Topics: Evacuations from Kabul International Airport; humanitarian visas for Afghan nationals; new powers for the Australian Federal Police; Brereton Report.
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday, I speak to Home Affairs Minister, MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Cabinet Minister as well, Karen Andrews. The Minister joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. Have you got an update on Afghanistan for us this morning? I understand you may have been in a briefing already.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. There’s been a number of briefings already held this morning in Parliament House. We certainly do have some updated numbers and it’s a very good result. We have now evacuated about 2,450 people from Kabul, and that includes Australian and New Zealand nationals; it includes visa holders; foreign nationals. So, we’ve also been able to evacuate some British and US and Fijians as well. There’s a lot of work that has been done; there were a number of flights overnight; four more in particular that uplifted about 750 people. It’s been a tremendous effort from those people on the ground and quite frankly, it’s in excess of what we ever thought we would have been able to have managed over a week.
NEIL BREEN: Seven hundred and fifty people on four flights overnight, remarkable. When do you think we’ll be coming to an end with these rescue flights? Is there an end date? Is it this August 31 deadline of Joe Biden’s?
KAREN ANDREWS: A lot of work is being done at the moment. President Biden has made some comments overnight off the back of the G7 Leaders’ meeting; he said they are clearly on pace to finish by August 31st, so that’s what the United States is working to. Our position here in Australia is that we will continue to do our work on the ground and we will be there as long as we can.
The situation in Afghanistan – and particularly in Kabul and at the airport – is deteriorating hour-by-hour. There’s an increased presence from the Taliban; there’s a lot of people who are there at the gates; we have many people inside the perimeter of the airport. We know that the situation is absolutely diabolical so we will do what we can, for as long as we can.
NEIL BREEN: What happens if we do leave some behind? You know, it’s the adage of war; ‘you can’t leave your mates behind’.
KAREN ANDREWS: We will be doing everything that we can and it has been a tremendous effort. We have also said very clearly that we will be looking at taking people through the Humanitarian Program. Some people potentially who have visas but who have not been able to get to the airport –we know it’s taking hours; there are multiple Taliban checkpoints – and the stories that are coming through are horrific. It is very difficult for people to even make it to any of the gates to get into the airport.
So we will be continuing to work over coming months on our Humanitarian Program. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the 3000 people from Afghanistan – the Afghan nationals that we’ll be looking to bring here – will come in over time. It’s a floor, not a ceiling, so we will look at how that plays out. We’re already starting to talk with various groups here in Australia about who we can bring into this country, and the time that we can get them out.
Over time there will be commercial flights resumed – not just from Kabul, but from other airports across Afghanistan. We don’t know – and I don’t believe anyone knows definitively at the moment – when those commercial flights are likely to restart or what access to airports will be – because the situation is evolving so quickly, but we will continue to do all we can to get people out and we have those places in our Humanitarian Program to take people out.
NEIL BREEN: Yesterday you introduced some important amendments to strengthen the Australian Federal Police’s powers when it comes to accessing criminal accounts on the dark web, or through other technology. Look, I’ve read through them – there’s three amendments. One is network activity warrants, enabling the AFP and the ACIC to identify and collect intelligence on harmful criminal networks online. Then there’s data disruption warrants. And also an account takeover power. Tell us about these powers, why do AFP need them?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’ve all heard of the dark web and we all know that nothing good ever happens on the dark web. What we needed to do – as a Government – was to make sure the Australian Federal Police in particular had the powers that they needed to deal with some of those most serious criminals who operate on the dark web.
And I’m sure, Neil, you and many of your listeners would be aware of Operation Ironside, where the AFP worked with the FBI and they actually managed to crack a number of the drug cartels and do some serious damage to them. They did that through accessing an app – ‘ANOM’ was the name of the app that was used. To be able to access accounts on the dark web in the past, AFP has had to rely pretty much on crims handing over their passwords. So what these takeover powers actually mean, is that the AFP can go in and take over these accounts now – they can access the information; whether that goes to drugs; whether that goes to weapons; whether it goes to child sexual exploitation. So these are very necessary powers for the police to get in there and do their job.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, they are very important. I read right through them all. People just can’t run free on the Internet, end of story. They can’t. Everyone else is subject to laws and people can’t just say, ‘oh, look, the Internet’s come along and we can’t do anything about it’. Anyway. Hey, I wanted, I wanted to ask you about this; Australians have been left scratching their heads by the Brereton Inquiry. We saw the gravity with which we were spoken to by the Prime Minister and others when the Brereton Inquiry findings came out and then Australia was castigated across the planet for being ‘war criminals’. Now 13 of the 19 soldiers mentioned in the report have been told there’s insufficient evidence against them to go further. This seems like it was an injustice against these people.
KAREN ANDREWS: I can understand – certainly – the concerns of those individuals; their families; their friends; and the broader Australian community. We are all very proud of our veterans – they have served us well for many, many, many years. In fact, there’s been almost 39,000 ADF personnel who served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Many of the people who have returned, not just from Afghanistan, but our other conflicts, have come back seriously wounded, both physically and mentally. So I’m very concerned for the welfare of these people. I’m very concerned that they are treated very respectfully as an outcome of investigations that will take place due to the findings of the Brereton Report. As a Government, we set up the Office of the Special Investigator – that actually sits in my Portfolio – and it was established as one of our elements to deal with the response to the Brereton Report. The OSI was set up to make sure that there is a fair and impartial, and a very independent process within our legal system. I’m confident that they will be looking at those issues; but I am concerned to make sure that everyone who is in contact or is affected by the findings of the Brereton Report is treated fairly and equitably, and that we’re not going through a process that is going to be detrimental to those individuals whilst the investigations are ongoing.
NEIL BREEN: I think it’s already been detrimental.
KAREN ANDREWS: I think it’s been very difficult, and no one can say it hasn’t been. Australians have been horrified. I said – we’re very proud of our veterans and we want them to be treated very respectfully. So the eyes of Australia will be on this entire process.
NEIL BREEN: I think so, and the eyes of Australia will be wondering if they’ll get an apology at some stage. Karen Andrews, Home Affairs Minister, we know you had a really busy morning and you had all those briefings – 750 people evacuated out of Afghanistan overnight on four more flights. Thanks so much for updating us.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure, take care.