Small threats, from a small man, announcing a small number of evacuations
Today is Vietnam Veterans’ Day, as Scott Morrison noted near the outset of this afternoon’s Afghanistan/vaccination hybrid update. He brought this up to praise the military and show his unrivalled deference to the veteran community, whose calls for action he has spent months ignoring. But if anyone hoped the occasion might have inspired the PM to look to the example of Malcolm Fraser, the Liberal prime minister who opened the door to tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees when that war ended, as writer Bertin Huynh has so eloquently called for Morrison to do, they were sorely disappointed. Morrison was announcing the successful completion of the first military evacuation flight, amid reports an RAAF plane had flown in and out of Afghanistan overnight. But the number of people rescued was just 26 – hardly a full plane, and an abysmal effort when compared to the 640 flown out by a US cargo plane that carried more than five times its passenger limit to safety. What’s more, the RAAF plane carried only Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with visas, and one foreign official. It appears that while Australians were contacted by the government and told to prepare to leave last night, many Afghans waiting to be evacuated were not notified at all. Having announced that paltry effort, Morrison turned to other small matters: his desire to warn Afghans – people so desperate that they are hanging off the sides of planes and falling to their deaths – against trying to make it here through unofficial means, and to extinguish any hope of permanent resettlement for those who try. As advocates call for his government to do more, Morrison assured Australians that he would not be following the lead of Canada, which has pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghans, with Australia to resettle only 3000, out of its existing humanitarian intake, all while stoking fears of people smugglers and boat arrivals. On what could have been an auspicious day for Morrison to step forward and be a leader, all he had to show was a small effort, and increasingly small politics.
Morrison promised that today’s evacuation flight was just the first of many (“subject to weather”), noting the difficulty of reaching people now that the country has been plunged into chaos. But he also made clear that, as with our humanitarian intake, the most important factor was not doing the right thing, but saving the right people, in an “orderly fashion”, making clear there would be no generous humanitarian loads like that seen on the US cargo plane. “We need to be very clear who is getting on our planes, who is going to our base and going to come here and live in Australia,” he said. Throughout questions, Morrison insisted that Australia would try to help as many people as it could, as safely and quickly as possible, though clearly this didn’t extend to filling a plane to airlift some of the other increasingly desperate people in Kabul. Vetting people, he said, wasn’t “simple”, claiming the reason it was taking so long to ascertain who deserved our help was that it was complicated to figure out what had happened to them over the past five years (as if his government hadn’t had years to undertake this process). Morrison also talked up security risks. “We don’t know what they’ve been doing in that intervening period in what has been a very unstable situation,” he said. “So it isn’t just a matter of people coming along and presenting a pay slip from the Australian government saying ‘I used to work for you.’”
But it was in using the press conference to turn to his anti-asylum seeker rhetoric that the PM showed how truly small he could be. As advocates call for Australia to increase its humanitarian intake, not just for those who helped us only to be abandoned, but for all those seeking refuge from the Taliban, Morrison returned to his standard messaging on immigration, threatening both would-be refugees and people smugglers, while confirming Australia would not be massively expanding its measly humanitarian intake – with a faint dog whistle to top it all off. “We will only be resettling people through our official humanitarian program going through official channels,” he warned those currently throwing themselves at planes. “We will not be offering a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.” He also confirmed that Afghans already here on temporary protection visas, who his government yesterday promised would not be sent back to their home country “at this stage”, would not be offered permanent residency, leaving these stateless people in a permanent state of limbo. Morrison claimed, in a line meant purely for his own citizens, that this was about protecting people from people smugglers. “I will not give you a product to sell and take advantage of people’s misery,” he warned. The idea of depriving them of their “product” by increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake to a level similar to Canada’s, thus allowing Afghans to enter Australia safely and legally, clearly did not cross his mind, with the PM continuing to insist that “Australia is not going into that territory”.
Morrison was once again keen to use the press conference to try out some tone-deaf, faux-inspirational lines about the vaccine rollout: “lifting up our hearts” with a “ray of hope” (never mind that most Australians continue to suffer through lockdowns). His references to Vietnam could have heralded some true leadership, if he had chosen to look to his Liberal predecessor. Unfortunately for the people of Afghanistan, Morrison never misses an opportunity to show how lacking in courage he is.
As women in Afghanistan burn their degrees and ID cards, fearing for their lives and freedoms, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson tweets nonsensically about the time she wore a burqa in the Senate.
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Today is Vietnam Veterans’ Day, as Scott Morrison noted near the outset of this afternoon’s Afghanistan/vaccination hybrid update. He brought this up to praise the military and show his unrivalled deference to the veteran community, whose calls for action he has spent months ignoring. But if anyone hoped the occasion might have inspired the PM to look to the example of Malcolm Fraser, the Liberal prime minister who opened the door to tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees when that war ended, as writer Bertin Huynh has so eloquently called for Morrison to do, they were sorely disappointed. Morrison was announcing the successful completion of the first military evacuation flight, amid reports an RAAF plane...
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