ABC Brisbane Drive 16/8/21

16 August 2021

SUBJECTS: Afghanistan; Labor’s economic policy focus.  




SUBJECTS: Afghanistan; Labor’s economic policy focus.  

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Let's go to Australian politics. Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasury Spokesperson for the ALP and the federal Member for Rankin. Jim Chalmers, did we repeat the same mistake in Afghanistan, like we did with Vietnam?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: A lot of people are drawing that conclusion because of those photos and that footage you just referred to, but that's really a matter for the historians and the analysts. I think the most important thing that we should be focused on right now is how do we make sure that we're not leaving people behind in Afghanistan. People who have helped us over the last two decades of our operations there. There's a lot of heartbreak today…


AUSTIN: … are we leaving people behind in Afghanistan that have been helping us for the last two decades?


CHALMERS: Yes, I think that there's an argument for that. I mean, the Government's just come out in the last hour or two while you've been on air and said that they will send a plane to try and get somewhere between a hundred and two hundred people out. We don't have any way of knowing whether that's sufficient yet. It's been clear for some time now, these events, as tragic as they are in some ways, have been predictable. You think about it, for months now we've known that there's going to be this withdrawal. We've known that embassy people are being pulled out. Other countries have done a better job of getting their own people out, and the people who help them out, before now. And it just seems to be a tragic error on behalf of our own Government to leave things so late that we're now in this really extreme crisis. I think there's a sense of heartbreak that people feel about the translators and others who helped us out. I think the Australian-Afghan community as well feels a certain sense of heartbreak. I think there's a sense of heartbreak particularly on behalf of women and girls in Afghanistan who risked going back to how things were before. I think of our veterans, I met a heap of them in 2015 when I visited Kabul and Kandahar and met and spoke to our people serving there, and I know that there'll be a lot of difficult moments for those veterans as well. It's a really heartbreaking time. I think that our focus should be on making sure that we get our people out and the people that helped us. I think our international reputation is on the line because we cannot be sending a signal to the world that if you give us a hand we won't be there to give you a hand in return. So that's what's at stake here.


AUSTIN: Your side of politics, Labor, has put out a statement under the name of Brendan O'Connor, the Shadow Minister for Defence, and Shayne Neumann, Shadow Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister, saying “while other countries have been evacuating their Afghan supporters for weeks, the Morrison-Joyce Government has provided no clarity on if, when, and how they'll get hundreds of Afghans who helped Australia and their families to safety”.


CHALMERS: Unfortunately I think that's bang-on, Steve. When you think about it, they had a National Security Committee of Cabinet today that the Prime Minister foreshadowed on breakfast TV and we're getting some of those details through now. It's quite remarkable that they weren't thinking of this much earlier like other countries were. The point that Brendan and Shayne make in that release is we'd rather the Government got it right. This isn't a political point, but we had the ability to see some of this coming and we didn't act with enough urgency. That's why we're in this situation now. As I read it the Government can't even tell us when this flight will happen because the circumstances on the ground are so uncertain and so dangerous. We've all seen that footage from the airport, where people are literally climbing airbridges trying to get on a plane. It's a desperate, desperate situation. I'm not pretending that the Australian Government would make it any less desperate for everyone in that position, but at the very least we should have had the ability to think about what we might do for our own people and the people that helped them.


AUSTIN: Are we relying too much on what the United States tells us? Joe Biden was saying on the 8th of July just last month that there's no way that the Taliban would get control of Kabul, there's just no way. I'm going play that audio in the next hour for another guest, but are we relying too much on assurances from the United States rather than what our own people on the ground tell us?


CHALMERS: I'm not sure to be honest Steve, what the relative weight that our Government gives, and our intelligence people, and our military people, give to statements by leaders of other countries. No doubt President Biden will be questioned and accountable about those statements, but it's not really for me or for us to be critical of that, necessarily. There's bipartisan support for withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years. A lot of good was done there by our people, and it is devastating to see those gains unwound. And I think in time people will be judged for the positions that they took. We provided bipartisan support for getting out but once we knew that we were getting out we should have, as a country, had the capacity, as other countries have done, as Brendan and Shayne have said, to look after people on the way.


AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers the ALP Shadow Treasury Spokesperson and Member for Rankin. We'll come back to this story a little bit later on this afternoon with other guests. Let's move on. Jim Chalmers, there was a bit of a profile piece on you in the Weekend Australian newspaper, written by Troy Bramston, the senior writer for the [Australian]. In the interview with you you said that Labor's policy agenda is all about middle Australia. You were sort of laying out where the ALP is heading after three election losses. So, how will we see that? How is federal Labor focusing on middle Australia?


CHALMERS: The point that I was making in that interview with Troy, was that Labor is successful when we're focused on the real concerns that people have in the suburbs and regional towns of this country. Whether it be stagnant wages, insecure work, difficult decisions people are making about returning to work given how expensive childcare is, these sorts of issues. Whatever you call it, whether it's middle Australia, or amongst working families, whatever you call it, I think that there's a whole swathe of Australia which has the right to feel a bit left out. They've had eight years of wage stagnation, increasingly expensive childcare and all the rest of it. We need to focus on their needs and concerns. And that piece that I did wasn't really a profile piece, it was more about our approach to the economy and how we're focused on those things.


AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, I appreciate your time. I'll let you go. Thanks very much.


CHALMERS: Thanks so much, Steve.