Too little, too late: Morrison’s Afghanistan failures

Aug 20, 2021

‘Too little, too late’ is one of the Morrison Government’s defining characteristics.

From an abject lack of preparation for Australia’s worst bushfire season despite repeated warnings; failure to build dedicated quarantine facilities recommended by Morrison’s appointed adviser Jane Halton; being stingy in securing a diverse range of vaccines when other countries were doing so; and dragging its feet on responding to climate change and the biggest transformation in energy and transport in 100 years; the Morrison Government is perpetually caught flat footed on every major policy challenge.

Afghanistan is just the latest example of Morrison doing too little, too late.

Earlier this week, Morrison said “I want to talk openly to veterans that despite our best efforts, I know that support won’t reach all that it should…On the ground events have overtaken many efforts. We wish it were different.”

Yes it is true that now the Taliban is in power in Afghanistan, identity and security checks are more difficult.

But it needn’t have been that way!

If Morrison and Dutton had responded promptly to the ongoing pleading of Australian war veterans to help Afghan interpreters who worked for Australia, pleading that was starkly put to Morrison in a question without notice from Bill Shorten in 2018, things could have been very different.

There is absolutely no reason all the Afghan interpreters who helped Australian troops could not have had their Australian visas processed years ago with some remaining behind to continue to help Australian troops until the full withdrawal.

That Morrison and Dutton did not follow that path is just another example of the Morrison Government’s ‘too little, too late’ approach.

As is his standard practice, Dutton is now casting aspersions on the interpreters themselves saying that some of the former interpreters had shifted their allegiance to the Taliban or Al Queda.

He has done so without offering any evidence.

Given Australia now has few if any Australian Government officials on the ground in Afghanistan, Dutton would know there is no way to verify his allegation one way or the other.

Former Australian Army captain Jason Scanes, a long standing campaigner for Afghan nationals who served alongside Australian troops, said he was “disgusted” that Dutton would be “attacking and besmirching the good name of those interpreters”.

Extraordinarily, Dutton accuses advocates such as Scanes of being ‘lounge chair experts’.

This sort of fear mongering is of course par for the course for Dutton – no one would forget Dutton telling us that Melbournians were fearful of going out at night because of African gangs. Once again, without a shred of evidence.

Indeed, Dutton has no difficulties telling outright lies as he did at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic asserting that his Department ‘has no role in clearing people on health grounds’. and going as far as to suggest his Department does not employ any doctors.

The fact is every visa application to Australia is subject to health and character. The Migration Act has extensive powers in terms of protecting the community on public health grounds and directly employs a substantial number of doctors and indirectly makes use of an extensive network of doctors in Australia and overseas which is many thousands strong.

What More Can Australia Do?

In Afghanistan, there are currently a significant number of applicants for partner and child visas of Australian citizens and permanent residents.

This group has received relatively little attention in the media or by advocates. These visas would be comparatively easier to process than humanitarian visas as we already know much more about these applicants.

They should be given processing priority and assistance with uplift from Afghanistan although some level of creativity would be needed in how this is done.

Refugee advocates have proposed a range of additional measures the Morrison Government could take given an impending humanitarian disaster.

As with many major policy issues, the Morrison Government has chosen to do as little as possible announcing that it will use 3,000 of the existing 13,750 places in the 2021-22 Humanitarian Program for people at risk in Afghanistan or those fleeing Afghanistan.

This compares to a commitment to take 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan by both the UK and Canada.

In response to this comparison, Dutton said “let’s see whether people put their money where their mouth is”, revealing his view that other countries are as disingenuous as he is.

It is true that processing refugee and humanitarian cases out of Afghanistan will be difficult in the near term.

A bidding war on how many refugee places different countries will offer is at present largely academic as no one knows how these would actually be delivered.

But Australia’s international arrivals cap and lack of dedicated quarantine facilities will make even our 3,000 commitment additionally difficult to deliver.

In 2019-20, Australia’s Humanitarian Program was delivered at only 13,171 against an announced planning level of 18,750. While Immigration Minister Hawke has yet to announce the outcome for 2020-21, it is highly likely the outcome was significantly below the reduced planning level of 13,750.

Given that record, Morrison, Dutton and Hawke will know Australia is likely to fall well short of the 3,000 place commitment for refugees and humanitarian visa holders from Afghanistan in 2021-22.

The simplest and most sensible action the Morrison Government could take is to convert the Afghan refugees in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) into permanent visas and to urgently process the outstanding onshore asylum applications that have languished for around 10 years.

Not doing so is just gratuitous cruelty.

As if it is an act of incredible generosity, Minister Hawke has said Australia will not at this stage return any Afghans in Australia to Afghanistan.

This is just taking the Australian public for mugs.

Morrison and Hawke know very well it would be impossible to return anyone to Afghanistan at this time.

In fact, there is almost zero chance these people will ever be returned to Afghanistan. Morrison and Dutton know that.

To pretend as Morrison continues to do that denying TPV holders permanent residence is somehow ‘denying people smugglers a product to sell’ is pure sophistry while policy to turn back boats remains in place.

If Morrison and Dutton were really worried about denying unscrupulous people a visa product they can sell, they would not have sat by while offshore and onshore agents have run the biggest labour trafficking scam and abuse of the asylum  system in Australia’s history.

The Department of Home Affairs currently has over 30,000 asylum applications on hand at the primary stage and over 60,000 that have been refused at the primary stage but have not departed Australia.

This level of abuse is unprecedented in Australia’s history.

Yet Morrison and Dutton do nothing about this even though Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called for an amnesty for the unsuccessful asylum seekers – that would be by far the biggest amnesty in Australia’s history if it were to proceed.

But I don’t want to suggest that the Morrison Government does not have the skills to plan ahead.

Looking at how it planned pork barrelling taxpayer money at an industrial scale prior to the last election, it is clear they have those skills, including using colour coded spreadsheets.

Morrison no doubt has similar plans in place for the next election.

It’s just that the Morrison Government prefers not to use these skills to anticipate and address major public policy challenges.

 

 

 

 

 

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