By Tanya Plibersek

08 July 2021




SUBJECT: Morrison Government leaving behind local staff and interpreters in Afghanistan.

ALAN JONES, HOST: Let's go to the female panel. I say it every week, but two very able women. Neither, I think in my opinion, being used to their full potential by their Party. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who's done outstanding work on Chinese expansionism, aged care, amongst other things, and Tanya Plibersek who frightens the hell out of the Coalition. They are terrified of their fate if she were to lead the Labor Party. So I want to come to you Tanya first, with all that praise. Where is the Labor Party, and I'm being very critical here, apart from silent on the critical fate of Afghani citizens who stood shoulder to shoulder with our diggers and are now being threatened, hunted and slaughtered by the Taliban? Can you tell me one speech you have made, or anyone in the Labor Party has made, one question you've asked, on the appalling abandonment of these people, targets for retribution and revenge by murderous Islamist terrorists, because Afghani citizens who helped our soldiers, interpreters, and many of the other functions, are being regarded as the infidel enemy, and it's argued that dozens of them are already dead, hundreds more left to die. Tanya, if the parliament can't do for these people what Bob Hawke did after Tiananmen Square, then Parliament is no more than a painted building. What is the Labor Party doing? 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: I completely agree with you Alan that this is an absolute indictment on Australia and on the Australian Parliament. These people in many instances wore our uniform. They worked side by side with our soldiers, they risked their lives, their families have also risked their lives just by being associated with anyone helping Australian soldiers. And as the Taliban is advancing, closing in on Kabul, we are really at minutes to midnight for these people. 

JONES: Absolutely a minute to midnight.

PLIBERSEK: Labor has been calling for the visa processing to be expedited. We've had years to do it. It's not like any of this is any surprise. We've had years to do it. We need to expedite these visas now -

JONES: It's one minute to midnight.

PLIBERSEK: Which country is ever going to help us in the future if this is the way we treat our allies?

JONES: Good stuff.

PLIBERSEK: Why would anyone help us next time when our people are overseas risking their lives? 

JONES: I agree, I agree. I don't know why we're fighting and the parliament appears, appears to be silent. Concetta, you know your international relations stuff. On this, your government, the Morrison Government, I think is a disgrace. One of these workers who assisted our diggers made special application and received a reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs and said "The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has considered your application. Unfortunately, you're not eligible for certification under the Visa policy as you're not considered an employee of one of the Australian Government agencies identified in the legislative instrument." Concetta, this is a disgrace. The person wasn't an employee, but was a subcontractor. He was working for us. 15 of this applicant’s colleagues have already been murdered. This letter from our government is a death warrant from the Morrison Government. Concetta, what can you do? 

SENATOR CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well Alan, we have a moral obligation to assist local engaged Afghanis. They helped our ADF. They helped our DFAT personnel. And this is what DFAT told Senators at Estimates, during the questioning at Estimates last month: "We need to move quickly and we need to move now on this issue". 

JONES: But Concetta, what's the Party room talking about? Bloody coronavirus and all this other stuff. Well, who is thumping the table and saying we have to do something and do something now? Where is Morrison? Where is Marise Payne? Who's making them in the Party accountable? 

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, Alan we need to act quickly on this. 

JONES: We know that!

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: This is certainly an issue, but Alan this was the undertaking that was given to us last month at Estimates. I understand that there are now about a hundred or so applications currently being considered, and they have to be considered quickly and they need to be, 

JONES: But Concetta, these have all been approved. 140 have been approved. Tanya, I mean, you're one of the senior people in this Parliament, you've been there over 20 years. Can you or Penny Wong or Albanese or Richard Marles, go to the Morrison Government and say "Can you people grab a plane, take them - they've already been approved - take them to Dubai where we've got an air base, Al Minhad,18 miles out of Dubai, caters for thousands of people, medical facilities. These people are our family. Is anything more important than this?

PLIBERSEK: Alan, you're absolutely, just today, just hours ago, Penny Wong again was calling on the Government to expedite this process. Brendan O'Connor. Kristina Keneally - all of them have called publicly on the Government to do exactly what you're talking about - expedite these visas, bring people to safety, people who have risked their lives, side by side with Australians. And I'll tell you who is speaking up most strongly for them - it's the Australian soldiers who served side by side with their Afghani colleagues who know that they owe their lives to these people in many instances.

JONES: Absolutely, absolutely. Well Concetta I've got to come back, I mean, you're a decent lady and you know your stuff and you must be absolutely disgusted with the bureaucratic response, writing letters to Afghani people in language they wouldn't understand and then denying them. I just want to come back to you. I know, I've been talking to all these people, I spoke to one of them last night from Kabul. The line went down, and Dr Kay Danes - I thought that the bloke had been murdered, he'd been done over. Fortunately, we checked up with him later, he's okay. How can you say Concetta to any of these people, will you pick up the phone to Morrison or to whomever, Marise Payne, and say can we do this now? 

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well Alan, history has shown us what the Taliban is capable of, and therefore we have to move quickly and I know that I have other colleagues who are very, very concerned about this and we do have to move. The government has to move, and I think as Tanya said, this is actually a test for us and we've had a good history, over 1400 Afghani workers and their families who worked for the ADF and DFAT have been given visas, and now it's imperative that these people will now be given visas at the moment and we have to move quickly.

JONES: Well, can I thank you both, could I -

PLIBERSEK: It's a whole lot harder Alan because we've closed the embassy over there as well. It would have actually been good to sort this out before we closed the Australian Embassy.

JONES: Absolutely before we closed it. Look, you are two powerful women. On behalf of the people I'm writing to and the people in Kabul to whom I've spoken, they are desperate. They know everything that we're saying here tonight and they are depending on us to get something done. Scott Morrison, come on, come on, get out there. In the name of humanity. It is a moral obligation. If we deny that obligation, as Tanya Plibersek said, why would anyone ever come to our aid again? Can I thank you both for what you've had to say because it's going to Afghanistan. We'll keep fighting and hopefully in the next 72 hours it can be resolved. I'm grateful. Thank you Concetta. And thank you Tanya.