Australia has a moral imperative to protect our life-saving Afghan interpreters

03 June 2021

CANBERRA – 3 June, 2021

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the poor treatment of some of our veterans by DVA, and because one of the veterans that I served with was visiting Parliament House yesterday, I brought him into this very chamber.

His body has been permanently impacted by his service.

James Duthie, great bloke.

He has permanent hearing loss, back and lower limb damage through parachuting, jungle warfare, training, and mortars.

And as we speak, he’s still fighting with The Department of Veterans’ Affairs to get proper hearing aids, even though DVA accepts responsibility for his hearing loss through his service.

But James has also worked in various roles in Afghanistan to secure infrastructure and in community development roles with different NGOs.

Dangerous work in Afghanistan.

Southern Afghanistan was where he spent some of that time, where his life was saved by interpreters, as I believe mine was on a couple of occasions when I was working in southern Afghanistan.

So whether it’s in or out of uniform, there’s no doubt that those who have served in Afghanistan understand that the interpreters were so vital to the work that we were doing.

And many in my electorate feel the same.

We’ve seen the Australian Government close our embassy in Kabul Friday last week due to the deteriorating security situation.

And it is believed that coalition troops will be out as early as the end of next month.

So on behalf of my constituents – particularly those who either served in Afghanistan in uniform or worked in Afghanistan in a variety of roles, whether that be with the NGO sector protecting infrastructure or people, or indeed with our foreign services – I want to know what assurances is the Australian Government going to give those interpreters that served Australians and Australia’s interests over these long 20 years?

And while the US and UK have announced the development of their plans to evacuate thousands who assisted their troops, I want to know if this Federal Government is going to do the same.

And I want to acknowledge the work of veterans in my electorate who have raised this issue and are working for veterans every day.

I also want to acknowledge the work of Afghan veteran Jason Scanes, who actually started an ex-service organization called Forsaken Fighters, with the express purpose of getting those interpreters and their immediate family members, locally engaged civilians, safely out of the country.

Now, DFAT and Defence know who work for Australia and who is who is at risk and how many are at risk.

We have the capacity and the capability to evacuate those individuals, and we have the moral imperative to do so.

So I want to see some action from the Federal Government in that regard.