SUBJECTS: Afghanistan; Scott Morrison showing no leadership.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s go live to the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles. And that is one of the tragedies, Richard Marles as we look at the fall of Kabul, that the rights of women, as Virginia put it there, unfortunately, tragically look set to slide back to where they were.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it’s heartbreaking what we’re seeing play out in Afghanistan today, and what we’ve seen play out over the last few days. And there are so many dimensions to this. But this is really one of the biggest, as Virginia was talking about then, the way in which the Taliban treated women in the late nineties, when they were last in power was absolutely appalling. I think Virginia said then rightly that women in Afghanistan, then were the worst treated of women anywhere in the world. It was an incredibly repressive regime in respect of women, in respect of violence against women, in respect of education of women. And, Virginia also made the point that Australia has played a significant role in terms of the aid that we’ve been providing over the last twenty years, and in improving the status of women in Afghanistan, and girls’ education as well, in places like Uruzgan province. So, I think the whole world looks at this with a sense of horror about what this now means for Afghanistan and this regime.
GILBERT: Was it all a waste?
MARLES: I can understand that that’s the question that obviously everyone is asking on this day. And I suppose the first point to make is, I’m really feeling for every veteran in this country, every veteran actually, but obviously the veterans who served in Afghanistan. And I think it’s really important that we are saying to them on this day that the service that they gave was courageous, it was selfless, it was an enormous sacrifice. And that service of that kind can never be given without making a difference. Their service stands in the annals now of Australian history. And it’s really important that we honour everything that they have done. I would like to believe that it will be more difficult for this regime going forward to be the harbor of terrorism in the way that it was in the late nineties, given all that’s occurred over the last 20 years. I would like to believe that that there will be a scrutiny on the Taliban now in respect of its human rights, and particularly in respect of women. That’s obviously what we need to be doing as an international community holding Afghanistan to account. But I think what I’d be saying to every veteran who served in Afghanistan today is that the service that they gave, honoured our nation, and we stand indebted to them.
GILBERT: But the risk there that you alluded to, in that answer is that this country, once again, becomes a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks abroad.
MARLES: Well, it’s really important that that doesn’t happen. I mean, yes, obviously, that is a risk. I mean, that’s why we went there in the first place. And it was exactly this regime that harboured Al Qaeda in the late nineties, leading up to September 11. It was this regime that helped – trained those who undertook the Bali bombings in 2002. It’s really important that we are holding this country to account now to make sure that that does not happen again. I would like to believe that it will be harder for them going forward to harbour terrorism in the way in which they did in the late nineties. But that’s now all a matter for the international community, including Australia to make sure that that doesn’t happen. But obviously, given what we’ve seen play out, that remains a risk, very serious risk.
GILBERT: Has enough been done to evacuate the many Afghan interpreters and others, their families, who assisted our forces during many years deployed there?
MARLES: The answer that question is no, not enough has been done over the years to get those who assisted Australian forces, particularly the interpreters and their families to a place of haven and here in Australia, and we’ve been very critical about that. I think right now, the government is undertaking action to try and get some of those people here, that is obviously welcome. It’s important that something is being done right now, and I do acknowledge that the government is acting on this day. But you know, we’ve known that there are those who helped Australia to whom we owed much- and who risked their lives and sacrificed their lives in assisting us in the service that we were providing. And we’ve known that for years. And more should have been done before now. But given where we are right now, it’s absolutely essential that we go the extra mile to assist those people, as this moment of imperil engulfs them.
GILBERT: How much damage has been done to the US standing internationally? Do you see the parallel with the fall of Saigon in the seventies?
MARLES: I think it is a different situation. But again, I understand the analogy that’s drawn. Look, I was anxious about the decision that America made to withdraw. I also obviously note that there are many critics out there, whenever America participates in various parts of the world, I think in some ways it highlights to me the significance of an American presence in the world. But it is really important that those countries- that there are countries that are willing to join the likes of America in providing support to countries when they ask for help in terms of maintaining their own sense of order within their own country. And that’s the reason why we had been in Afghanistan with America over a long period of time. And it’s hard not to feel the weight of that today, given what is playing out.
GILBERT: Richard Marles, we face a difficult few months of a very different nature in this – in this country, with our democracy and successful laws and so on. But very different approaches between, say, your home state, and that of New South Wales at the moment. Daniel Andrews, straight back in with a curfew, much tougher response. Gladys Berejiklian likes to say that this is the toughest lockdown that the nation has seen. But unfortunately, that’s just not right, as Mark McGowan pointed out, yesterday. We face a difficult couple of months ahead as a nation, don’t we?
MARLES: I think we face a really difficult few months, because it feels like it is going to be hard to get the country onto the same page when it comes to COVID. And ultimately, that’s the responsibility of the federal government. What we have not had here is federal leadership in the way in which this has been handled. And I also feel that there’s a lot that each state can learn from each other actually, about the way in which we deal with COVID. I think there were aspects of the way in which New South Wales did case tracing last year, which stood as an exemplar for the country. But there are obviously steps that were taken by Victoria last year, which were pretty significant in bringing a very large outbreak under control and a whole lot of lessons were learnt from that, which are now being employed to important effect in Victoria now, and really stand as a lesson for the rest of the country. And I think it’s important that those lessons are learnt. It’s actually the federal government that should be promulgating those lessons. It’s the federal government that should be making sure that there is a sense of national coherence about this and that we are all on the same page. But it is Scott Morrison who’s gone missing throughout this and because of that, the Federation I think, has been put under enormous stress and I think we’re going to see that going forward as New South Wales and Victoria are now on very different paths and as New South Wales really is, I think, from the rest of the country.
GILBERT: Richard Marles, appreciate your time, as always, thanks.
MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.