The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Steve Price: Well, the real world is hassling us at the moment with what’s happening with things in Afghanistan. We’ve got such a tie there. Our troops were there. Our family members, our brothers and sisters, in Afghanistan. Minister Andrew Gee is just calling through. The hotline is going mad. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel — I think this is him. Hello?
Andrew Gee: Pricey.
Steve Price: Yes, it is.
Andrew Gee: Andrew.
Steve Price: Andrew, Andrew Gee, our Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel. Now, Andrew, some of your defence personnel are going into harm’s way, mate.
Andrew Gee: Yep, and we’re with them. We’re supporting them. And we always have been and we always will be. Our country is right behind them, and we’re very focused on the mission there at the moment, which is the humanitarian mission to get Australians out, to get our mates out. But we’re very well aware that we’ve got local people there in harm’s way, and we’re supporting our veterans and our current ADF members all the way.
Steve Price: Can you tell us where we are right now on this Tuesday morning with deployment? We had a lot of troops head off yesterday. We’ve got our mates leaving today. What’s the story?
Andrew Gee: Well, it’s a major operation. And so what’s happening over there at the moment is that the United States is in the process of securing the airport at Kabul. Commercial flights in and out have stopped, and I think that’s because there’s just so much military traffic going in and out that they can’t — they don’t have room for commercial flights. But there’s a major operation going on there. I can’t give you the details —
Steve Price: No, I understand that. How did we get to this, Minister? How did we get to this?
Andrew Gee: Well —
Steve Price: Like, really? Hey.
Andrew Gee: It’s a tragedy. And unfortunately, you know, we’ve given Afghanistan every chance that we could as a country. We’ve gone there and we have fought for freedom. So our men and women who have served, the tens of thousands, were there fighting for freedom, and freedom is always worth defending. And Australia has always stood up to defend and fight for freedom. And if you look at the history of our country, that’s what Australians do. We stand up and we are counted. And you look at World War II, it was the Aussies who stopped Rommel at Tobruk. We stopped the Japanese at Milne Bay. At Kapyong we stopped the collapse of South Korea during the Korean War. That’s what we’ve always done. And freedom is worth fighting for, and our country is very proud of all that we have achieved there — our current ADF personnel who are going back in there now, but also our veterans.
And I just want our veterans to know that there is support out there for them. I’ve asked the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to contact all of the family members who lost loved ones in Afghanistan during the fighting. I’ve also asked them to reach out to any veteran that they think may be vulnerable and distressed by the tragedy which is unfolding there at the moment. The tragedy that is unfolding, Pricey, does not diminish the contribution of Australian troops in the fight against terror and the fight for freedom. And freedom means something, and it is worth something. And it’s what separates our country from others. And if we hadn’t fought for freedom through the years, the Nazis would still be in control of Europe, for example, and many countries would be living under dictatorship and tyranny. So we fight for freedom, and we are very proud of the men and women who served our nation and who went to fight in our name. And we will never, ever forget that service and sacrifice, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And I just want —
Steve Price: Yeah, no, there’s going to be families pretty upset about this — the 41 lost, mate.
Andrew Gee: Yeah, there are. And it’s very — it is very distressing. And I understand that. Our country understands that. And we have given Afghanistan every chance to succeed. I don’t think you could ask more of Australia. We’re a pretty small country in the greater scheme of things, but we have made a mighty contribution there. And, yes, we want to make sure that for all of those — the families of veterans and ADF personnel — and there is, there’s a lot of hurt out there.
There’s a lot of pain out there. And I want them to know that we are there for them and that those services are there. And we’re not walking away from our veterans and we’re not walking away from our people and our mates in Afghanistan. And this is a huge operation which is going on. We’re a part of it, but the US operation and other countries, what they’re doing, is much larger. And, you know, again, our local men and women are stepping up to go into harm’s way, to make Australia proud again. And that mission is a dangerous one, but if it succeeds it’s going to save a lot of lives.
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