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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6963

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (12:53): First let me say how pleased I am to be able to do the summing up of this piece of legislation, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012, as important as it is, and to acknowledge the contributions of all of those members who have spoken to the second reading. Whilst I acknowledge I do not necessarily support everything that has been said, particularly by the opposition members and most particularly by the member for Hughes, whom I have just had the misfortunate to hear. Never mind the facts getting in the way of a good story, which is what has happened in this case. But I will not dwell on that, because I think this piece of legislation is far too important for that sort of petty nonsense. I am heartened that the opposition, despite its protestations, is actually supporting the legislation.

I want to remind the House what this is about. The object of the bill is to enable family members of current and future lateral recruits to the Australian Defence Force to be eligible for conferral of Australian citizenship at the same time as the lateral recruit: 90 days service in either the permanent or reserve forces of the Army, Navy or Air Force. This bill is unquestionably about families and fairness. It is an important amendment that acknowledges the fundamental place families have in the ADF and in Australian society more generally. Currently—and unfortunately—the families of lateral recruits are required to spend up to four years in Australia as lawful noncitizens before being eligible for full citizenship and the associated benefits that are derived from that citizenship. The inconsistent approach to the treatment of members of a family unit that migrated together can only add to the upheaval and uncertainty experienced by lateral recruits in their move to the ADF and to Australia.

The bill acknowledges that defence service can be dangerous, that family members of lateral recruits bear a share of this danger and that they make significant sacrifices to support the serving member. More specifically, it recognises that families of lateral recruits migrate to Australia as a family unit and all face similar settlement challenges. Families have always played a central role in the defence community, and it is only fair that they should be extended the same legal status as the recruited member.

The bill addresses a long-term gap that has existed in our immigration and defence policies. While not trying to be too cute, I will make this observation. During the whole 11 years of the Howard government there was nothing done to address this anomalous situation. In a practical sense—what all good policy should be based upon—the amendments in this bill will assist families with the actual mechanics of settling in Australia, including accessing employment opportunities and educational assistance. It also, importantly, assists these new citizens in building a close and continuing relationship to Australia.

The scope of the bill extends to family members at the time the lateral recruit was granted their visa who hold the same kind of visa as the lateral recruit and who hold that visa because they are a member of the family unit. The amendments will apply to family members who hold a prescribed visa granted on or after 1 July 2007 and for all applications following the bill's assent. These family members may include the spouse or de facto partner of a lateral recruit and, importantly, dependent children of any age and a dependent parent. The bill also provides a pathway for family members to be eligible for citizenship in the very sad event that the ADF lateral recruit dies while undertaking service. In this instance the family member will be treated as if the ADF member had completed their relevant defence service.

The ADF is highly skilled, highly capable and a very formidable force. Its people are its strength, as my good friend the member for Eden-Monaro can attest as a distinguished former serving officer himself. To continue to maintain a leading capability edge we must do all that is necessary to recruit, train and sustain the best possible people locally and, where required, abroad. The amendments in this bill will assist Australia in attracting personnel to highly specialist roles in the ADF as they will provide tangible benefits to the migrating family and make the decision to transfer all the more straightforward and, indeed, a great deal easier. It is an equitable amendment to the act and one that the government has been proud to introduce into this place.

To provide a sense of some of the numbers and how many families this will impact, the labour agreement in place between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Department of Defence imposes a cap of 510 overseas lateral recruits per year. In the period 2008 to 2011, there were a total of 573 lateral recruits—far below the cap that is being imposed as a result of the agreement between the Department of Defence and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. So far this year, to 31 March, defence has recruited 23 Navy, one Army and three Air Force members as lateral recruits, and 603 dependent family members have migrated alongside lateral recruits over that period. That is 603 new Australians that will have the certainty and stability in their legal status that comes with being a citizen of this great country.

Before I turn to some points in the debate, I make an observation. I have met a large number of these lateral recruits in various spots around the country, including at HMAS Stirling and at 1 Brigade in Darwin. For example, I had the privilege to meet Commander Rick Westoby from the Royal Australian Navy. He is a Royal Marines Major who was working on exchange at the ADF Warfare Centre at RAAF Williamtown. He is due for compulsory retirement at age 50 from the Royal Marines and wanted to stay within his field of expertise. He was approached by the RAN to transfer, and he now works towards improving the ADF's amphibious and joint operations capability. He transferred to the ADF in 2004. He is one example from a large number of lateral recruits who have come to Australia, particularly from Great Britain. We are very pleased at the services they provide.

I turn now to make some comments on why this bill is more comprehensive than the bill which was proposed by the member for Fadden. Whilst there has been bluff and bluster from many on the opposition benches, the member for Fadden will know that this bill is better than the bill he proposed in a number of ways, and I thank him for his support. Also, I point out that this bill has not come along as recently as the last month; it has been under discussion in one form or another by me inside the government since October or November 2010. Whilst we did not have the best response in the first instance, we have been able to repechage the response and, to his credit, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has sponsored this legislation through the parliament. I am very pleased by and thank him for that.

This bill will extend the reduced residency requirement to all migrating children—not just to those who are aged under 18 years or to students under the age of 25—of the ADF lateral recruit. Disabled children and children who are not students but who are wholly or substantively dependent on the ADF parent and who have migrated with the ADF parent will also be eligible for Australian citizenship under this bill. Unlike the private member's bill, the government's bill will not discriminate against the disabled or those who are physically dependent upon the lateral recruit but older than an arbitrary age limit. The private member's bill did not allow family members of lateral recruits to satisfy the relevant defence service requirement and obtain Australian citizenship in circumstances where the lateral recruit died before he or she had completed the relevant defence service to meet the residency requirements for citizenship. The government's bill will extend citizenship to family members of lateral recruits in the way that I described earlier. It is important that we acknowledge that the differences between this bill and the private member's bill are positive. I accept that the member for Fadden has acknowledged this, and I thank him again for his support.

I said earlier that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, after my initial correspondence to him, wrote to me last year encouraging further liaison on the issues covered by the bill. I am very pleased that we now have a comprehensive set of amendments, which were recognised as necessary as a result of the representations we made, to the Citizenship Act. This bill is not about politics. I acknowledge that people should have the opportunity to express their thoughts in this debate—and some have expressed views which go well beyond the ambit of the debate. Nevertheless I am encouraged by the fact that, despite the bluff and bluster of the opposition, they are supporting this legislation, and I thank them for it. This bill is not about point-scoring, and it is not about politics; it is about the ADF, it is about families and it is about fairness. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.