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Taken from Hansard

Australian War Veterans: Citizenship

Mr SCHULTZ (Hume) (4.28 pm)—Mr Speaker, I take this opportunity today to speak to you about an issue, which should be of great concern to all members, regarding the immigration status of Australian war veterans. I will begin with a matter which I have already raised with the Minister for Immigration and Citizen-ship as well as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I am thankful that both these ministers have already acknowledged my concern and the issue has subsequently been resolved with the veteran being granted Australian citizenship. However, I would like to make known my disappointment that the system, past and present, is demonstrably inadequate to the point where we are unnecessarily punishing people who have, and are, demonstrating their commitment to our country.

The issue was first raised in a letter titled ‘Forgotten hero’, which was published on 10 August 2005 in the weekend Daily Telegraph. The letter described the plight of Mr James Riddle, an ex-Royal Marine who served with the Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam yet was subsequently denied Australian citizenship. The letter referred to the deplorable treatment by the Australian government of Corporal Jim Riddle, a former sergeant in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, who left the corps to join the Australian Army with the aim of serving in Vietnam, which he did, and in doing so lost his right to qualify for a Royal Marines pension. Mr Riddle served for over 800 days on operational service in Vietnam, where he suffered internal and leg injuries as a result of a grenade explosion.

Mr Riddle was welcomed to Australia as a migrant when he first arrived in 1968 to fight with the Australian Defence Force in Vietnam. It appears that this status was subsequently forgotten by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, who treated Mr Riddle like any other person attempting to enter this country, requiring that he go through the full official visa procedure, including the payment of quite extensive processing fees. At this point I feel it appropriate to mention that undoubtedly this visa application was rejected on several grounds, including health requirements. Mr Riddle is over 65 years of age and requires a disability pension.

This matter was first referred to my office in October 2005 by Steve Dickman, the then President of the Mittagong Sub-Branch of the RSL. The issue had been raised at a sub-branch meeting where the members ex-pressed concern at the apparent inconsiderate treatment of Mr Riddle by the Australian government. During October and November 2005, the sub-branch commit-

tee came in contact with Mr Riddle and obtained the full details of his case. The following was discovered.

In August 1968, Sergeant Riddle sought his discharge from the Royal Marines, having served 10 years and 79 days, thereby forfeiting his pension entitlement. On 12 September 1968, Private JB Riddle joined the Australian Military Forces and flew to Australia that day. At this time, Mr Riddle believed he would be eligible for Australian citizenship because he had been accepted into the Australian Military Forces as a full-time regular soldier. He was also assured by the resident sergeant major, who was part of the military attache staff at the Australian embassy in London at the time, that he would be fully accepted into Australia after completing whatever war service was required. Mr Riddle was also under the impression that by serving in the AMF for a minimum of three years and by participating in war service he would be automatically naturalised into this country. A letter was also sent to Mr Riddle in 1968 by the Chief Migration Office from the Office of the High Commissioner for Australia in London at the time. This letter informed Mr Riddle that his application for migration to Australia was complete.

In 1968, Mr Riddle was issued with an Australian passport in which, under ‘National status’, is stamped: ‘Australian citizen and British subject.’ However, under ‘Remarks’ on page 5 of the passport, a statement reads:

This restricted passport has been issued gratis to a serving member of the Australian forces in Vietnam to enable him to proceed on leave and/or return to Australia. Proof of citizen-ship verified from army records only. Subsequent renewal is subject to all normal requirements for issue of a new pass-port.

This passport appears to be of a sort issued only to personnel serving in Vietnam. The passport clearly refers to Mr Riddle’s Australian citizenship. However, the somewhat ambiguous statements that it is a ‘restricted’ passport with ‘citizenship verified from army records only’ and that its renewal was ‘subject to all normal requirements for issue of a new passport’ served merely to confuse someone in Mr Riddle’s position. Understandably, Mr Riddle believed that, when his passport stated he was an Australian citizen, this in-formation was correct. Mr Riddle has since remarked that he never received any sort of reminder stating that the passport he had been issued with was actually wrong and that he was not really an actual citizen of Australia. He also stated that he would have expected some sort of warning letter to that effect.

