The terrorist attack at the Kabul Airport conducted against innocent civilians seeking security, and the brave United States (US) military personnel in place to help them, is an act that my colleagues and I condemn in the strongest terms. My sincerest condolences go out to our Afghan and US friends.
As all of us have witnessed, the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan is deeply concerning for the country’s citizens, particularly women and girls, for those who helped Australian soldiers, the families of Australian citizens, and at-risk minority groups in Afghanistan.
I would like to acknowledge and thank the Australian Defence Force personnel for their contribution and brave efforts, and the highly skilled public servants who worked around the clock to assist in extracting and evacuating those on the ground desperate to flee an horrific and volatile situation.
We are extremely grateful for your ongoing courage and commitment to help those in need.
Like most of my colleagues our offices have been inundated with calls for help from Afghan-Australians desperately seeking assistance in order to move their loved ones to safety.
Families have been in limbo for months, sometimes years, waiting for visa applications to be processed. A problem for these families that has gone well beyond what anyone of decency would call reasonable.
Unfortunately, we are not surprised we found ourselves in this situation. Driven by the slashing of frontline staff in Home Affairs, the processing time for visa applications has been a monumental failure of this Government and it has put many lives at risk.
Some visa applicants have been fortunate to have finally had their applications accepted. However, their hopes of a secure passage to Australia have been cruelly taken away.
The Government had time to plan and act. In May this year they announced the closure of the Australian embassy, and for months there have been urgent calls to get Afghans and their families to safety.
In what has become a standard response from this Government, they are now scrambling to keep up. Once again, they have proved they are a reactionary Government with aversion to planning – too little, too late.
We still can do more as a nation. We need a commitment to more humanitarian places for Afghans who are at risk of serious harm from the Taliban. In this respect, I am pleased to see the Government shift its position to 3000 humanitarian places as a minimum.
Subject to integrity and national security checks, we also need to fast-track visas for Afghans that supported Australian operations, and family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents.
It is also clear that Afghans in Australia cannot return to Afghanistan. Their Temporary Protection visas should be moved onto permanent arrangements, and they should also be eligible to propose relatives through the Humanitarian program.
We owe this much to our Australian citizens, our veterans who served, and the people of Afghanistan.