Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (13:40): [by video link] I rise to join with so many Australians to express my deep distress and heartbreak over the situation in Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, Australia has been a steadfast contributor to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Australia joined with the United States, NATO and the international community in Afghanistan in 2001 to help find Osama Bin Laden and those responsible for the attacks on 11 September and that was achieved. I acknowledge the more than 40,000 Australian Defence Force personnel and civilians who served in Afghanistan. We honour the 41 soldiers who died and the many Australians wounded in attacks and, of course, we also share with all Afghanistan veterans in what they are enduring at the moment.
The Taliban must cease all violence against civilians and adhere to international humanitarian law. The government’s top priority is the safe and orderly departure of Australian citizens and visa holders. Since 18 August we have facilitated the evacuation of approximately 554 people from Kabul and, I’m pleased to say, two of those people were Maria and her 11-year-old daughter, Hareer. They are Australian citizens from Melbourne. I became involved in their case when Maria’s husband contacted me late one evening last week. They travelled to Kabul to visit their sick mother and grandmother. They became embroiled in the turmoil very quickly, and their commercial flights were cancelled. Soon after contacting me, they received a message from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They headed to airport but couldn’t get to the tarmac because of the chaos and gunshots. I am pleased to say that, on their second attempt, with the help of wonderful Australian soldiers, they made it to the plane and they are now in Perth quarantining. I want to thank our ADF personnel most sincerely for everything they are doing.