After suffering injuries in Vietnam, Mr Riddle re-turned to Townsville in March 1972 and was discharged by request in June that year. He stayed in Australia, where he completed several civil training courses. Over the next four years, he worked for several construction plants near Townsville and Cairns. It was his intention to study further and become a civil engineer.

In 1976, Mr Riddle sent his passport to the Australian authorities for renewal. Mr Riddle wished to visit his father in the United Kingdom for the anniversary of the death of his mother, who had died in 1972 while he was serving in Vietnam. Mr Riddle was quite confused when his application for passport renewal was returned to him with a new United Kingdom passport showing him as a British subject, citizen of the United Kingdom, and a permanent resident of Australia.

The department’s actions are puzzling for a number of reasons. Firstly, Mr Riddle did not want a UK pass-port and had not applied for one. Secondly, he had not applied to a UK passport office and had no interest whatsoever in holding UK citizenship. Thirdly, once he had visited his relatives in the UK he planned on re-turning to Australia, where he lived and worked as a permanent resident. Mr Riddle’s Australian passport was returned to him with the UK passport; however, no explanation letter was included explaining why his replacement Australian passport had been denied.

When Mr Riddle telephoned the Australian Passport Office in Canberra in February, he was told that, as he was flying on 1 March 1976, he should use the UK passport and, when he arrived in London, he should contact Australia House where the whole problem would be cleared up. On his arrival in the UK he contacted Australia House and was told that the Australian passport he had been issued had only been temporary and that he should start the process for emigration to Australia. Over the next six weeks, Mr Riddle returned repeatedly to Australia House in London attempting to clear up the matter. Unfortunately he was not working at the time and was forced to take a civil engineering job in Saudi Arabia, which lasted three years. Subsequently, he was involved for many years on civil engineering projects in the Middle East, but he always in-tended to return to Australia.

Mr Riddle rightly observed that, had he not gone to the UK on holiday and been issued with a UK passport, he could have remained in Australia as a permanent resident and would have been granted Australian nationality had he asked for it. This would also have qualified him for the old age pension, eligibility to receive a war service loan and access to benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

In 1968 the Australian Defence Force did not require people to be Australian citizens, and a number of people served during the Vietnam War without being Australian citizens. Although this policy was changed in 1981, Mr Riddle was eligible to apply for a former resident visa, having met the necessary requirements, including having completed at least three months continuous service in the Australian Defence Force at any time prior to 19 January 1981. Unfortunately, Mr Rid-

dle never understood that, despite the reference in his passport to his possessing Australian nationality. This was only mentioned in a restricted passport, issued as per Army records, and did not represent a definitive statement on his status from DIMIA. The Common-wealth must bear some responsibility for this because of the representations made to him by the sergeant major at Australia House, which induced him to leave the Royal Marines, and because he was never properly advised as to why his Australian passport had not been renewed and a UK passport had been issued instead. Also, Mr Riddle has been advised to apply for a certificate of Australian nationality, to which he appears to have been entitled, as a permanent resident.

While the decision not to renew Mr Riddle’s pass-port was understandable, I feel that his service on be-half of Australia in Vietnam entitled him to much better treatment than he received from DIMIA, and for this he deserves some sort of redress from the government. I find it reprehensible that we grant citizenship to illegal immigrants and yet Mr James Riddle, a person who has fought for this country, has not been treated appropriately. If this country is to pay due recognition to the significant contribution people such as Mr Riddle have made to this nation, it should exempt such people from paying excessive application fees and meeting the usual residency requirements upon their return to Australia as permanent residents. It is essential that the mechanisms of this policy, the ultimate aim of which is to highlight the appreciation we as a nation owe all those who have served to protect this country, are functioning adequately. (Time expired)

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Sunday, 24 February 2013 22:36:52