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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: No More Exemptions for Security Officers with Covering Letters from our DFAT Outposts?

By Denis Bright  

Authorities at state and federal levels have been less than frank excusing the exemptions given to a young Afghan security guard to travel straight from Kabul to Sydney. There were probably transfers at international airport hubs unless our security staffer travelled at least part of the way on defence aircrafts authorised by the US Global Alliance through the local NATO Command in Afghanistan. That would make the exemption story even more intriguing for investigative reporters with the resources to assist in filling in the missing details.

Allied commercial aircraft routinely use Afghan airports for transfers to and from Afghanistan for allied government and military personnel. This cover might have been extended to our unnamed security staffer. This link covers the use of Croatia Airlines for a special flight to Afghanistan (Simple Flying, Croatia Airlines Sends A320 To Pick Up Army From Afghanistan, 28 March 2020).

There is little real secrecy about military transits to and from Afghanistan (everycrsreport.com, 25 September 2020). An inquiry into the movements of the Australian security staffer between Afghanistan and Sydney hardly needs to be censored on security grounds. Other countries do not see the need to censor their news services.

While the Morrison Government warns us about Chinese military penetration of the South China Sea, the encirclement of China and Russia by military ties through Central Asia between Georgia and Mongolia is always overlooked.

After last year’s AUSMIN Meeting at Kirribilli House the defence and foreign ministers of Australia and the US conferred on matters of mutual strategic issues. The US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper went on to sound the political waters in New Zealand and Mongolia. There was a brief stopover in South Korea to confer with allies on the sustainability of the welcome for US troops on the Korean Peninsula.

In Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), Mark Esper was gifted with a tiny horse by the Mongolian Government (Business Insider Australia 9 August 2019). This justified the use of a military aircraft on that sector of his return to the USA, possibly with the horse in the vast aircraft.

It seems that diplomacy with a Genghis Khan flavour is still the rage at the White House.

Wasn’t it Genghis Khan who advanced the spread of the Mongul Empire into China in the thirteenth century with the aid of dissidents within China itself from the MerkitsNaimansMongols, Keraites, TatarsUyghurs and other scattered smaller tribes.

Map Image from FutureLearn

What is odd about the Australian security staffer’s travel movements is the capacity of lame excuses to over-ride our public health lockdown protocols. There were indeed no extra precautions required from for his transfer from a COVID-19 hotspot in Afghanistan through Sydney Airport with an added domestic flight to the Sunshine Coast and then a road trip to Toowoomba.

In the interest of future public health problems associated with diplomatic movements, Australians should be aware of the flight paths used by our unnamed Australian security staffer on this occasion. The case is more intriguing if any of these flights were actually on military planes as there are no direct flight as between Afghanistan and Australia. Commercial carriers would have required a change of flights at one or more airport hubs on the route to Australia. Was the authorisation from our embassy in Kabul flash at every airport on route to Sydney?

It is to be hoped that inquiries into the spread of COVID-19 in Australia do not dismiss this case when ordinary Australians are being given on the spot fines for breaches of COVID lockdown directives and border infringements.

ABC News has tended to excuse the breach of lockdown protocols (5 August 2020):

Queensland authorities have revealed they gave permission for a man returning from overseas to catch a commercial flight back into the state, with police now finalising an investigation into the process.

The man in his 20s, had been working for the Australian Government in Afghanistan and returned to Queensland, via Sydney, last week, to quarantine at home.

The exemption to bypass hotel quarantine is allowed for diplomatic and consular officials, but the Queensland man was a security contractor.

A police investigation that was launched yesterday to investigate the validity of documents used by the man to re-enter the state has now been finalised with authorities saying he had done nothing wrong.

The ABC news coverage item fails to identify the name of the security officer or the rationale for his employment in Afghanistan. The letter of his authorisation for travel from Kabul to Sydney was possibly made in good faith from our embassy in Kabul. It was a clear mistake to extend this authorisation to domestic travel beyond Sydney Airport. Why was the Queensland government asked to offer a nod of approval in the interests of national consensus?

The 7.30 Report, Four Corners and The Guardian are well equipped to take up these issues. The media should be seeking details from the ministers responsible for border protection and foreign affairs.

Does the security officer’s employment brief with the Australian Government extend to security assignments within the Australian Afghan community? Is his non-quarantine justified by his possible Australian Intelligence links? Should the immigrant community in Toowoomba be concerned by his presence in Toowoomba with its large refugee population?

Awareness of Kabul and regional centres in Afghanistan at hot-spots for COVID-19 is no classified secret.

Even the most politically loyal staff member at key ministerial officers in Canberra or at least the DFAT staff at the Kabul embassy should have been aware of the threat from COVID-19 on our security personnel across Afghanistan. Their local operations are probably always cleared by the NATO Command which controls security operations by the US Global Alliance in Afghanistan. Australia is a part of this strategic network as an active associate member of NATO since 2010 (Parliament of Australia Authorised by Nina Markovis of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Security Section 17 December 2010):

The new Strategic Concept calls for the deepening of cooperation between NATO and its partners, including Australia. This includes collaboration on strategic, political and burden-sharing activities.

