Tuesday, 24 August 2021
[by video link] It was only nine days ago that the Taliban arrived in Kabul. It was only nine days ago that the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, flew out. In the last nine days, there has been a desperate effort by Western governments to get people out of Afghanistan—a desperate effort to get their defence force personnel, their citizens, their permanent residents, the families of their permanent residents, human rights defenders, women's right defenders, journalists and other people out of Afghanistan. Australia has, over the last nine days, managed to get hundreds of people, maybe up to 1,000, out. Against the heartbreaking backdrop of Afghanistan having fallen once again to the brutal regime of the Taliban, we have some heartwarming stories of people that we've been able to get out.
Over the weekend, I followed a group of 11 people who included human rights defenders, democracy workers, a 23-year-old woman who was training to be a pilot, a four-year-old and a four-month-old, who are all now, as I speak, in flight to Australia. But the people that we have managed to get out have been at the very end of the pipe. We know that human rights defenders and people of ethnic minorities such as the Hazara—good people—if they are left behind under a Taliban regime, are at immense risk of death. They are at immense risk of not getting through. So it's great that we have been able to get some of them out.
But the window for getting people out is closing rapidly, and this pipeline of people that we've been able to get out is drying up. Thousands of people are putting in herculean efforts to try to make the systems work to get people out, and they are to be commended, but it's at the end of the pipe, and then there are going to be so many millions of people who are going to be left behind. It's the end of a 20-year war that has failed to create a lasting peace. It's the end of a 20-year war that did not succeed in building robust institutions. It's the end of a 20-year war that was based on imperialism and power over, not power with. It didn't work, and now we are just doing our desperate best to pick up the pieces.
But it's no wonder that it didn't work. Yes, in 2001 we had a problem. The Taliban in Afghanistan were brutal. They were awful. They were executing thousands of people. It was a terrible, terrible regime. But an invasion serving the interests of the invading powers—that imperialist war—was not the solution to that problem. It has made the world less safe. It has created more terrorism and it has meant the forces withdrawing, the government collapsing and the institutions not surviving. We could have done things differently if we had had a human rights centred approach rather than an approach of having power over and control over. But we didn't.
So what do we do now? We are left to just pick up the pieces. Australia is part of that problem, so we have got a responsibility to do our utmost to pick up those pieces. We have committed that by 31 August, when that pipe is going to shut, we might get 1,000 or 2,000 people out. We need to do more. We have got a commitment now from our government to accept 3,000 refugees from Afghanistan. We need to have so many more. We need to have an allocation of at least 20,000 refugees to make some acknowledgement of our role in this problem. We need to give permanent protection to the 4½ thousand people who are currently in Australia on temporary protection visas, and we need to commit ourselves to work for justice, for peace and for human rights in the world through our defence policy and our foreign policy so that wars like this never occur again.
Senate adjourned at 19:55