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Interview with Luke Ryan from ABC Mid-North Coast on 17 August 2021

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Luke Ryan from ABC Mid-North Coast on 17 August 2021.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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LUKE RYAN: Joining me is Member for Lyne, Dr David Gillespie. Good morning, Dr Gillespie.


LUKE RYAN: So, there's 130 Australians working in Afghanistan. What's being done to get them home?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, as you know, it is an unfolding tragedy, the collapse of Afghanistan Government, and so many people still caught in a very dire situation. But the Australian Government is part of a multi-national force with the British, the US and Canada to keep the base secure and evacuate our citizens and other people that have been one of the many Afghan people who've had visas granted to come here.

It is a tragedy when you look at the big picture. You know, so much effort by so many people to free Afghanistan from the Taliban and from terrorism, and it's ended up this way. And all the Defence people that I've spoken to are just disappointed that the whole Afghan Army that have been built up, 300,000 of them, even the President of the US was talking about it just before this interview. I heard it on the ABC from the mouth of the President himself. It's just really sad.

But Australia should hold their heads high. You know, we've had 39,000 people serve there. Unfortunately, 41 have lost their life and we'll never ever forget them or their service. And many others have brought back chronic injuries and mental health problems. And they deserve our full support. It must be very stressful for our veterans, seeing what has happened now.

LUKE RYAN: We heard from Sayed there with concerns for his family's welfare. What hope can we give him?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Look, it's very difficult to be specific about particular people. I'm concerned about many people like his family. But since 2013, we have repatriated over 1800 locally engaged Afghan employees. In the last couple of months, I think 400 have returned and there have been 570 visas granted.

But our force is part of that multi-national force, is, I can't give you the exact operational details for obvious reasons, but there is a concerted effort to get all those remaining Australian citizens and people that have been granted a visa who can get to Kabul, that's half the problem.

The collapse of the Afghan army has been so rapid, and the Government has also collapsed and the President left. It's getting in through Kabul and out to the airport, is a very challenging situation.

LUKE RYAN: Of the Afghan people who will be trying to, you know, get asylum, is priority being given to, say, government workers, as in, workers of the previous government, and also perhaps women?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Look, as I outlined, we have been active in this space for months. As I said, in the last couple of months, over 400 have returned. And that's part of a total of 1800 locally employed Afghan citizens who've served, you know, either the embassy or the armed forces. And we are trying to get those that who are stuck in this collapse out of danger and back home. But it's really difficult.

LUKE RYAN: You addressed it a little bit at the start, but, I mean, Australia completed its formal troop withdrawal from Afghanistan only a few months ago, ended in almost 20-year military commitment to the war-torn country.


LUKE RYAN: Was this power vacuum anticipated?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:  Look, I don't think anyone estimated the speed at which the Taliban would overrun. Look, I'm not in the Defence forces, but if you look at the cold, hard facts that the President just said in his speech, they trained up a 300,000 strong army and gave them an air force. Yet, the President left and many towns and army units just surrendered. And it is a real tragedy that so much effort has gone into free Afghanistan and set- set it up as a self-governing country.

And Australia should hold their heads high, because we did the right thing. We were called because the ANZUS treaty was invoked and we honour our treaties with our allies. We were part of a multi-national NATO mission to rid the country of Al Qaeda. And subsequently, 39,000 Australians have served over there over the 20 years. And the fatalities have been a tragedy for everyone, for their families, and the long-term injuries and scars will linger for many, many people who have served there. And that's why we want to support all our veterans. This must be a really difficult time for them all.

LUKE RYAN: With the Taliban seizing power, is this going to force countries like Australia to, I guess, consider them, you know, someone that they need to trade with, to acknowledge them as having power?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Look, the formal recognition, I think, China's recognised them and I understand Russia is talking about it. But look, the formal position will be decided by the Government but we haven't formally recognised them.

LUKE RYAN: Okay. Thank you so much for joining us.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Yep. Thanks very much. It is an evolving situation, and for those that do need help, there are all sorts of mental supports out there for our veterans.

LUKE RYAN: Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr Gillespie.


LUKE RYAN: That's Dr David Gillespie, the Member for Lyne, just giving us an idea of what the conversations are being had in the Federal Parliament.

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