The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Neil Breen: Whatever has been happening in Afghanistan over the last week, specifically the last few days, we must never forgot our troops who bravely put their lives on the line over there. Over the last two decades nearly 39,000 Australians served in Afghanistan. Think of that — 39,000 served in Afghanistan. Forty-one Australian soldiers lost their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for other countries as well. Many of their mates who did make it home, their families, were also forever changed by the conflict, and it must be hard for them watching it, the withdrawal, and then the Taliban is back in charge. Andrew Gee is the federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel. He joins me on the line. Good morning to you, Minister. It must be a difficult time for these veterans.
Andrew Gee: A very difficult time. There’s a lot of distress and very, very troubled veterans out there who obviously are watching this tragedy unfold. And it’s difficult for the country to watch as well, but what I would like to say to our veterans is that we are very proud of what Australia achieved in Afghanistan. We were there fighting for freedom, and freedom is always worth defending. We’ve always stood up and defended freedom and we’ve fought for freedom. And our troops over there served with distinction. And there were a lot of them there as you pointed out — tens of thousands of them. And we’re very proud of what they achieved. Our country should be proud.
But it is distressing to watch this unfold, this humanitarian tragedy. And I just wanted our veterans to know that there is support out there for them. And so if you are a serving ADF member, if you’re a veteran or you’re a family member of a veteran, there is counselling available for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Open Arms is available on 1800 011 046. That’s the Australian government’s —
Neil Breen: Can you just say that number again, Minister? 1800 011?
Andrew Gee: 046.
Neil Breen: 046. Okay, we’ll put that on our website as well — 1800 011 046. That’s Open Arms, did you say?
Andrew Gee: Yeah, that’s Open Arms. And if you are an ADF member or you are a veteran or a family member and you don’t want to disclose your identity you can call Safe Zone Support — that’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week — on 1800 142 072. That’s 1800 142 072. And you can just talk and say what you think. And if you are feeling distressed, you don’t have to go into a formal counselling session. There’ll be someone on the end of the phone who’ll just listen to you and hear what you’ve got to say. But if you do need more in-depth help we are there for you.
And I’ve asked the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to contact the family members of ADF members who lost their lives in Afghanistan, and I’ve also asked them to get on the blower and contact any veteran that they are aware of who could suffer adversely as a result of what’s happening in Afghanistan. So obviously we’re helping a lot of veterans, not just through this period, but I’ve asked them to make sure we identify anyone that we think could be at risk from watching this tragedy and offer our support and just let them know that the services are there to wrap around them and support them.
Neil Breen: I think, Andrew Gee, the ones that might be struggling will probably have this question to ask, and you addressed it when you were talking to me just there before, when you’ll always defend our right to fight for our freedoms. They’ll probably argue they did that, and then we’ve given it up in one withdrawal.
Andrew Gee: Well, look, we have given Afghanistan every chance to succeed. And we’ve done our best. We have done our duty as a country, and our troops have done their duty as well. I don’t think anyone could have asked for any more of Australia in what we did over there. And Australia and Australians have always stood up for freedom. We’ve always stood up to be counted. Look back through our history — it was the Aussies who stopped Rommel at Tobruk. We stopped the Japanese at Milne Bay. Had we not joined up with other nations and done that, the world would still be ruled by Nazis at the moment. And, look at South Korea, that would be under a dictatorship as well. The list goes on and on and on.
What we did over there was stamp out al-Qaeda. We got Bin Laden. And we did our duty, and we did our very best. We did all that could reasonably and possibly be asked of Australia. We were there and we stood up and we fought for freedom, and our troops did, too. And they did everything that we asked them to do. And we need to be very proud of them. And I think if you know a veteran out there thank them. Thank them for their service to our country and check in on them. I mean, it’s very difficult through COVID-19 for everyone, but if you know a veteran out there and you’re mates with them or you know someone who’s a mate, give them a call and get on the phone to our friend who’s a veteran and just make sure that they are okay. Let’s check in on each other and stick together through this.
But on behalf of a grateful nation, I just wanted to thank all of our veterans out there for everything that they have done. And our reputation as a professional fighting force was enhanced and is enhanced by what we did in Afghanistan. And everyone, every country everywhere on earth knows that Australia has a first-rate fighting force and that we stand up to be counted and that we fight for freedom.
And what is happening over there is a tragedy, but I think the reality is for any — we can’t be there forever. And as Australia, we’re a pretty small country in the greater scheme of things, we punch above our weight militarily and also diplomatically. And we have done our duty. Our country has done its duty over there and we have given Afghanistan every possible chance. But the history of Afghanistan is tragic. It’s a tragic history.
Neil Breen: I know. No-one can win. No-one can win there. Andrew Gee, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, we at 4BC also salute our troops on this dark day.
Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au