The Politics    Monday, August 16, 2021

No comparison

By Rachel Withers

No comparison

Kabul airport. Image via Twitter

Afghanistan and Australia are worlds apart, despite some risible commentary

It has been an exceptionally bleak day for Australia and the world, as Kabul falls to the Taliban and Australian jurisdictions extend and tighten their already punishing lockdowns. Over the course of the day, which began with news of the fall of the Afghan capital, and the realisation that it was likely too late to save many of the people the Australian government had dithered on helping, we have seen Greater Darwin and Katherine enter a three-day snap lockdown; the ACT extend its lockdown by two weeks; Victoria extend Melbourne’s by two weeks and reintroduce the curfew, along with other harsh measures; and NSW record another “disturbingly high” record of 478 cases, and another eight deaths, including a teenager, as police crack down. While both situations are grim, there is no comparison – unless of course you are a Coalition MP trying to score political points. As news of the contentious Melbourne measures leaked, Victorian shadow attorney-general Edward O’Donohue tweeted that Melbourne was “follow[ing] Kabul in introducing a curfew”.

O’Donohue was perhaps inspired by Queensland LNP senator Matt Canavan, who used this morning’s devastating news to question whether the Taliban would be signing up to net zero – clearly embarrassing his party’s ex-leaders, who have distanced themselves – or maybe by Sky News commentator Alan Jones, who made his own comparisons between NSW and Myanmar this morning. With Afghans who assisted the Australian Defence Force likely now beyond our reach, despite plans for an evacuation mission announced by the prime minister on Sunday, the Kabul story does have a sickening Australian angle, though it’s not the one O’Donohue would like to compare to the Victorian government. The travesties are linked by a common thread: a complacent, careless, selfish federal government that is negligently slow to act, whether on vaccines or quarantine or helping those in need, and that so often only does so once it is too late.

O’Donohue and Canavan, elected members of Australian parliaments, have perhaps missed what is actually going on in their rush to make flippant remarks about the situation in Afghanistan, but the situation is dark – and only getting darker, with the Taliban having assumed control of the presidential palace. There have been chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, as locals attempt to force their way onto planes, with no place to run: police have abandoned their posts, and posters of women at beauty salons have been painted over to avoid retribution from the newly reinstated fundamentalist rulers. Things are especially terrifying for women and children, with Taliban directives in some areas demanding lists of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 for “marriage”, committing thousands of women to sexual slavery despite claims that the Taliban has changed its stance on women’s rights. While all of this is horrifying to watch, the greatest indictment for Australia, which joined the US in pulling out of Afghanistan, remains the abandonment of those Afghans who worked with its forces, who are now waiting for death with little hope of rescue, despite Scott Morrison’s belated attempt to send in planes “within days”. Calls for a military evacuation, as SBS’s Rashida Yosufzai notes, began months ago. But the Morrison government has delayed, while creating arbitrary rules leaving out contractors, and refusing the opportunity to repatriate Afghans on an American evacuation flight, Crikey recounts. This is the situation O’Donohue seeks to compare to Melbourne.

What is happening in Melbourne – which has previously suffered under the tightest lockdown restrictions in the nation and will now do so again – is highly concerning, with many at breaking point. Many believe that the 9pm–5am curfew, which Premier Daniel Andrews was quick to stress was recommended by the CHO, after many questions were asked about the last one, is about sending a strong message rather than about its actual utility, after a weekend of pub crawls, picnics and transmission-seeding engagement parties. But to compare it to the situation in Kabul is grotesque, or, in the words of Labor MP Andrew Giles, “sociopathic”. As is, one might say, the prime minister, appearing on various breakfast programs this morning to discuss how devastating and challenging the situation in Afghanistan is, talking up the numbers of those his government has already evacuated, after months of resisting pressure to help all those he owed a duty to, many of whom now face death.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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