Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (10:52): The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Defence Service Requirement) Bill 2012 seeks to amend the citizenship requirement for Australian Defence Force members. However, for a number of reasons the bill will not necessarily be as helpful as it is intended to be, and the government believes that its own legislative approach will address the issues in a far more comprehensive way. The government’s main reason for opposing this bill is that the bill’s definition of a ‘family unit’ is much more narrow in scope than that in the government’s bill. The amendments in the government’s bill are broader and more equitable in defining the families of ADF lateral recruits and their legal status in Australia after migrating. At the moment, an ADF member and any children under 16 are able to apply for a concessional residence requirement. Concessional treatment of ADF members under citizenship law has been in place since 1952. However, spouses and other family members, such as children over 16 and elderly parents, do not receive the same concession and have to wait for at least four years.
The government’s bill will improve fairness by extending the same residence requirements to the spouse and family of ADF personnel, acknowledging that they are migrating to Australia as a family group, that they are all making a continuing commitment to Australia and that they are all facing similar settlement challenges. Regardless of our differences in this place, we all recognise that military service is dangerous and that the family of military personnel bear a share of this danger. They bear more stress and strain than most families do, particularly given the element of military service that is attached to their circumstances. The government’s bill aims to assist Australia to attract personnel to highly specialist roles within the ADF, recognising that those skills will provide great benefit to us. This also reflects the fact that as we cooperate across countries in matters of defence we have a joint aim and aspiration to transfer skills amongst forces to ensure more efficient operation and efficient defence of our respective nations. There is currently an urgent need for the ADF to attract personnel to a group of specialist roles as lateral transfers from overseas. It is not necessarily the case that this has been an overly used provision.
Some ask why we need to embark on this course of action. In the small number of applications for citizenship since 2007, approximately 536 applications for citizenship have been made under the Defence service requirement of the citizenship act. Even though they are small in number, the value of what those people do for the ADF is tremendous. It will not necessarily be the case that all of these applicants will be overseas lateral recruits. The government’s amendments will provide, as I indicated earlier, broader, more equitable coverage than what is proposed under the bill we are currently debating. There are a number of reasons for this.
The opposition bill does not cover all children over 18, such as disabled children, but only students under the age of 25. The opposition bill does not cover a dependent parent even though the parent may have migrated with the family. In addition, the opposition bill does not clarify whether or not the family members need to have permanently migrated with the ADF member. Finally, the opposition bill does not provide for the family member to remain eligible for citizenship in the event that the ADF member should pass away before they become eligible for citizenship.
It is also worth noting that the government’s bill provides two technical amendments relating to this part of the citizenship act. Our bill clarifies that reserve service does not need to be continuous so long as it constitutes 90 days service in one or more of the reserves which a person was required for, attended and was entitled to be paid for. This arises from a case in which a person had been enrolled in the reserves for six months but completed only 3½ service days.
With the agreement of the Department of Defence, it is also proposed to amend the act to specify that ‘relevant defence service’ includes required attendance of at least 90 paid service days in the Naval, Army or Air Force Reserves instead of the current six-month service requirement. The reduction from 130 days to the proposed 90 days recognises that priority needs to be given to members of the permanent forces over members of the ADF Reserves in relation to training. It also means that members of the Defence Reserves will, in practice, spend only a small number of days each month actually performing paid service. The amendment will also assist the families of recruits in accessing employment opportunities or, should they require it, education assistance. It will also help them to build a close and continuing relationship to Australia. This group must still continue to satisfy all of the other existing criteria for citizenship such as identity, character, understanding the nature of their application, responsibilities and privileges of citizenship and, importantly, passing the citizenship test.
The government’s bill provides a pathway for family members to access the relevant defence service eligibility in the tragic event that the ADF member dies while undertaking service. In this instance, the family will be treated as if the ADF member had completed their relevant defence service. While I acknowledge that the bill proposed by the member for Fadden is supportive of ADF members and their families, the government’s bill goes much further. That is why we will be proposing the changes in our bill rather than supporting the narrow-cast changes contained in the bill we are currently debating.