The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Chris Kenny: But for now, let’s go down to Canberra and catch up with Andrew Gee. He’s the Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. The best night in terms of outcomes for Australia’s defence efforts in Kabul; 650 people rescued from the airport?
Andrew Gee: Yeah. So about 1700 out to date. It was a good night last night, but there’s still more work to do. The really positive thing is that a lot of the people who we know needed help are now contacting us and saying, yes, we got out. We are so grateful for everything that Australia has done, but we know that there are still more folks over there and the work hasn’t finished yet. So look, it’s a very touchy situation. We know that there have been some chaotic scenes around the airport, and we know that people are still having to play cat and mouse with the Taliban. We know that the Taliban is dragging people out and interrogating them, trying to find out who’s been working with western and allied governments. And we know that threats are being made by the Taliban. So it is a very, very concerning situation and, quite frankly, a harrowing situation for many really good people in Kabul and around Afghanistan at the moment.
Chris Kenny: Yeah. That situation at the airport has a lot of potential to flare up into something really, really terrible. So speed is of the essence here. Now, you don’t want to give away too much, but presumably you’re in contact with some people away from the airport so they can time their arrival to get to the airport for the right time when a plane will be there? Or is it a horrible situation where they’re having to get to the airport and hang around there until you get them out?
Andrew Gee: Look, I think there are different arrangements being made from different people. We’re working very closely with the British who’ve been absolutely fantastic, I have to say. But, yeah, we are keeping tabs with people on the ground who are going through that process. So, I actually have had some visibility on the way that they’re being contacted, and also the timing. And I have to say what Australia and its allies have achieved in such a short period of time there is absolutely remarkable. It’s a great credit to the Aussies. But as I said, the work isn’t done and we still haven’t got everyone out yet, but we’re working on it. So, yeah, fingers crossed that the situation remains reasonably stable and we can keep those flights coming in and out, but there are going to be some very anxious hours and days ahead for a lot of people in that country. And as I said, they’re good people who have done their best to build a better future for their families and their communities, and they deserve our help. And we’re doing our best to give it to them, and give it to them quickly.
Chris Kenny: Indeed. Speaking of the great work that the Australian Defence Force personnel are doing, I thought it was terrible the way in the wake of the Brereton Reports, so many Afghan veterans and still serving officers were basically fingered as for war crimes, without getting any justice before any charges were laid, let alone any judicial process. Is it true that some of those who have been, were framed, have actually, 13 of them, have been told there is insufficient evidence, that there will be no proceedings against them, and they’ve been involved in this subsequent rescue mission in Afghanistan?
Andrew Gee: Look, I’m not sure that it’s the case with those numbers, I haven’t got any visibility on that. But certainly the reports are that a number of them have been notified that there’s insufficient evidence to proceed. And, look, my message to any veteran or current serving member of the ADF is that if you need support out there with whatever has happened in Afghanistan, whether it’s the unfolding situation in Kabul or it’s from your time in Afghanistan or indeed any conflict at all, call Open Arms on 1800 011 046, or you can call Safe Zone Support, which is anonymous. And it was actually set up as an anonymous counselling service as we went into the whole Brereton Report. And that’s 1800 142 072.
Chris Kenny: Well, that’s good that you’ve got those services and recommendations available. But the point here is about justice and natural justice, and you represent those Defence Force personnel. Didn’t the —
Andrew Gee: Yep.
Chris Kenny: the commander of our ADF, and the Prime Minister, jumped the gun on natural justice by effectively apologising for war crimes before any war crimes had been proven?
Andrew Gee: Well, look, I think the point, Chris, is that the Office of the Special Investigator is still working through all of those issues, and we just have to wait until all of that concludes.
Chris Kenny: Precisely, but that’s precisely the point. He’s still working through those issues. Yet we’ve still have the head of our armed forces and the head of our government apologise for crimes.
Andrew Gee: Well, look, I think that the Defence Minister made it very clear that 99 per cent of those who served in Afghanistan served with distinction and honour and courage. And he made the point with the Meritorious Unit citations. He made that point very clearly. But, look, we still have this legal process in place. The investigations are still continuing. So I think we’ve just got to let that work through. There has been some foreshadowed legal action in the media today. So those issues will go before a judge. But I think we’ve just got to let the the investigator continue working through it and get that process closed. And then after that, we can make judgements about, you know, where we should be going with all of this. But I think I need to make sure that that process has concluded before we do all of that.
Chris Kenny: Thanks, Minister. I appreciate your time.
Andrew Gee: Thanks having [sic] on the show, Chris.
Chris Kenny: Andrew Gee, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans Affairs.
** End of transcript **
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