Topics: Afghanistan; humanitarian visas; new powers for the Australian Federal Police.
LAURA JAYES: The Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, joins us. Thanks so much for your time. I believe there’s been more flights out overnight. How many and how many people?
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning Laura. There has been some successful flights overnight; there’s now been a total 2,450 people evacuated by Australian forces since this operation commenced on 18 August. That’s extraordinary and an outstanding effort.
Overnight, there were four flights carrying about 750 people and that’s taken the tally up to 2,450. This is in excess of what we believed we were going to be able to achieve in such a space of time, and it really is due to the very extraordinary efforts of those people on the ground. We’ve also had a third flight of people coming in from overseas as well – those who have been evacuated from Kabul to a third country are now coming into Australia. 419 – I believe – is the figure that has come into Australia; into Perth, Melbourne, and now Adelaide. Those people will be undertaking their mandatory 14 days of quarantine and then they will be resettled.
LAURA JAYES: Starting a new life here in Australia, which is really good news. You said that you’ve got more out of Kabul than you anticipated you would be able to, but are there still some Afghans linked to Australia – indeed Australians – that will be left behind there after that 31 August deadline, or do you think you’ve got everyone out?
KAREN ANDREWS: There are more people who are currently within the airport perimeter now, so we will be looking at what we can do to get more flights in to evacuate those people out. We will be there – working – for as long as we can. Obviously the situation in Kabul in particular is extreme; and we know that the threat – the issues in relation to security of our people there – increases on an hourly basis. But we are still there; we are continuing to do what we can; we’re looking to evacuate Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders, and course our Afghan locally engaged employees; we’re doing everything that we can. We have a number of people that are within the perimeter now and we’ll be looking to get them out as quickly as we can.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, how many?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, the number varies. We’re trying to get as many people through the gates as we can. It’s very difficult to do that now; there are multiple Taliban checkpoints on the way through to the airport and it is increasingly difficult to get people through. So the numbers on the ground are actually fluctuating.
LAURA JAYES: Are we talking hundreds, or are we talking in the dozens now?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, there’s probably over 100 people that are waiting now within our compounds there. I couldn’t tell you how many are fully within the perimeter, and I don’t want to put numbers on this because we don’t want to be disclosing too many details publically. This is a very high risk security issue but we are doing all that we can with those people on the ground. We’re processing them as quickly as we can and an important part of that is making sure that we are doing as many security checks as we can.
LAURA JAYES: So there has been a change in the visa situation over the course of the last couple of days. Every single family that I know of – that we know of here at Sky News – has been now been issued with a humanitarian or a temporary visa. Some have made it through these Taliban checkpoints and to the gate, are now getting rejected because their visa is in a hard copy within the passport. Have you sorted that out?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’re doing all that we can. It is very difficult to make sure that people have the right documentation to be able to get through to the airport, but we also know the evidence that people are needing to be able to get through is changing. As people are coming through the Taliban checkpoints – and they do need a level of documentation to be able to get through those various checkpoints – that is often changing. DFAT is doing an absolutely outstanding job to make sure that they are directing people where they need to go; what documentation they need. Some people are able to turn up with an Australian passport; some do have paper documentation; others are relying on having electronic access to their documentation.
LAURA JAYES: Can I just clarify something? Because the ADF are doing an amazing job on the ground, and I’ve seen that and heard of that firsthand, but these visas that you are issuing are proving somewhat useless in many cases on the ground. The ADF themselves are rejecting some of these people at the gate, which DFAT told them to be at. That’s what we’ve heard in the last 24 hours. Is that being sorted out? Are you saying that just having these visas electronically isn’t good enough?
KAREN ANDREWS: There is very clear advice to our people on the ground as to the documentation that is able to be accepted for people to be able to access and go through the gates on the perimeter. Our ADF are doing everything that they can, so are all the other Defence Forces from around the world that are on duty on those gates.
LAURA JAYES: What is that advice? Can we just clear that up now? What do they need, if they get through these Taliban checkpoints to be able to get through the gate? What do they need to be showing the ADF?
KAREN ANDREWS: The best updated advice that I can give to people is that if they do have any documentation – particularly Australian citizens – if they can make their way to the gate, they should continue to do that. Others need to take whatever documentation they can to indicate that they are on a pathway to Australia. The people at the gates will do all that they can to give them access; DFAT is in touch with all of these people and they need to follow to the letter, the advice that DFAT is giving them.
LAURA JAYES: Good advice. One final question on this before we get to some legislation that’s in the Senate today. The Amiri family; they are on a plane; they don’t even know where they’re going; they think they’re going to the United States because they’ve been able to get on a US plane. This is a family that’s linked to Australia; they lost their interpreter brother alongside three soldiers in 2011; they have a family member in Australia already; but they’re going to America? Isn’t this family an example of a family that’s Australia’s responsibility? Why would that be the case that they’re on a different plane to a different country?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, firstly, let’s recognise that they’re safe; they’re out of Afghanistan and they are on their way to somewhere. We do know that people are being uplifted and that they are going to a number of different nations. We’ve heard stories about people arriving in the UK that have visas for Australia. Sometimes they will have multiple visas for entry. All I can do is undertake to make sure that where there are special cases; where people who do have a visa to Australia and are somewhere else; we will do all that we can to assist them; but the situation is very fluid. My priority is to make sure people are safe in the first instance and the rest we will sort out over time.
LAURA JAYES: Let me ask you about this legislation before the Senate today, which is not Afghan related. It’s about law enforcement and giving police greater powers on the dark web. It looks like that will pass with support of Labor. But what will it allow police to do that they can’t already?
KAREN ANDREWS: We know that nothing good ever happens on the dark web; there’s some pretty serious crime that happens there. It’s not just within Australia; transnational crime as well. There are a number of powers that will be able to be used by the Australian Federal Police as a result of this legislation. To give you an example of just one of those – the takeover of accounts. In the past, the AFP has had to rely on crims effectively handing over their passwords to be able to get into their accounts. With the takeover powers under this Bill, the police will actually be able to go in there and just take over the accounts; access the information that they need. Importantly they will be able to access the information of the networks that are supporting these people. So if it’s a paedophile –they’ll be able to look at who they are associating with, and who else they are exchanging information with. So this is a pretty extraordinary power that police are going to now be able to have. It will really crack down on some pretty serious offences; whether it’s child sex exploitation; drugs; weapons. So these are much needed powers and I’m delighted that with bipartisan support, this will hopefully be passed through the Senate very soon.
LAURA JAYES: It looks like there’s not a lot of argument about that so we will see. Karen Andrews, always appreciate your time. We’ll speak soon.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure, take care.