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17 August 2021


SUBJECTS: Afghanistan; war of words between states on COVID response.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Welcome back to the show. As Kabul descends into chaos and fear, US President Joe Biden has doubled down on his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Have a listen.

VIDEO PACKAGE: Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what has always been -preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.

STEFANOVIC: Let's discuss now with Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten in Melbourne and 4BC’s Scott Emerson in Brisbane. Good morning, guys. Bill, to you first of all, if it wasn't about nation building, what was the last 20 years about? I mean, you've been there. I mean, how did you feel hearing that? And how do you think diggers would have felt hearing that?

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Well, I think the scenes were heartbreaking. I think they would have been hard to watch, not the least for our diggers. We've had over 30,000 men and women of the ADF serve there. It's Australia's longest war. Their families put up with a lot with our diggers being away, I think it would have revived a lot of trauma. I can't help but think that maybe initially it was about taking al-Qaeda after and their friends in Afghanistan after 9/11. But the mission certainly morphed into nation building. Now we're going to see a nation dragged back where it's going to become the drug factory of the world. A lot of weapons have been left there now with the collapse, and women in Afghanistan, which I thought was one of the reasons why we were there to help, they're just going to be plunged back into the dark ages. This is dreadful.

STEFANOVIC: I get that withdrawing to was probably going to be the aim long term. And it's happened, it's happened quicker than they would have thought. But this is a terrible withdrawal. I mean, people are stuck. People the people are getting on planes. They're getting on planes’ wings, and they're falling off. I mean, this is so tragic. Scott, what do you think?

SCOTT EMERSON, 4BC: All look terrible scenes there, but also you must feel for our veterans here. You know, we sacrificed 41 personnel, men and women. Men over there in Afghanistan died in this 20 year conflict. Initially, it was all about dealing with al-Qaeda and what happened after 9/11. But in 2005, then-President George Bush clearly said to Australia and Australia joined up under John Howard, to expand it to this democracy role. Despite what Biden has said today, you must feel for Australians who have fought over there. But the scenes there are just terrible, terrible. 

STEFANOVIC: I thought it was incredibly disrespectful what Joe Biden said this morning for our diggers when they were there to do just that. To say they weren’t there to do it, I think is awful. And how do you expect our troops to go into any conflict in the future and then the aftermath of those conflicts, where it is all about building that nation back up again, with any sense that they're doing something wrong, Bill?

SHORTEN: Well, I think that - well, I went there in 2018, my second visit, and when I was in Kabul, the only way I could move around was in Chinook helicopters, which were armed. I had bodyguards. So, for the three Australian bases in Kabul, it was deemed not safe enough to go in by road, I had to go in helicopter, in the capital city. You know, certainly that started ringing alarm bells. I mean, were we succeeding? We couldn't stay there forever. Yeah, but it seems to me that we've got Afghan refugees in Australia, Hazara people from the minority. We need to reach out to them, and I think we have to commit not to send them back to Afghanistan. 


SHORTEN: Also, I raised in Parliament in 2018 with the current government, what about all the interpreters and the people who've worked with our troops? I think we have an obligation not to abandon them too. The government’s known that this problem was coming. I just don't think we can turn our back on the Hazaras who are here in Australia or even the interpreters who worked and kept our troops safe in Afghanistan. I think that’s the least we can do for our fallen diggers and everyone who served.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, let's turn back home now. You remember at the start of the pandemic, we were told we'd all be in this together in a new era of cooperation between the states, roll forward 18 months and they're now fighting like, I don't know, frogs in socks. This week we've had WA Premier Mark McGowan making a sport out of baiting New South Wales. And yesterday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had another go.

VIDEO PACKAGE: I don't want us to finish up like Sydney, where it's fundamentally got away from them. They're not re-opening any time soon. They're locked in until they get pretty much the whole place vaccinated. We have an option. We have an opportunity to do differently and to do better than that.

STEFANOVIC: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian fighting back.

VIDEO PACKAGE: We're not going to wipe this out. We're not going to have a situation where across Australia, whether it's in the quarantine system or elsewhere, that we're not going to have zero cases, I think. And can I just say, can I make this point? No, excuse me. Can I finish? Can we pretend that there will always be zero cases of Delta in Australia? I don't think that is a realistic proposition.

STEFANOVIC: Welcome to the new federation, Scott. What do you think?

EMERSON: All in this together, inside a boxing ring, biffing it out. That's what I think it is. Look, clearly the situation in New South Wales is shocking at the moment. And across other states here in Queensland, we're worried about what will happen if it gets up to here. I think we've been very lucky. So, I understand the concerns. But the public looking at the squabbling between Premiers and, AND the federal government and the state governments, they just want us to get on with it. They want the vaccinations to roll out. They want us to deal with this in a sensible, mature way rather than like children.

STEFANOVIC: There is a sense, let me tell you this - there is a sense in New South Wales, look, we've kind of stuffed it up, but you guys have to learn to live with it now. Get on with it. If you're in another state, you don't have to do that. You can get it back to zero. That's the problem. Bill, what do you think?

SHORTEN: Well, I know I'm mindful of what you said, let’s not have Premiers bagging Premiers, but I do wish that the New South Wales Premier had locked down quicker and harder. I do think that, that's unavoidable. I do think long term, we need a plan of hope, that the only way we're going to get out of lockdowns is by everyone getting vaccinated. So, we will have to learn to live with COVID. But in the meantime, I don't want to overwhelm our hospital system. So, if you like, I think Ms Berejiklian is not quite right. She should have locked down harder, earlier. Having said that, I don't think the other states should rub Sydneysiders nose in it. For me, it's not about Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Western Australia. It's about Australia. I think we need to unite. I think we need to accept that vaccination’s the way to get out of lockdowns. And the sooner we can get people vaccinated, we can get back to the new normal.

STEFANOVIC: All right. Let's see. We've now got a Police Commissioner who's armed in New South Wales with the very things he should have been armed with right from the start, eight weeks ago. Let's see how that happens. Victoria was able to get the numbers down from 700. Let's see what happens in a couple of weeks. Thank you, guys.