Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Questions without Notice
[by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Afghans who worked with the ADF are reporting that their applications for safe haven have been rejected because they did not apply within six months of ending employment. How many Afghans who stood side by side with Australian troops, have had their applications for safe haven rejected because they did not apply within six months of ending employment? Given that the Taliban won't check the date of employment, will this policy be revised and will those who didn't apply within the six months have their applications reconsidered?
[by video link] I thank Senator Wong for her questions. I've seen certain media reports or suggestions, but, in relation to some of the matters that Senator Wong raises, I'm not convinced that these are all accurate reflections of circumstance. Australian officials have worked very hard to process applications through the Department of Defence and through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that those who have been locally engaged staff supporting Australia's engagement in Afghanistan over a long period of time are given the acknowledgement and the pathway to securing a visa.
On the ground in Afghanistan right now and over recent days our officials have been working hard to equally ensure that visas are issued in emergency situations, to quickly expedite arrangements to guarantee that those who need that safe passage who have got through to the airport in Kabul are able to be airlifted with a visa to be supported in their repatriation to Australia. That's what's enabled us to now have seen over 1,600 people evacuated from Afghanistan through Australia's efforts, working with the UK and others, just since 18 August. This builds on the hundreds of repatriations that we have supported over recent months and, indeed, the many more that we have supported since, as a country, we put in place special visa arrangements and plans to be able to assist those to leave Afghanistan safely.
[by video link] Those the Australian government has instructed to travel to the Hamid Karzai airport have faced a perilous journey—some having to wade through a sewer—only then to be refused entry despite having relevant documentation. The United States, Canada, Germany and New Zealand are working beyond the airport to evacuate citizens and Afghans. Is Australia going to do the same, and, if not, why not?
[by video link] Australia has been working closely with partner countries such as those Senator Wong has mentioned to be able to try to access and provide assistance beyond the airport perimeter to individuals where that is possible. But nobody should underestimate the difficulty in relation to the perimeter at the airport and the challenging circumstances that not just Australian troops and personnel and individuals face but also, of course, all of those seeking to ensure an orderly process that enables flights to be able to move at such speed in and out of the international airport at Kabul. That does require security into the airport. It does require checks and processes. Australian officials are not in charge of every one of those checks and processes as to who gets entry into the airport, but we continue to work closely with those partner countries to try to ensure that anybody, Australian citizen, Australian visa holder, Australian permanent resident or those with a connection to any of the aforementioned are able to get access and to get support to leave. (Time expired)
[by video link] Is there a deadline for the evacuation of Australians and Australian visa holders from Afghanistan? Has Mr Morrison spoken as yet to President Biden about arrangements to ensure the evacuation of these Australians and those Afghans who helped us before any such deadline?
[by video link] The deadline is to action everything, with the utmost urgency, right now. That's why we're seeing multiple flights running in and out of Kabul airlifting people out each and every day at present. I pay thanks once again to the Defence Force, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs personnel, all of whom are in difficult, challenging and dangerous circumstances and helping to undertake and expedite that very important work.
As the Prime Minister has said, if the deadline for departures that the United States has spoken of is pushed out—he has made it clear to the United States that we support that. The government has made that clear. We will continue to support all operations as long as they are safe and feasible and help people to leave Kabul and Afghanistan, especially those who have worked alongside us. We will continue to do all we can in terms of giving that assistance, which has seen more than 1,600 leave in the last few days alone.