18 August 2021

SUBJECTS: Return of Afghan allies; lockdowns 
HOLLY STEARNES, HOST: I wanted to start our conversation by talking about Australia, I guess, beginning its repatriation flights from Afghanistan. What did you make of Scott Morrison's comments today about this? 
STEPHEN JONES: I welcome the fact that the Government, albeit late to the game, has made a decision to bring more people out of Afghanistan and back to Australia. I mean our reputation’s on the line here. If we're going to ask our allies and our friends in the theatre of war to stick by us, the least we can do is show them that we've got their back when the tide turns. These are people who put their lives on the line. They’ve worked in our embassy. They’ve worked alongside our forces. They’ve been interpreters. They've been security personnel. They've provided vital in-country assistance to us. We've got to look after them. We know from past experience that the Taliban ain’t going to play by the rules of normal decency here and these peoples' lives are at risk. We've got to get them out of there.  
STEARNES : Absolutely. There have been concerns, people saying, rightly, that Australia isn't doing enough in regards to this. What are your thoughts on that? 
JONES: I don't think we are. I think we've left it far too late. It was clear, anybody who has been watching this over the years could see that this point was going to come at some point in time. That the whole strategy, which was based around building up the domestic forces capacity to negotiate with the Taliban, had an essential weakness on it and that that weakness has come to pass. The Taliban has overrun the country. A failure of intelligence, if not a failure of analysis, has left our allies in a very, very vulnerable situation. As I said, this won't be the last time Australian forces are deployed somewhere in the world, unfortunately. The whole world is going to be looking at the way that Australia deals with our allies, deals with those who have provided assistance with us. So, it's absolutely the right thing to do from a humanitarian point of view, look after those who helped us. But it's also from a national security point of view absolutely critical. So I thought Scott Morrison's announcement today was trying to do some double-messaging there. Frankly we don't need that. What we need for Australia to do is the right thing. I’ve got to say there's another group of people that we're going to do the right thing by as well and that's the group of Afghan people who are in Australia at the moment. They've been granted Asylum. There are literally tens of thousands of them, many of them if not most of them, on Temporary Protection Visas which means they cannot fully participate in Australian society and they have no chance of getting their wives, mostly their wives and their daughters, out of that horrible situation to join them in Australia. We are condemning those people to a horrible future. So we should be doing the right thing by them as well. Obligation to those people in Afghanistan who helped us. Obligation to those people here in Australia who we have already said, you're worthy of asylum, let's look after you and ensure that you can have that family reunions as well. 
STEARNES: Well Scott Morrison came out and made some pretty stern comments today in regards to his refugee policies, saying that he will not change them. Should Australia change its refugee policies? What are your thoughts? 
JONES: Scott Morrison is desperate to signal that today’s Scott Morrison is still the same guy that was the Immigration Minister. Frankly, less concerned about political posturing and more concerned about doing the right thing. We have a humanitarian obligation which is buttressed by a national security consideration to do the right thing by the people who are providing assistance over there. We've got a humanitarian obligation to look after the people we’ve already granted asylum to. Nobody's asking Scott Morrison to do a big switcheroo in his immigration policy here. We are saying to Scott Morrison, do the right thing. It's in our national security interest that we do the right thing. Surely, if you won't do it because of humanitarian considerations do it, because of national security considerations. The whole world is watching. 
STEARNES Stephen very powerful words there. Now, lastly, before we wrap things up, I wanted to speak about what's happening in Australia in regards to our covid situation. Obviously, Melbourne is still in lockdown. Sydney’s situation, though, is looking very, very bleak and very serious. What are your thoughts this week? 
JONES: Frankly, we are paying the price of moving too slow. We are paying the price of not having our vaccine strategy in place, 633 new cases in New South Wales today. It's going to push our weekly average above 500 for every day this week. The most frightening thing, as the Chief Health Officer in New South Wales said today, is every person who's got it is passing it on to more than one other person. If that trend continues then we're going to see numbers north of 600 for the next week. What is palpable is the frustration from everybody in New South Wales who’s locked down and is doing the right thing, but can see the current strategy is not working. So, what we need is a clear message from the Premier, from the New South Wales Government, about what it's going to take for us to get those numbers to go down again. Because everybody knows unless they start heading south then we are in a lockdown for a long, long period of time to come. Everybody also knows that the health solution is the economic solution. We've got small businesses throughout New South Wales are saying, we don't know if we can do another month of this. We don't know if we can be still doing what we are doing in October, November or December. So what's going to be the circuit breaker that changes things and guess those numbers moving south again? A lot of people are calling for harder measures. Tighter lockdowns, more of Melbourne and less of what we’re doing in Sydney. There's a lot of sense in that because we're faced with the situation where we keep doing what we are doing today and businesses and households in New South Wales are thinking well, we'll still be doing this at Christmas time. And that's not a future that anyone wants to contemplate.