class of submarines is phased out. Of importance to this debate, 90 per cent of possible lateral transfer recruits have families they would seek to bring with them if they came to fight under the Australian flag. It should be noted that, just as Australia seeks to supplement our military capabilities by lateral transfer, so do many other comparable nations. Simply put, unless we make the changes brought forward by the member for Fadden and replicated by the relevant minister we will make ourselves a less attractive option for these defence force personnel that Australia seeks to recruit.

Both pieces of legislation also aim to address the legislative vacuum that exists in relation to the lateral transfer system. The member for Fadden indicated that there are currently seven soldiers serving in combat operations on the front line in Afghanistan that have joined the Australian Defence Force through lateral transfer. But, at present, there is no requirement for the government to afford their families the same level of support in terms of benefits normally payable to the spouses and dependants of Defence Force members killed on duty. In fact, currently there appears to be no legislative basis or guarantee that a spouse or the dependants of a lateral transfer member of the Australian Defence Force would even be able to stay in Australia should that serving member be killed in training or in a combat operation. It is all well and good for a government to say, 'Don't worry; we'll make it happen,' but with this government's long list of broken promises that is not very reassuring. A far better approach would be to correct the legislative settings and give peace of mind to soldiers and their families considering coming to Australia under the lateral transfer system.

The coalition will be supporting this bill because it is based on sound policy and, more so, because it is the right thing to do. As we have always been, we will be the party that supports our defence forces. We will continue to support our soldiers—those brave men and women who give so much of themselves to our nation. We will also support their families, who provide our soldiers with much support. The circumstances surrounding the development of this bill, however, are concerning, and they reflect the disappointing attitude of this Labor-Greens government towards our Australian defence forces. The people of the seat of Hughes have a strong connection with the Australian military that has been developed over generations. The seat of Hughes is the home of a major Defence Force base in Holsworthy, and we are proud to have previously been represented by the Minister for Veterans Affairs and assistant Minister for Defence in the Howard government. But in 2012-13 the current Gillard Labor government has slashed defence funding. I take the opportunity to raise this point because it goes to the attitude the government has toward our defence forces. The recent raft of defence cuts has caused significant disquiet in my community, ranging from annoyance to anger, especially regarding the targeted cuts, the punitive cuts and the mean axing of the recreational defence leave travel entitlements. This important program was very much about the health and wellbeing of our soldiers, who spend so much time away from their families and support networks. Only this government—the same government that thought fixing the legislative gap we are now considering was not necessary—would think many soldiers being left camped in their barracks was a good policy approach. The people of Hughes recognise that this measure is both unfair and will save this government less money than it intends.

When given the choice between implementing good public policy and playing politics, it is unfortunate that this government is choosing the latter. That is what we see in their actions on this bill. Nonetheless, I support this bill and commend it to the House.