MEDIA – Transcript – Australia must do right by our Afghan interpreters
DARWIN – 9 June, 2021
LEON DELANEY, HOST: We’ve asked on Facebook today what the Australian Government should do about the civilians who supported Australian troops. Bronwyn says, “that our Government did not initiate resettlement for their former Afghani employees appals me. Now they’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing as per usual. When do they ever do the right thing without being shamed into doing it? They are the worst.” Ray says, “it should have been the agreement to resettle them once the job was done. At the time, Afghanis risked their lives to help our and our allies defence, and to just leave them there is to pretty much signed their death sentences.”
Now, of course, a lot of people have suggested that something needs to be done urgently. And among those are, of course, members of the opposition. The latest to add his voice to calls for action is the Labor Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling, who also happens to be a former Army officer. He’s on the line now. Good afternoon.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good afternoon, Leon.
DELANEY: Thanks very much for joining us today. How important is it that we do the right thing and help those who have helped us?
GOSLING: Oh, it’s incredibly important. And over the last couple of days, there’s been a real focus on this in the media. But it is something that a lot of veterans have been working on for some time. One in particular is Jason Scanes, who actually set up an escort service organization called Forsaken Fighters and actually took legal action around the issue of Afghan interpreters not being given visas to come to safety when they when they’d risk their lives, so often assisting our ADF personnel to do their job over in Afghanistan over the last 20 years or so. But we know that there are a lot that are in serious risk of danger to their lives and their families’ lives. And it seems that this Federal Government is moving glacially to trying to assist them to get to safety.
DELANEY: Yeah, and it’s worse than that, because this has been a long-standing issue. I read a story yesterday about one individual in particular who’s not been named for obvious reasons, but he already applied some years ago for a visa to come to Australia and was knocked back on character grounds by the minister, really. And he’s going through the process of trying again. And we can only hope for a better outcome this time around. But surely anybody who signed up for that service in the first place or to at least be put at the head of the queue?
GOSLING: Well, that’s right, Leon. And had already been through significant background checks in Afghanistan to be able to do that work in the first place. And then by putting themselves at risk and providing the right information and support to our people on the ground so that they could do their job is has been in itself a dangerous, dangerous job for them to do. And there’s been a lot that have been, it seems, in the process, but no action taken by the Federal Government so that now, when there’s a bit of pressure on them through the media. I’m really appreciative of you and others that are applying this pressure.
They’re talking about 90 that are going to be facilitated. But the reality is, is that those visas were applied for a long time ago and seemingly granted even a long time ago. And they’re just mentioning them now as a way of looking like they’re doing something about the current perilous circumstances that some of these brave Afghans find themselves in now, as the Taliban are so resurgent.
DELANEY: Now, when you were in the Army, you didn’t serve in Afghanistan, but you have been there since. You know something about what the environment there is like, don’t you?
GOSLING: Yeah I do Leon, it was back in 2003, not long after we went in there in the first place, and I was working as a security adviser with Afghan election teams, the United Nations mission there, and also the coalition forces with the US in particular in southern Afghanistan, which is where the Taliban was sort of headquartered before 9/11. So it was a pretty perilous working environment. And I know that the interpreter that myself and my British counterpart had most definitely saved our lives with the advice and the situational awareness that he gave us on a number of occasions.
And I wouldn’t mention his name, of course, but just to say – and he’d made the decision to to stay on and try and rebuild the country. But I think for a lot of these brave Afghans that did that important work for our ADF, they’re really keen to get their country back together. And the last thing they would want to do is leave if they thought it wasn’t incredibly dangerous for them and their families to stay, and I think the least we can do is, is to facilitate that quickly.
DELANEY: Absolutely. And this is the interesting thing. The ironic thing in some respects: almost 20 years ago, Australia and the other allies went into Afghanistan effectively to remove the Taliban. Now, almost 20 years later, it’s like, “oh, no, well, we’re going to leave now and you can have it back again”. Because it’s as sure as night is going to follow day. The Taliban basically will take over again, won’t they?
GOSLING: You know, I’m not privy to the detailed situation on the ground over there, but I know enough to know that it was expected that the Taliban would be resurgent if there was a power vacuum there after we left with coalition partners that that would be quickly filled. You can understand why Afghans in general – let alone those who’ve worked so closely with us, Australian and other forces – are really, really concerned about their families’ welfare.
And as the Taliban move towards exerting their influence, it’s not going to be pretty. And the very least we can do – we have a moral obligation to do this – is to make sure that those whose lives are in danger – and whether it means we need to send in a team that needs to do some initial processing to get people onto a plane to safety, we’re not talking about massive numbers. So it’s well within the ability of DFAT, Home Affairs, and the Department of Defence to do that. I do know that some work is happening. I just fear from the reports we’re hearing that not enough is being done and not quickly enough. And unfortunately, what we’ve seen from the Federal Government the last couple of days is simply some announcements to make it look like they’re doing stuff when these visas have been actually approved for some time. And they’re now just trickling through.
DELANEY: Indeed. Thanks very much for joining us today.
GOSLING: Good on you, Leon.
DELANEY: Luke Gosling, the Labor Member for Solomon and former Army officer. And I think really, you can’t ignore the voice of experience. He was there in Afghanistan, not as an Army soldier, but as an adviser after he left the army. But he has that firsthand experience of the environment in Afghanistan. And he’s not the only one. There are plenty of other veterans who are also sticking their hands up saying, “this is not right. This is not just. This is not fair. And this is not the Australian way.” Something more needs to be done to help the people who have helped us, because if we simply walk away and abandon them there, what does that say about Australia and Australians? Yeah, not very much, does it?