Monday, 23 August 2021
Questions without Notice
[by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. On 15 July the Morrison-Joyce government declared that it would not join a United States evacuation mission to rescue Afghan civilians who helped Australia and that it had no plan to mount a similar operation. Why?
[by video link] I thank Senator Wong for her question. Can I, at the outset, acknowledge that the situation in Afghanistan is one that is evolving quite rapidly, remains highly volatile and is a dangerous situation. Our highest priority as a government is, indeed, to secure the safe and orderly departure of those Australian citizens still in Afghanistan, their families, Afghan former locally engaged employees, other visa holders and permanent residents and, indeed, the assistance that we are providing as a government to the United States, to New Zealand, to the UK, to Fiji and other nations in relation to helping with their foreign nationals, as we acknowledge and thank many other nations assisting us.
Since 18 August, Australia has supported the evacuation of around 1,000 people from Afghanistan over some 12 flights through our work with the UK and with other nations. We do urge the Taliban to ensure the ability for the safe and orderly departure of people seeking to leave the country.
We join international calls for the Taliban to cease all violence against civilians, to adhere to international humanitarian law and to respect all Afghan's human rights, especially those of women and girls. Our work in relation to helping people to depart Afghanistan has been ongoing for some time. Since 15 April 2021, the Australian government has brought out more than 430 Afghan locally engaged staff and their families to be resettled in Australia under our humanitarian visa policy, an arrangement that's been in place since 2013 and has supported more than 1,900 people to do so during that time.
[by video link] On 1 June, the United Kingdom announced an acceleration of its relocation policy offering priority relocation to the UK for Afghans at risk that were or had worked with them. On 18 June, Germany expanded its eligibility criteria. However, the Morrison-Joyce government did neither. Why?
[by video link] I don't accept the insinuation there around a lack of action in relation to the actions and support our government's provided. Australia, unlike many other countries, has had in place special visa arrangements for some time to support those who've worked alongside our forces and others who have been serving in Afghanistan. That's what has enabled us to see some 1,900 visas specifically provided to Afghan locally engaged staff and their families at risk of harm all the way back to 2013. Recognising what was happening in Afghanistan, we worked hard to make sure that we expedited processing around such applications during the course of this year. That's what enabled more than 430 Afghan locally engaged staff to access those visas and be resettled in Australia in the period since 15 April. Clearly, the deteriorating security situation has meant more urgent steps are necessary, and they're what we're taking.
[by video link] Nasir, an interpreter for the ADF, has been resettled in Australia and has family in Afghanistan who fear reprisals. Australian authorities told them to send visa applications by post—impossible in the chaos of Kabul. They turned to US soldiers who were willing to put them on an evacuation flight, even with limited documents. Why was it left to the US to help those caught up by Australia's bureaucratic gridlock?
[by video link] Senator Wong, without some forewarning, it's impossible for me to be able to specifically address the individual case you mentioned. But I can assure you, the Senate and all Australians that the Australian officials working on the ground in Afghanistan—officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Home Affairs—and, of course, our Defence Force personnel there are working quickly to ensure rapid processing of visas that enable the evacuation of people who may be in circumstances where they are immediate family, for example, of Australian citizens, immediate family of permanent residents or immediate family of those locally engaged staff who've supported Australia. That work is being supported by Home Affairs and other officials here in Australia, as well as around the world, in enabling us to provide rapid responses. In relation to the individual circumstances— (Time expired)