Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel


August 17, 2021

DAMIEN LEE, HOST: It is the Breakky Club right here on your Tuesday morning. It's great to have you along. Well, because as we know, we do cover a lot of stories on the show, but this one is dire. And it's starting to get quite scary. The Taliban has declared the war is over in Afghanistan. And it comes after Afghanistan's president fled the country as Taliban fighters swarm through the gates of the city of Kabul. As someone who's been watching this very closely, he is our very own MP Shayne Neumann, and he joins us on the line. Good morning, Shayne.


LEE: Mate I tell you what, you know, we've got to make sure we get, you know, our Australian citizens and also those friendlies who have been supporting and assisting Australians out of that country quick smart. 

NEUMANN: A very difficult time for the Afghan community, Australia, our veterans, as well, our serving ADF personnel, many of whom have been working over there. 39,000 Australian men and women served in Afghanistan during the last 20 years. 41 people have sadly lost their lives. A difficult time for them, their mates and their families. And a difficult time for the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women and children at the hands of what is a brutal organisation who has in the past, and we anticipate in the future will try to impose an extreme fundamentalist interpretation of religion, which is out of kilter with what we think in the 21st century should be exercised by people.

LEE: I mean, it's been two decades that, you know, the Taliban has been out of power. And of course, that's largely due to the coalition forces, Australia included, who helped that country succeed from that tyranny. But unfortunately, with the Americans pulling out, it looks as though it's all falling back to pot again.

NEUMANN: The Taliban have taken over in a very short period of time obviously. The Afghan government wasn't able to build a nation. Its forces, 300,000 strong, collapsed in a matter of weeks. Whole provincial capitals were opened, including the capital itself Kabul, to the Taliban. So, we now look for an unprecedented and worrying situation to emerge. And we are very, very concerned about the crisis there. The denial of basic human rights, rights to education and liberty, particularly for women and children, sexual slavery and servitude, we've seen imposed by the Taliban in the past and the changes that we're witnessing and hearing on social media and through media outlets, as they impose their corrupted religious extremism upon the people of Afghanistan. And you know, I’ve got to say mate, there is no clarity, no consistency, no expedition from the Morrison Government. For the people for whom we have a moral obligation, Afghan interpreters and their families and those who worked with our people, both ADF and DFAT personnel over there, they put their interests aligned with our interests and the Morrison Government has failed them in terms of their strategy to get them out. We're now talking about a National Security Committee meeting to come up with some sort of crisis plan. Veterans’ communities, RSL communities, veteran families, Labor have been talking for weeks, if not months, about the Morrison Government’s failure. I made speeches and in Parliament about this. Now, I've talked about this, we've issued press releases about this, Labor. The Government seems to be incapable of saying if, how and when we'll get these people out of Afghanistan. And now they're scrambling. They just can't do anything right this government, mate. It’s just a disgrace. 

LEE: Well, if there's anything more important, we've got to get these people out. That is for sure. You see the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport with, you know, thousands of local residents, Afghanis, trying to get on to foreign planes to get away from the country that they call home. It's a terrible situation. And as you said, there would be so many people here in Australia, our vets, who have certainly got a fond place for the people of Afghanistan.

NEUMANN: Yes, that's right. I've spoken to Afghanistan veterans from our ADF in the last 24-48 hours. I've spoken to the parents who've lost their sons to suicide. I've spoken to Vietnam veterans, both locally here and nationally, who are also reliving their own experiences with the Fall of Saigon back in the mid ‘70s. So, it's a very difficult time for our veterans’ community. And I would say to them all to reach out to one another, to affirm one another, to love one another, to care for one another, call up a mate saying that they know they're doing it tough. There are services that are available through Mates4Mates, Soldier On, the Federally-funded Veterans’ Affairs counselling service Open Arms on 1800 011 046 they can call. But just call one another and keep in touch with one another as you deal with what you've gone through. Someone said to me today, a local Vietnam vet reliving what he experienced, and the feeling of being let down, disillusioned and desperate. So, I think we've got our Vietnam Veterans’ Day just a day or so away and we just need to think about our veterans and our ADF personnel, and give them all the support we can at this time. 

LEE: Let's reach out and utter those important words, are you okay? It starts a conversation and hopefully make someone feel a little bit better. Shayne, good to chat mate. And we hope things do improve over there in Afghanistan.

NEUMANN: Well, we hope the Government gets their act into gear and puts into place the evacuation plan, along with our allies, to get not just the Afghan interpreters and their families and staff out, who aligned their interests with ours, but also the Australian personnel and non-government organisations, United Nations etc. They're over there still and we've got to get them out.

LEE: Exactly. And the USA doing it. I mean, they've got convoys of helicopters landing at the US embassy to evacuate staff. It almost looks like it's, you know, turn back the hands of time to the Fall of Saigon, doesn't it? 

NEUMANN: It does. But also, this is the point I’ve made again and again, and I’ll say it again to you, Damien. Other countries have for weeks been evacuating their staff. They've been flying in people in planes to get them out. Why haven’t we? Why hasn't the Morrison Government put these things in place? It's not as if they haven't been warned. You know, veterans, both nationally and locally, you look at people like Heston Russell, Jason Scanes, Stuart McCarthy and others who've been calling on them to put something in place. But have they? I mean, really, honestly, they need to do better. And we're seeing this crisis unfold before our eyes. Let’s hope the Morrison Government can work with our allies to get these people out.

LEE: Shayne, good to talk mate and we'll do it again real soon. 

NEUMANN: Good to talk to you.

LEE: Blair MP Shayne Neumann joining us here on The Breakky Club. I'll tell you what, it is a terrible crisis that is happening and unfolding right before our eyes and let's hope we can get those people out.