Senate debates

Monday, 23 August 2021



1:40 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to join with so many Australians to express my deep distress and heartbreak over the situation in Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, Australia has been a steadfast contributor to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Australia joined with the United States, NATO and the international community in Afghanistan in 2001 to help find Osama Bin Laden and those responsible for the attacks on 11 September and that was achieved. I acknowledge the more than 40,000 Australian Defence Force personnel and civilians who served in Afghanistan. We honour the 41 soldiers who died and the many Australians wounded in attacks and, of course, we also share with all Afghanistan veterans in what they are enduring at the moment.

The Taliban must cease all violence against civilians and adhere to international humanitarian law. The government's top priority is the safe and orderly departure of Australian citizens and visa holders. Since 18 August we have facilitated the evacuation of approximately 554 people from Kabul and, I'm pleased to say, two of those people were Maria and her 11-year-old daughter, Heria. They are Australian citizens from Melbourne. I became involved in their case when Maria's husband contacted me late one evening last week. They travelled to Kabul to visit their sick mother and grandmother. They became embroiled in the turmoil very quickly, and their commercial flights were cancelled. Soon after contacting me, they received a message from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They headed to airport but couldn't get to the tarmac because of the chaos and gunshots. I am pleased to say that, on their second attempt, with the help of wonderful Australian soldiers, they made it to the plane and they are now in Perth quarantining. I want to thank our ADF personnel most sincerely for everything they are doing.

1:42 pm

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I, like many others, urge the federal government to massively increase the number of humanitarian visas offered to Afghan refugees. Last week, Minister Hawke announced an initial 3,000 places but these will be within the humanitarian program of 13,750 places already allocated for this year; it will not be extra places. You have to ask the question: What happens to those poor souls who were in that original 13,750 and who will now potentially miss out?

When the world is witnessing a humanitarian crisis, we have a responsibility to act, if on no other basis than compassion for our fellow humans. Our hasty departure from what is widely considered a failed state has allowed the Taliban to return at a speed which has stunned the world. It is not only interpreters and other locally engaged employees who are now terrified for their lives and very much terrified for their future; women and girls who remain are facing the prospect of returning to the days of old—a terrifying fate of sexual slavery, oppression and subjugation, a future where they will be denied an education, denied the ability to move freely in society or to have their voices heard.

Those who flee must be able to find safe refuge. Canada, for example, has stepped forward and offered to take 20,000 Afghan refugees on top of their humanitarian program—on top of the program. We should very much be doing the same. After 20 years we cannot simply walk away. In 2015, Australia responded to the civil war in Syria with 12,000 additional humanitarian places for fleeing refugees. That was the right decision and the humane decision, and it is time now for Australia to do the same and contribute more places of safe haven to those in need.