Wednesday, 1 September 2021
[by video link] I want to talk tonight about Afghanistan, in particular what has happened there more recently, particularly with the evacuation of some 4,000 citizens, visa holders, locally engaged employees and permanent residents from Kabul airport. As you may know, I've had a close relationship with the Afghan community here in Melbourne, in the south-east of Melbourne, for over 25 years. I've had and have many friends in this very remarkable community. I would like to say that my thoughts and prayers are with them as they've been watching those horrific scenes unfolding at Kabul airport, and they are also with those from the Afghan Australian community who are very concerned about their loved ones, family and relatives who weren't able to be evacuated from Kabul in the past two weeks.
One of the grave concerns I have for Afghanistan, having worked in the security space now for some 20 years, is what the reinstatement of Taliban rule in Afghanistan will mean for the people of Afghanistan. I recall watching nearly 20 years ago the World Trade Center towers crash to the ground. I recall what happened in Afghanistan when the Taliban were last in power in the late nineties until 2001, until the international community took action against the Taliban because of its support for al-Qaeda. I remain concerned, as someone who is in the security space, about the Taliban's continuing connection with al-Qaeda. From reports that I'm receiving internationally and locally, that support has not diminished, and there is still a connection between al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
I would like also to take this opportunity to thank the veterans community. They must be feeling what they've seen and heard at Kabul airport very, very deeply. To those veterans who may be listening to this: thank you for the work you did over those nearly 20 years in securing Afghanistan. I've got to say to you that your mission was a success. I do recall that we needed to take—the international community resolved that we needed to take—action to remove that regime from Afghanistan, given that they were state-sponsoring terrorist acts, terrorist acts that resulted not only in the attacks on United States soil but also, through offshoots and connections, the Bali bombings and other acts of terror around the world. Your mission was a success. You removed that threat from the community and protected Australia by your actions. I do recall that we lost 41 soldiers. We had 39,000 veterans who served. I'd like to thank also the 700 Australians from the Department of Foreign, Affairs and Trade, the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Defence Force who helped evacuate those 4,000 individuals from Afghanistan. I know the conditions were very, very difficult. I thank my staff as well, whilst I have the opportunity. We had literally many, many hundreds of people contacting us, seeking support to get relatives out of Afghanistan, and we were relatively successful in doing that.
What I also say is that our mission there is not complete. I believe that, having been there and uprooted a terrorist state, a state that supported terrorism, and having been responsible through our occupation there for gains for the community in Afghanistan, particularly women, we can't just walk away from Afghanistan. We have a moral responsibility to bring to our shores those we have connections with. I'm not putting a number on that. The Prime Minister has said that he has put in a floor of about 3,000. I would certainly encourage more support. We took 12,000 people from Syria when we had the conflict emerge there.
To our Afghan Australian friends I say: I stand with you in this rather challenging period of time. We will work cooperatively. I don't think there's any point at this point in time in pointing fingers about what went wrong or what happened. What we need to do is work collectively to continue to exercise our moral responsibility and bring people from Afghanistan who have a legitimate connection to Australia—to our shores legally and legitimately. That's the least that we can do for our Afghan-Australian friends here in Australia.