Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Motions - Afghanistan

August 24, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (12:57): It's clearly been heartbreaking to watch the distressing scenes coming out of Afghanistan, not only for the Afghan people but also for the international community as a whole. We must reflect on what this means for Australians who are stranded in Afghanistan; Australians who have relatives in their homeland; Afghans who have worked with the Australian and allied military personnel during the conflict; the officials who have been caught up through, for example, humanitarian agencies; and, most of all, our veterans, who are no doubt feeling the absolute brutal cost of this 20-year-long mission.

While this is not how we envisaged that the conflict would end, we must now come to terms with the reality and the urgency of the humanitarian disaster now unfolding. Although many veterans will, no doubt, be questioning whether the Afghan war was worth it, on behalf of our community and certainly I think on behalf of all Australians, I want to reaffirm our gratitude for the service that they have given for their country in a fight against terrorism to secure freedom and a better future for Afghans and particularly for women and girls. This was not for nothing. Clearly this conflict will raise many emotions within the community, but we must also think of the gains that have been made through the efforts of our participation in the Afghan conflict, particularly through education, health, human rights, trade and, to an extent, the opening up of diplomatic connections throughout the region.

While there is no doubt that miscalculations and misgivings were made throughout this mission, as I gather would occur in any tense situation of conflict, let us recall the reason why the allied intervention occurred in Afghanistan in the first place: it was a fight against terrorism, terrorism espoused by extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, who were responsible for the tragic September 11 attack and who colluded with the Taliban to attack our very way of life. To our veterans, our service men and women, we are indeed in your debt for your service. As a nation we are safer today from the threat of terrorism because of your courage and your sacrifice.

While these have been certainly testing times with the situation in Kabul and across Afghanistan rapidly evolving our priority must be to ensure the safety and orderly departure of Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and those in Afghanistan who have supported Australia and our allies on the ground. This is not just a moral obligation; it's certainly a matter of some considerable importance when it comes to our national security.

I believe the government could have, and should have, done more as soon as it had decided to announce its intention to leave Afghanistan nearly three months ago.

I know many members have been contacted by constituents concerned about the plight of relatives in Afghanistan, but I would like to refer to one. I was recently contacted by a constituent expressing grave concern with regard to his father and brother in Afghanistan due to the support that they had provided to allied forces throughout the conflict. The situation is so grave that I'm informed a formal directive has been issued by the Taliban ordering the death of these men and their families. While they have documentation that substantiates the nature of their work with allied forces, they don't have a visa. The consequence is that they cannot enter the airport because they don't have their visas. They risk being caught by the Taliban with the incriminating documents which define the work they were doing with allied forces throughout the conflict. This is but one example of the real and pressing dangers facing many individuals in Afghanistan who have supported our mission, and we must be prepared to take further action to secure the safety of these people and these families.

We must not forget the humanitarian obligations to the Afghan people, with the United Nations estimating 250,000 internally displaced Afghan people since May of this year. Just in my electorate alone, I've received over 200 emails from concerned family members about the current plight of Afghanistan. Constituents from a vast range of backgrounds, professions and ages are coming to advocate for the protection of the human rights, the security and the dignity of all Afghans, and this is something occurring within our communities that we should be proud of. We are talking about the women, the children, the human rights activists and the many members of the various minority groups in Afghanistan. While we welcome the government's announcement of 3,000 places for Afghan resettlement in the year 2021-22, more can be done to resettle Afghans throughout our humanitarian program.

The sheer desperation of Afghan people has been captured in a very moving way in the images that we have seen over the past week. There was the image of the teenage boy gripping to the undercarriage of a moving aircraft and tragically falling from the plane after take-off and the image of a parent offering up their child to a military officer over a fence at Kabul airport. You've got to wonder, Deputy Speaker, what was going through the mind of that boy or that parent taking such drastic action. That can only be described as sheer desperation and fear of what is to come under the Taliban leadership.

With that said, we must take an active role as part of the international community to secure the safety of Afghanistan and its people and to restore hope of a better life for those who suffered and endured so long under the harsh leadership of the Taliban. We owe it to the Australian Afghan community and to our veterans to ensure that this hope becomes a reality.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST