Topics: Situation in Afghanistan, crime in Southeast Queensland, COVID-19 and Canberra lockdown.
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday, I speak to Home Affairs Minister and MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews – Cabinet Minister as well – she joins me on the line now. Good morning to you Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning Neil, how are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. I’m well. Like everyone else around the world, I’m watching the scenes out of Afghanistan; it’s crazy times; it’s disturbing; it’s all of the above. The Australian Government’s put together a rescue mission to bring Australian citizens home, and we know the airport’s a drama. Have you got any updates for us?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well Neil, the situation in Afghanistan is very concerning to all Australians and I do know that it’s going to take a big toll on our veterans. Of course those that were in Vietnam would be very much aware that today is Vietnam Veterans’ Day, so those people will be very conscious of what’s happening in Afghanistan and we do thank our ADF for their service.
Australia is doing all that it can to bring home as many people as we possibly can from Afghanistan, and to support those Afghan citizens who have supported us with their services during our time in Afghanistan. So our priority is to bring home from Afghanistan: Australian citizens; permanent residents; we’ll be looking at our locally engaged staff over there to get them back to Australia as soon as we can. That work is underway. Now, having said that – particularly with our locally engaged employees – we have been working on that for quite some time, and there are already many hundreds that are in this country over a number of years, I think it’s close to about 1,800 have already been brought into Australia over a number of years. We’re very aware of issues surrounding the airport at Kabul. That is a big concern for us, we are working very closely with the United States and the United Kingdom, but primarily with the United States – who are doing a really fantastic job of securing the airport and access to the airport – so that our aircraft can land there and bring people back home to Australia.
NEIL BREEN: Do you know how many? I think Australians – when they look at the situation there – they don’t have any clarity on how many we’re trying to bring home? How many Australians were there? And then the other question they ask is: ‘what were they still doing there’? I ask that question. When I hear Peter Dutton talk about, ‘oh, people work in businesses there’, I think ‘stuff them – if they couldn’t see the warning signs, then why should Australians be put at risk to go and get them out?’ I think Australians don’t understand, Karen Andrews, they can’t understand or grasp why people are still there.
KAREN ANDREWS: That is a very good point and I find it very hard to understand some of that as well too. Yes, some people are working there; some people have chosen to live there; some of the locally engaged employees that have been working to support us don’t want to leave the country either. So there are some people that are happy to stay there; but there are some Australian citizens that have been supporting our efforts. Most, if not all of those, are out now but there are others that have been in other parts of Afghanistan away from Kabul where we’re actually extracting people. And they have been trying to make their way into Kabul to get out of the country. Of course we will be supporting Australian citizens and our permanent residents to get back here as soon as they possibly can. But, the advice has been there for a long time – do not travel to Afghanistan.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. I just can’t get my head around it. I honestly can’t and I’m trying to work it out. I can understand a lot of aid workers might be there and they’re doing that work and they don’t want to let it go, and they’ll be torn between the children they’re looking after and the school they’re building, or the nursing aid they’re giving, or the doctor… you know, I understand that. But I can’t understand how you can’t see the warning signs.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, look you’ve gone through a number of different categories of people; the aid workers et cetera. They would be very keen to see their work continue and they’ve been prepared to take the personal risk involved in staying in Afghanistan. As a Government, we have been encouraging people to return to Australia and for people not to travel for a very long time.
NEIL BREEN: Tough times. Also when the Afghan nationals who’ve helped us, you said there’s 1,800 or so already here and we’re bringing more back; they’ve been given a temporary visa. Why can’t we give them a permanent visa? Because they won’t be going back to Afghanistan any time soon.
KAREN ANDREWS: The ones that are getting a temporary visa now, are being given that whilst we finalise their security vetting. Whilst I understand that these people have supported Australia, we still have an obligation to Australians here to make sure that those that we are giving permanency to in Australia, have gone through the appropriate health, medical and security vetting that we need them to. So they will come here on a temporary visa and we will continue to look at processing those people here. But let me also make the point that this is the Australian Government bringing these people here – they are not arriving illegally. These people will be brought here with a temporary visa to Australia.
NEIL BREEN: Will they get permanent visas? We gave out tens of thousands after Vietnam.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s likely that the vast majority – pending any issues with security vetting; when we’ve done all of the checks that we need to do – they will be eligible and very welcome to stay here in Australia. There may only be a minority – and I’m hopeful that there is only a very, very small number – that may require significant security checking.
NEIL BREEN: Yesterday on the show, Police Union President Ian Leavers spoke to me and we were talking about youth crime and we were talking about African youths who attacked the family of Toutai Kefu – the former Wallaby – himself and four others; horrific injuries. We’re talking multiple surgeries to multiple members of the family, nearly loss of life. And Ian Leavers said that if those youths weren’t born in Australia, they should be deported. What would be the Australian Government’s position on youth offenders who weren’t born in Australia being deported?
KAREN ANDREWS: We have been very clear federally on what our views are on that. Now, I don’t want to get into the specifics of this case, given that it is a current police investigation. But what I can say is that since I was sworn in as the Minister for Home Affairs up to the end of June, there’s been just over 200 visa cancellations that have actually taken place and they were for things such as assault, rape, sexual offences, child sex offences, drugs, et cetera. We have a pretty strong track record of making sure that visa cancellations are made when there has been a conviction. So I would say that there’s every prospect that we will continue to look very closely at all of these cases and we will continue with our government policy, which is that we will look at visa cancellations.
NEIL BREEN: There’s a story out of The Gold Coast Bulletin today that they’ve brought in GPS trackers for youth offenders, so they can be let out on bail and have a GPS tracker fitted to them. The Gold Coast was one of the trial regions and the Queensland Government did this in response to youth crime earlier in the year – particularly the death of the poor couple at Alexandra Hills by a youth in a stolen vehicle who was on bail when they were walking on Australia Day. And it appears – despite having two dozen trackers on the Gold Coast – not one’s been fitted in the trial, does that surprise you?
KAREN ANDREWS: No, it doesn’t surprise me unfortunately. Let me say upfront – I think that the Queensland Police do an absolutely fantastic job, and that it’s very difficult for them at the moment because their resources are being significantly stretched, particularly on the Gold Coast where we have to deal with the border closure issues. They’re doing a lot of work in Southeast Queensland. What we’re talking about is a resourcing issue for Queensland Police. So I would be encouraging the Premier to seriously look at police resourcing in Queensland. Are there enough police to be able to do the work that is needed? We know that in South East Queensland – but not exclusively in South East Queensland, certainly parts of Northern Queensland have significant youth crime issues too – so this is about making sure our police force is adequately resourced so that they can do the job that they need to do.
NEIL BREEN: Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, thanks for your time today.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. Always good to talk to you, Neil. Thank you.
NEIL BREEN: Stay away from Canberra.
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m in Canberra in lockdown.
NEIL BREEN: Oh, you are? I didn’t realise that I thought you might be on the Gold Coast. You didn’t get that mercy flight out on Friday?
KAREN ANDREWS: No, I did not get that flight out. I stayed here. And here I am happily in a hotel under stay at home orders.
NEIL BREEN: Well, its hit Parliament now – Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, her 14-year-old daughter, Evie, is a confirmed case. So I hope you didn’t have a meeting with her recently.
KAREN ANDREWS: No, I haven’t, but of course, it’s a very a difficult time for Katy, her daughter and her family. Terrible.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. Our thoughts are with Evie. Poor 14-year-old kid with COVID. Thanks very much, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Okay. Take care. Bye