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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 6240


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (13:09): I want to make some comments today on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012. This is a piece of legislation that we do support, and that of course is why it is in non-contro. But I do want to go back and look at the history of this matter. This is a carbon copy of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirements) Bill 2012, which was presented by this side of the chamber earlier this year. The records show the government refused to support the coalition's bill. They said at the time that their yet to be presented bill was fairer, but instead of putting forward amendments, which would have resolved it straight away, they chose to vote down our bill and then 24 hours later introduce their own. This matter could have been dealt with three or four months ago. And I do not quite understand what the rationale for this was. One can only assume that, rather than amend it, the government thought they could take credit for the measures in this bill by knocking ours down and bringing their own back.

Let us have a look at what the differences are. This bill does extend the provisions of our bill beyond spouses and dependent children to any dependant and drops the fast-track citizenship criterion of relevant defence experience for reserve service from six months to 90 days. Surely matters are that either of these could have been done by agreement or by an amendment. For the life of me, I just cannot understand why that was not done at the time. I think it was churlish and this matter should have been dealt with well before now. We are prepared to take a bipartisan approach in relation to this matter. We support these extensions on to our bill, so we are the ones who are showing true bipartisanship. We are the ones who are being positive about this matter, and the government are the ones who are being negative.

If we look at negativity, we only need to look at the actions yesterday in relation to the amendment to a veterans' affairs bill, which would have forced the government to introduce fair indexation legislation. At every single opportunity, on every single occasion when the government could have addressed a complete and utter inequity they have failed to do so. There was another opportunity to do so yesterday, and we had another opportunist showing his true colours yesterday—that is, the man with no spine, the member for Lyne. We saw him yesterday refusing to even go into the chamber and vote on this bill and the amendment. He refused to go in and vote on this amendment. What a gutless action that was. What a gutless action from the member for Lyne, not even going in to vote on this matter.

But enough about him. How about we look at what the Labor Party could have done yesterday in relation to fair indexation if they chose to do so and what the Labor Party could have done yesterday to address the inequity that everyone in this chamber knows—acknowledged by the member for Eden-Monaro, acknowledged by the Minister for Sport, but where are they when these matters come on for debate? Where are they in relation to the people they are alleging to represent? I have looked at some of the speech of Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro. In relation to this amendment, Mike Kelly, who I actually had some respect for, let himself down in his contribution by misquoting me from the RSL congress in Victoria.

Indeed, Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro, knows full well—

Senator Feeney: Good man!

Senator RONALDSON: I actually might not have disagreed with that 36 hours ago, but I express my bitter disappointment. The member for Eden-Monaro knew full well that I recommitted the coalition again to fair indexation but then went on to talk about what we could or could not do in the context of what the Australian Labor Party has done to this economy. I talked about a whole range of things. I talked about indexation for TPI, and every single veteran in this country knows that we see the indexation of DFRDB and DFRB as the first step.

Senator Feeney: And when are you going to do that?

Senator RONALDSON: Well, you know exactly when we will do it but I am very happy to repeat it. I will take the interjection with great pleasure. As you well know, we are committed to doing this in our first budget. No buts; it will be delivered. You wander around and the member for Eden-Monaro wanders around, and you go into little huddles to the veterans and say, 'Oh, look, we're going to do something about this.' As soon as they are given the opportunity to do something about it they scurry off again and are not prepared to put their policy where their mouth is, and we saw that again the other day.

The shadow minister for defence science and personnel challenged Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro, to back up what he had been telling the veterans in his own community: that he was going to do something about it. He was challenged and he failed the challenge. He was challenged and he failed again. I can assure the parliamentary secretary that, while the Labor Party refuses to acknowledge the inequity of the indexation method for DFRDB and DFRB, that is indeed their issue.

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator RONALDSON: If Australian Labor Party policy is going to be driven by conservatives from elsewhere then you are welcome to do so, but I can tell you that we will be delivering it. You do not like to hear that we will be delivering it, but you know that we are committed to it.

So the great challenge is: are you going to match our commitment? There will be the opportunity when veterans' affairs legislation comes through again to do something about that fair indexation. But you cannot run around this country, getting the small veterans' groups in your electorate and saying one thing and then not having the intestinal fortitude to do something about it when you are given the opportunity in the other place. How deceitful is that? How deceitful is it to raise people's hopes in small groups in electorates and then, when given the opportunity to do something about, to not do it?

The member for Lyne is no better than the Australian Labor Party in relation to this matter. He is all talk, but when he had the opportunity to walk the walk, where was he? He was not even in the chamber. As I have said before, no spine has the member for Lyne. He is a disgrace and nothing he says or does from now on will be taken with any semblance of bone fides by the veteran community. Can you imagine—talking publicly about fair indexation and then not even coming into the chamber to vote!

Senator Joyce interjecting

Senator RONALDSON: Absolutely! He refused to come in and vote. It was quite extraordinary.

Senator Cash also wants to make a contribution in relation to this matter. I know that Senator Johnston also wants to do so. We do support this bill. We are disappointed that an appropriate amount of bipartisanship did not follow the introduction of our bill in relation to this matter, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill. It could have been dealt with. It was not. I think that is an indication—and the Australian community can see this—of a coalition that is prepared, in a bipartisan way, to get through important legislation, and a government that simply wants to take credit for legislation when they have had the opportunity to do something well beforehand.