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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 6242

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (13:20): I too rise to contribute to the debate on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill 2012. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to enable certain family members of current and future overseas lateral recruits to the Australian Defence Force to satisfy the relevant defence service residence requirement and be eligible for conferral of Australian citizenship at the same time as the enlisted Australian Defence Force members.

As Senator Ronaldson has rightly pointed out, I say at the outset that the coalition support this bill. We support this bill because it is our bill. On 28 May 2012 the member for Fadden, Mr Stuart Robert, introduced a private member's bill, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill, into the House of Representatives. It was indeed the government who voted against that bill when the vote was put in the House of Representatives. They instead introduced their own bill into the parliament the very next day, and that is the bill that we are currently debating in the Senate—an exact carbon copy of the coalition's proposal that the family members of lateral recruits to the Australian Defence Force be given eligibility for Australian citizenship at the same time as the lateral recruit.

For those who are not familiar with this bill, lateral transfer members of the Australian Defence Force are members who are transferring from other nations' militaries to move to Australia to join the men and women of our Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Army. They come from such countries as New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Fiji, India, PNG and the United States, but by far the largest source country for lateral transfers to the ADF is the United Kingdom. In October 2010 the UK Ministry of Defence announced in response to the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security review that the UK plans to reduce its military workforce by 17,000 by 2015.

In January 2012, United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the US defence spending priorities in which he called for a reduction in the number of US soldiers by 72,000 and marines by 20,000 over the next five years. In contrast, the latest Australian government budget portfolio budget statements for defence detail plans to increase the number of Australian uniformed personnel by almost 3,000 by the financial year 2015-16. This is an excellent opportunity for Australia to laterally recruit trained personnel from foreign militaries. Under the Australian Citizenship Act as it currently stands, lateral recruits have a reduced residence requirement that enables them to apply for Australian citizenship after completing relevant defence service. That means that, after serving 90 days as a full-time ADF member of six months as a reservist, lateral recruits are able to apply for Australian citizenship. This reduced residence requirement does not extend to the lateral recruit's spouse or family members over the age of 16. In real terms, this means that the partner of a lateral recruit would not be able to apply for residence at the same time as their partner; rather, they would have to satisfy the four-year lawful residents' requirement.

The coalition, by introducing the private member's bill, sought to redress this situation. The government voted down the private member's bill for one reason and one reason only. They did not think of it first and they could not possibly support a coalition policy. This is yet another example where the coalition, despite having the limited resources available in opposition, has identified a policy shortfall and attempted to rectify it, only to have the government vote it down and adopt it as their own.

It is important to revisit some history in relation to this debate. The member for Fadden, Mr Stuart Robert, in his capacity as shadow minister for defence, science, technology and personnel, put forward his private member's bill after extensive consultation with the sector in relation to this issue. The Labor government claimed there were broader considerations that needed to be included in the bill, but rather than introduce their amendments to the bill, as is common practice, or voice their concerns with the member for Fadden, which would have demonstrated a bipartisan show of support for Defence families, the Labor government voted against the private member's bill.

Some 18 months ago, in February 2011, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Mr Warren Snowdon, contacted the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Chris Bowen, querying the capacity to make these legislative changes. Some 87 days later, Minister Bowen responded to Minister Snowdon and his response was: 'I do not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation.'

So just over 12 months ago, Minister Bowen did not consider it necessary to amend the citizenship legislation, yet here we are today, debating a change to the citizenship legislation that Labor seeks to introduce. The question that needs to be asked is: what has changed between now and then? The answer is actually 'nothing', apart from the fact that the member for Fadden—a member of the coalition—introduced a private member's bill to fill a policy gap that will make a difference to around 90 per cent of lateral recruits who have family members to which this amendment will apply. Nobody in this chamber believes we would be debating this legislation today were it not for the coalition's private member's bill. This is good policy and the coalition has a strong track record of creating and being supportive of good policy for defence families, unlike this government, which continues to punish ADF personnel for its reckless spending and ongoing waste and mismanagement.

Labor's 2012-13 budget cut $5.5 billion from the defence budget over the forward estimates. This cut is in addition to the more than $17 billion in cuts and deferrals since 2009 and takes Australia's defence spending as a proportion of GDP to its lowest level since 1938. As part of the2012-13 federal budget, Labor also saw fit to scrap the recreational leave travel entitlement for single ADF members aged over 21. This cut will affect approximately 23,000 ADF members and will save $15 million per annum out of an annual defence budget of more than $24 billion. Those ADF personnel in the Army and the RAAF will lose their current entitlement to one flight home to their next of kin each year. For those ADF personnel in the RAN, they will lose their current entitlement to two trips home to their next of kin each year.

The Labor government has effectively penalised single ADF personnel over the age of 21 for its own reckless spending, waste and mismanagement. Labor has also failed to outline what effect these cuts will have on recruitment and retention. Minister Snowdon not only defended these defence cuts but he also gave no assurances that further cuts to ADF entitlements would not be made.

The shadow minister for defence, Senator David Johnston, has called on the Minister for Defence to immediately release the government's response to DLA Piper's Report of the review of allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse in Defence. The Minister for Defence announced an external review of allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse that were raised following the Australian Defence Force Academy Skype scandal in April 2011, and the former ADF personnel who have made very serious allegations have been waiting for more than a year for an outcome. They are none the wiser as to how the government is going to offer redress, and this is simply not good enough. It is yet another example of this Labor government failing the men and women of our Defence Force.

As I have already stated, the bill before us today is good news for the lateral transfer members of the Australian Defence Force and their families. It is just a shame that the Labor government has resorted to petty politics and political posturing by voting down the coalition's private member's bill and introducing a carbon copy of it as their own. It is said that 'imitation is the best form of flattery'. Well, as a coalition senator I am flattered that the Labor government has finally seen fit to introduce yet another coalition policy onto the floor of this chamber.

The coalition fully supports this bill because the coalition supports defence families. But let us be very clear about Labor's motivation for introducing this bill. The only reason Labor has introduced this bill is because the coalition introduced a bill and Labor did not want to have to vote for the coalition's widely-supported legislation. Labor is only willing to take action if it help them cling to power. The coalition introduced its bill because it saw a glaring gap in the current legislation and wanted to provide defence families with peace of mind. Labor introduced its bill—this bill—because it saw a glaring gap in its own political survival. How else can you explain the remarkable about face in its policy position?