Standing up for Canberra

Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012

I thank the member for Herbert for sharing that fascinating history of that parade. I too am fascinated by military history, the richness and diversity of it and how it often links back to unusual experiences and battles of the past. I always enjoy going to parades out at ADFA and attending commemorative days around the Australian War Memorial, so I thank the member for Herbert for sharing that fascinating piece of military history.

While it is commendable of the member for Fadden to bring this bill before the House, the fact is that this bill will soon be superseded by the government's own Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Families) Bill. Both bills focus on the concessional residence requirements of ADF personnel and their families, but it is the government's bill that will make the amendments necessary to ensure all family members are treated equally. Currently the legislation states that an ADF member and any children under 16 are able to apply for Australian citizenship after 90 days of service in the permanent forces, or six months in the reserve forces. Meanwhile, spouses and other family members, such as children over 16 or elderly parents, do not receive the same concession and must wait for at least four years to be eligible for citizenship. What this means is that, presently, members of the same family are treated differently. For example, the serviceman father and his 14-year-old child will become citizens, while the mother and their 17-year-old child will have to wait up to four years.

It is only fair that the government extend the same residence requirements to the spouse and family of ADF personnel. After all, they are migrating to Australia as a family group, they are all making a continuing commitment to Australia, they are making a continuing commitment to the defence of our nation and they are all facing similar settlement challenges.

Last year the member for Fadden and I were in Afghanistan together, and on one of the trips flying over Afghanistan I met an ADF member who was from Germany. I do not know whether the member for Fadden met him but he was an incredibly impressive young man. He had made the decision to join the ADF because he was concerned that in Germany the services were not treated with the respect they are in Australia. He had the greatest admiration for the ADF, for the commanders in the ADF and for the commitment of the nation to our service personnel. So he actually made a commitment to join the ADF through a deep philosophical commitment to securing the defence of a nation. It was incredibly admirable. As I said, he was an impressive young man and, when talking about this piece of legislation, he is the one I think of in terms of him keeping his family together.

While the member for Fadden's bill is similar to ours, the government's amendments actually provide broader and more equitable coverage than the opposition's bill. Our bill will fast-track Australian citizenship for the family members of ADF personnel. Our bill is much fairer. For example, the opposition's bill covers children only between the age of 18 and 25 if they are students, and this does not take into account the fact that there may be disabled children in the family; the opposition's bill does not cover a dependent parent, even though the parent may have migrated with the family; the opposition's bill does not clarify whether or not the family members need to have permanently migrated with the ADF member; and the opposition's bill does not allow for the family members to remain eligible for citizenship in the event that the ADF member dies before they become eligible for citizenship.

Our bill, on the other hand, seeks to allow family members of current and future overseas lateral recruits to the ADF to satisfy the residence requirement for Australian citizenship at the same time as the enlisted ADF family member. Not only will this acknowledge the commitment they are making by migrating to Australia together as a group; it will also help the families of recruits in accessing employment opportunities and education assistance and help them build a closer and continuing relationship with Australia.

Our amendments are important because they will provide more equitable treatment and greater certainty for ADF lateral recruits and their families. So, while I am pleased that the member for Fadden supports these improvements, I cannot support this bill knowing that the government's own bill will go even further and make more substantial amendments to legislation. The bill is considerably too narrow. What is needed is a much broader approach to assisting the families of ADF personnel.

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