ABC Afternoon Briefing – stranded Australians, SAS, Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Thursday, 26 November 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I’m joined from Sydney by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and in Adelaide by Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Amanda, let’s start with you in Adelaide, another case of COVID-19 has been diagnosed in South Australia. Now we are finding out more details that this pizza shop seems to be the centre of pretty much everything, it seems. There are a lot of connections you all have in Adelaide. What do you make of the way the State Government is managing this issue?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I think the health advice has been really important to us managing it and I think the State Government has been taking heed of that advice. I had expressed concerns about hotel quarantine and making sure that we had learnings from that. I certainly welcomed the Premier’s announcement yesterday about the changes to hotel quarantine, including ensuring that positive COVID cases were put into a hospital like setting and guarded by SAPOL police officers. We need to make sure we take the learnings of the problems in hotel quarantine. There have also been calls around having testing before people travel here to Australia, and a range of other suggestions put on the table. I think we need to explore all of those, but overall, I think the health advice has been followed and South Australians in particular have really heeded that advice. So I’d really like to thank all South Australians for doing that, but do we need to make sure that the mistakes in hotel quarantine – and I’m not laying blame anywhere – but they do need to be addressed moving forward.

KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman, the Federal Government made promises about getting scores of Australians home who want to be home by Christmas. 30,000 Australians could fly home this year, but clearly Labor has been critical that there hasn’t been enough effort made to get the Australians who want to come home to get home. Are you disappointed that there isn’t an acceleration of this issue?

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Yes, I am. It is an issue we have spoken about before because I do feel strongly about it, because it is unacceptable that many Australians are still stuck overseas that are desperately wanting to come home. But not just want to come home, in some cases are facing a range of issues from financial stress to health issues that really mean they do need to get home. And of course the Australian government is providing low-interest loans to people in financial need and we’re helping to subsidise the cost of the airfares. Fundamentally, this is an issue of the State caps remaining in place at the levels they are. We are only seeing Victoria come back online I think next month and that’s obviously a big segment of the jigsaw which is the hotel quarantine system. We’ve put online the facilities in the Northern Territory but really, the Commonwealth can’t act alone. We do need the States to be leading the way on this.

KARVELAS: Sure but the Commonwealth could do more, right? You think the Commonwealth could do more, don’t you?

ZIMMERMAN: I think what we have done in terms of providing flights and quarantine facilities in the Northern Territory, using all of our resources through DFAT and Human Services to be in contact with people. Also providing whatever support the States need and you have members of the ADF supporting the hotel quarantine facilities and health officials are able to do that. But the limitations the Commonwealth has is that we don’t have massive on the ground police force, we don’t have massive frontline health workers at our disposal, and these are the elements of hotel quarantine which are as important as the bricks and mortar in which someone’s sleeping for two weeks.

KARVELAS: I will give you write a reply on the point Amanda. Trent makes the point that States have those caps and it is hard to increase the numbers on Australians coming home if you have those caps on.

RISHWORTH: Firstly, the Prime Minister promised he would do more on this. This was a solemn promise made by the Prime Minister in September, and then he goes around blaming the States and Territories. There are Commonwealth assets you could use, there are Commonwealth facilities that you could use. Ultimately, there are a number of extra things that the Commonwealth could do. And, quite frankly, I think this Prime Minister comes up with many excuses about why he can’t keep his promises. He promised he would have Australians registered in mid-September home by Christmas, that is far from being able to be delivered. I think blaming the States and Territories when there are Commonwealth assets available is not good enough.

KARVELAS: Alright. I want to move onto a breaking story this afternoon and to get your response if I can, Trent Zimmerman first. At least 10 current members of the SAS implicated in the Afghanistan war crimes enquiry have now received termination notices from the Defence Department we’ve confirmed at the ABC. They are being basically asked to leave and they have got a couple of weeks to respond, is our understanding. What is your response to this news?

ZIMMERMAN: Firstly, I don’t have any more information on this than what I have heard on your program this afternoon, which is always a very reliable source. Therefore I am a little reluctant to comment on the actions the ADF might be taking, other than to say I have faith in their determination to listen and implement the response that is required to the Brereton report, and I’m happy to let them work through these issues. Because I do think they are treating it with the absolute seriousness that they should and must.

KARVELAS: What was your emotional reaction, if you like, when you saw this report?

ZIMMERMAN: A bit devastated, frankly, for Australia, for our reputation abroad, for those communities that were obviously impacted in Afghanistan, where people, innocent people lost their lives. There is nothing that can justify some of the actions we have heard about. It is, of course, always important to stress that it does seem that this was an incredibly small minority of the thousands of active forces we have had deployed overseas over the last two decades. But it only takes the actions of a few to undermine the extraordinary reputation that Australia’s defence personnel have, and that is part of the tragedy of this whole episode.

KARVELAS:10 SAS current serving members have been issued these termination notices. I’d love to hear from you as well, Amanda Rishworth, what do you make of the way the Australian Defence Force is handling this?

RISHWORTH: I can’t comment on the specific 10. But what I would say is they seem to be taking this very seriously, and as they should. I think this has been a very thorough investigation from what I can tell, and there are further investigations going on. Certainly I think that the Defence Force has taken this very seriously and should. I feel quite similarly to Trent, this has been a very sad episode and something that we need to take very seriously and need to reckon with. I would say though, I also feel for all those other serving personnel who have done work in Afghanistan, something they’ve been very proud to do and have done a lot of good there. They are being tarnished by these reports, and I would really like to say that we need to recognise the good work that was done, but also hold to account those that have really behaved very poorly in Australia’s name.

KARVELAS: Just on the other big story today, the Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has finally been freed. Trent, a lot of questions still on what Thailand got out of the deal and also on this hostage diplomacy that Iran seems to use which we have been part of. Are you concerned about those elements and should we get answers on what Thailand has received in exchange for this?

ZIMMERMAN: The great news is that Kylie is on her way home and that is the key outcome that we want to achieve. It was obviously intolerable and we disputed and rejected all the claims that Iran made against her. Foreign Affairs is a bit like making a sausage, sometimes it is not best to ask too closely what the ingredients are. I can’t comment both because I don’t have personal knowledge, but secondly, I think it would be inappropriate to comment on the processes that led to this, other than to say it has been a massive effort by our diplomats, our Foreign Minister, and our partners and allies around the world to secure this outcome.

KARVELAS: Amanda to you, of course it is fantastic that Kylie is coming home. I don’t think anyone would contest that but, of course, as Trent put it, I actually like to know what is in the sausage myself, but I am a journalist and that kind of process matters. Do we deserve to find out?

RISHWORTH: I can’t comment on what has actually happened. I know just what is in the news. I think as much transparency as we can in these situations is always useful, but obviously diplomatic channels need to be respected at the same time. It is a careful balance that we have got to make. In terms of hostage releases, that is something we do need to take advice from our security agencies and our diplomats on – I’m making this comment in general about prisoner swaps and those sort of things – we do need to take advice from our diplomats and our security agencies, and I think Labor on the whole will be guided by that and by that advice. I would say a big shout out to those diplomats that I know who have been working around the clock to secure Kylie’s release, it would have taken a lot of work and a great outcome.

KARVELAS: Absolutely a relief. One of the rare positive moments for 2020 we all had this morning, we felt 2020 gave a something good. Thanks to both of you.


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