Thursday, 2 September 2021
[by video link] In my previous remarks on this motion a few days ago I had initially expressed the enormous gratitude that we as people of Australia should have for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, particularly those who served overseas in Afghanistan in this 20-year-long conflict. I also moved to recap why we went to Afghanistan in the first place, noting that four in 10 Australians today were either children aged below 10 or, indeed, not born when we engaged in this military conflict in Afghanistan.
In about a week's time we'll remember the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We'll remember the al-Qaeda attacks, and not just those on New York and Washington—anybody who can remember watching that on their television screens and seeing those terrifying events play out can never forget them—but also the other terrorist attacks around the world: in London, in Madrid, in Africa, in Indonesia and elsewhere. These were attacks which killed fellow men and women Australians—attacks, as was that in Indonesia, upon Australian facilities. It is important to remind ourselves why Australia became engaged in Afghanistan in the first place.
This is not the occasion to discuss the circumstances of the ending of that engagement just a few days ago. There are other occasions to do that and to discuss the consequences of that ending and the manner of it for strategic postures in the future. But I do want, in this time, to address two criticisms that have been made. The first is that because the engagement ended in withdrawal and the reassertion of the Taliban then it wasn't worthwhile. I profoundly disagree with this criticism because that military engagement, starting some 20 years ago, ended the widespread terrorism that was occurring around the world—terrorism born and bred in Afghanistan. That was the primary reason why our forces, along with forces from the United States, NATO and other nations, went to Afghanistan.
And it did produce a better human rights outcome for the people of Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, for the past two decades. But it's a reminder also that the fight against evil is never ending, that we must remain eternally vigilant. As Edmund Burke once said, 'All that's required for evil to prosper is for good men and women to do nothing.' We're also reminded that people in any part of the world must desire liberty themselves and that it's not something that can simply be imposed upon them from outside.
The second criticism that has been made is that, because of the withdrawal after two decades and the circumstances of that withdrawal, the sacrifices of those who died and those who were wounded and maimed, and the sacrifices of their families, were therefore worthless—worth nothing. Again, I disagree with that criticism. We should remember in this context that the Anzac legend, of which we are so immensely proud in this country—and, indeed, in New Zealand—was born of a defeat. When we commemorate Anzac Day, as we all do at cenotaphs around this nation, we're not celebrating some victory; we're marking the loss of those who gave their lives in other wars for freedom and liberty around the world. But Anzac itself, as we all know, ended in a withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula—in effect, a defeat.
So the idea that for those who gave their lives, the 41 brave Australians and the hundreds more who were maimed and wounded, that somehow their sacrifice was for nothing, is, as I said, something that I disagree with. As former Prime Minister Howard said, there's no hierarchy in terms of sacrifice by people from various conflicts, who have given their lives for this country and for the peace, liberty and dignity of individuals around the world. The sacrifices of those who were killed and wounded in Afghanistan remain equal to the sacrifices of those who were killed and injured in other conflicts and in other wars.
In conclusion, let me return to where I started—to thank the almost 40,000 Australian Defence personnel who served in Afghanistan. We appreciate what you did and we can never fully repay your sacrifices, but we should never forget them.
Members of parliament get many chances to speak in this parliament. At another time I will reflect on the war in Afghanistan—a noble and worthwhile cause, yet a strategic failure and defeat. Instead, now, this speech is to give voice to people who may never get the chance to be heard by Australians—certainly never in this parliament. These Afghan Australians from my electorate deserve to be heard. Their common cry is the worry for their family. Their common despair is that their loved ones should have been safe in Australia years ago. The common factor is government delays in processing their visa applications.
I've changed the names to protect their families, but these are their words. From Ali: 'I've been with the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan for about four years. Mate, I was one of those frontline interpreters. Even though I got multiple threats, including one target killing, I was super lucky, as the Taliban fighter's bullet just missed my forehead. Mate, my family is living in hell right now. Taliban took over Kandahar. My family is stuck there. Mate, I did apply for family members under humanitarian visa last year, but I have not received any response from Australian department. I don't want my sister be forced to marry a Taliban and I do not want my nephews to be taken by the Taliban at the age of 12 or 14, and this will happen sooner or later. They just killed three people in our village this morning whom used to work for coalition forces in the Kandahar airfield. Mate, you're my last hope.'
From Hasti: 'I applied for my husband's partner visa in 2018. I've called the immigration numerous times and no-one has helped me. I fear I may never be able to see my husband again. I fear to be able to hear his voice ever again. We spoke last yesterday. He's been harassed by the Taliban, slapped and kicked on his groin and asked questions: "Why have you shaped your beard like this? Why did you cut your hair in that style? I'll cut off your hand for having a tattoo on it." He got away, but the Taliban learned he has worked for diplomats and married an Australian, and are looking now to kill him. He's been going to relatives' houses, but no-one gave him shelter as they're all so afraid, if they give shelter to him, their lives will also be in danger. He's at the airport as I'm writing. My husband is educated and speaks in five different languages, including English. He has a bachelor degree in economics and commerce. He will contribute to the Australian economy and country when he arrives. Please get him a visa. It's been three years and time is running out.'
From Rasoul: 'I'm writing to plead with you to have my family's visa processed. My application was lodged back in June 2013. They've completed their medicals twice, last in 2019. I've been waiting for my family to join me safely. My eldest son, Medi, was taken by the Taliban yesterday after he was suspected of helping allied forces. This was a case of mistaken identity but I haven't heard anything. I pray they will release him unharmed. Please, please, help me get their visa.'
From Waleed: 'I sponsored my daughter and her three kids for visa in 2010. She's my last relative, who has no-one to care or support her, as she was left widowed after her husband's passing a long time ago. Now she can no longer leave the house without a male by her side, meaning she cannot provide for her kids. This will leave her and her children with no shelter and no food. Because of the Taliban, who are killing village citizens, they have been displaced and had to flee. They're currently in Kabul airport but attempts to get visa have failed. I plead for your help to get her and her three children the visa to Australia for a chance at life.'
From Ahmed: 'I applied for a family visa for my wife three years ago. I didn't mind waiting for visa approval but it's not safe now. Why won't the government approve their visa? I now must go back to Afghanistan and try to save my family instead of sitting here and waiting. I own three businesses in Dandenong but I can't work. I'm nearly losing my mind. So please help me and give me some advice. How can I get travel permission to go to Afghanistan and help and bring my family? I know it's a big risk but my family's important. What else can I do?'
From Hayat: 'I'm an Australian citizen from Hazara minority. I've worked several years as an interpreter with our forces. I've lost eight members of my family—father, four sisters, uncle, cousin, uncle's wife, nieces, three brother-in-laws—who were all killed by the Taliban terrorist group ten years ago. My only two brothers are still missing. My mother was the latest victim of the Taliban atrocity, while waiting for the processing of her visa application. My last brother and sister have faced suffering, war, injustice and ongoing trauma, and are now facing humanitarian crisis and violent Taliban takeover. My family, including my nieces and nephews, who are all waiting for the finalisation of their visas, are extremely frightened and fearful. I've applied for their visas but heard nothing. I plead for your intervention and help.'
From Aisha: 'My husband is in danger. He worked for medical military. His partner visa was lodged in 2018. Almost three years we are waiting. I believe my application is decision ready. I've updated all my things to my ImmiAccount: the police check, the health check-up, the marriage documents. Currently I'm going to have an operation now—an ovarian cyst, possible cancer—and need emotional support and someone to take care of me. The stress and anxiety are getting us so helpless and sleepless. I sometimes feel I will not see them forever.'
From Zana: 'I fainted the other day due to the stress of my husband being in Kabul. I applied for his visa nearly two years ago. After telling him to wait for five days outside the airport without taking him inside and assessing our visa, they told him they can't help, because I'm not there. They said, "We help only Afghans whose citizen partners are there." This is unjust, unfair and discriminatory. Do I need to go out there myself, place myself in a dangerous situation, just to get my husband's visa? If that's the case, if they can't do anything for me as an Australian citizen, I request: take me now on an evacuation flight back to Kabul, so whatever happens I can face it together with my husband. Whether we die, whether we go missing, whatever happens, I want to be with him. If my husband is not welcomed here after paying a $9,000 visa fee and waiting years, how can I stay here?'
From Nazrul: 'I applied for a partner visa in 2018. I'm yet to hear any news. My wife and kids are in a desperate situation. They cannot leave the house. Someone told the Taliban that I'm in Australia. Having an Australian connection, we are labelled nonbelievers and traitors to be sent to the graveyard. I'm scared to death. My wife and kids are looking up to me for help, and I feel absolutely powerless and guilty because I cannot do anything to give them their visa. The Taliban visited my house twice already. They came back and beat my wife, but she still told them I'm in Iran. Three of my daughters are aged over 12. They're hiding. We're afraid the Taliban will take them for forced marriage. My family are in great danger and they haven't slept or eaten for days. My kids are traumatised. I haven't slept for days now. I'm desperate to get them out of there. I beg you to please help me out. Put pressure on the government to approve my partner visa so they can get out of there. Do something. I've called immigration and told them my story but nothing has happened. They told me, "Someone might call you." Please help. I have no-one to reach out to. They will kill or injure my wife. God forbid if they see my daughters.'
From Hasib: 'I hope you are doing well and safe. Mr Julian, it's been more than five years that we are waiting for our visas as a family. I see your speech. I even don't know why I'm emailing this to you. But, in the state of helplessness and being imprisoned amongst the gunmen in Kabul, I've done everything I could just to get out of this hell. I don't know whether this will be my last email or we would be out of here, safe and alive. We're in the state of helplessness and raising our hands to the Australians and the government of Australia. I hope there will be a listener and listen to us. Thank you. May you be safe and sound with your children.' I haven't heard from Hasib for over a week now.