According to Benjamin Schreer from the Australian National University, the Lisbon Summit delivered two major outcomes for Australia:

NATO members agreed on a phased transition of security responsibilities to Afghan Security Forces by 2014—a development which will prominently feature in Australian policy planning, and the Strategic Concept as ‘NATO’s premier conceptual guideline defining its major goals, ends and means’ opens up new possibilities for collaboration between Australia and NATO, both in terms of closer security cooperation and the ability to provide a greater contribution to NATO-led operations.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited NATO Headquarters in October 2010 and met with the NATO Secretary-General to discuss the Afghanistan mission.

The NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan is Australia’s most comprehensive defence commitment overseas with about 1550 Australian military personnel deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Slipper (which also incorporates elements located in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa).

In 2009–10 Australia provided additional civilian personnel (from AusAID, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian Federal Police) to NATO’s civil-military stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan.

In November 2010 Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith attended the NATO Summit in Lisbon, where they held discussions with NATO members and senior partners (including non-NATO members) towards enhancing collaboration, particularly in crisis management and post conflict reconstruction.

An official statement by the Australian Government read, in part:

In particular, the Summit will be an opportunity for the international community to set out further detail on the objective of Afghan authorities assuming lead responsibility for security in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

During the Summit, Australia will highlight our strong commitment to mentoring and training the Afghan National Security Forces in Uruzgan Province to enable them to take on responsibility for security arrangements in the province over the next two to four years.

Perhaps the ministerial staffers and intelligence personnel need to ease up on news blockage strategies within Australia like this recent coverage from Aljazeera (6 August 2020). Ironically the headquarters of Al Jazeera is in the Doha, Qatar which is not noted for its media transparency.

This recent Al Jazeera coverage service warned of the dangers of COVID-19 in Afghanistan. As early as 3 May, the Afghan Health Ministry advised that one third of the residents of Kabul were carriers of COVID-19 antibodies. More recent estimates from a sample study of 9,000 in Kabul from blood tests claimed that almost half the population of Kabul carried these antibodies.

Contrast the laxity with the Australian security staffer to the plight of the Tamil family from Biloela who have lost their bid to stay in Australia.

Even the US Department of State’s magazine Foreign Policy (FP) has dared to take up the inconsistencies in Australia’s handling of refugee applications:

The antics of Sri Lankan intelligence services in Australia is of course an old story which was covered by The SMH on 13 January 2013):

PROTESTERS calling for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricket team’s tour of Australia say they are being stalked by intelligence ”operatives” who are gathering information about them for the Sri Lankan government.

Hundreds of protesters who have staged events in Sydney and Melbourne in the past two weeks to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses in the country are complaining they have been filmed and photographed in an intimidating way by men they believe have links to Sri Lankan officials in Australia.

A Melbourne doctor who attended a protest at the Boxing Day Test said three men had been overtly photographing them in a tactic that was creating a climate of fear in the Australian community.

The organiser of the Boycott Sri Lanka Cricket Campaign, Trevor Grant, has written to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, complaining about the conduct of the men and saying he had been a victim of the stalking at the SCG.

Mr Grant, a former sports journalist, said the Tamil groups who had seen the men were convinced they were connected with the Sri Lankan government. ”They say they have done this before, using the photographs and film for identification, in order to harass relatives back in Sri Lanka,” he said.

”We have photographs of these men and I can send them to you in order to identify them through the Sri Lankan embassy. We believe we know the identity of one man.”

But when Fairfax Media approached the Sri Lankan consul-general in Sydney, Bandula Jayasekara, last week to try to identify the man and inquire about the alleged intimidation, he refused to answer whether the man was known to consular officials.

Mr Jayasekara did say in an email that the protesters at the Test matches in Sydney and Melbourne were some misguided Australians.

”I am told that the protesters wore separatist T-shirts.”

Australian governments on both sides of the political divide have usually been deaf to the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka with a bias towards the Rajapaksa Family Dynasty which has been in power throughout the civil war with the Tamil community and now under the leadership of Gatabaya Rajapaksa after a brief period in Opposition (Straits Times 6 August 2020):

COLOMBO • Sri Lankans shrugged off fears of the coronavirus and streamed into polling centres yesterday to elect a new Parliament that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hopes will clear the way for him to boost his powers.

The tourism-dependent island nation of 21 million people has been struggling since deadly Islamist militant attacks on hotels and churches last year, followed by lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr Rajapaksa is seeking a two-thirds majority for his party in the 225-seat Parliament to enable constitutional reforms to make the presidency more powerful, so he can implement his economic and national security agenda….

… Mr Rajapaksa won the presidency last November vowing to restore relations with China, which had been strained by disputes over some Chinese investments.

He is hoping to install his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is a former president, as prime minister.

The brothers built their political careers as nationalist champions of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community.

They are best known for crushing ethnic minority Tamil separatist insurgents who battled for decades for a homeland in the island’s north and east.

The 26-year civil war ended in 2009 when the elder Rajapaksa was president amid allegations of torture and killings of civilians in the final stages of the conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rapport with most western governments during the Civil War Years while at the same time cultivating new trade and investment ties with China. Chinese support was offered to infrastructure for the Port of Hambantota including a new railway connection to this more isolated location in South East Sri Lanka (The New York Times 25 June 2018):

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka — Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes.

Yes, though feasibility studies said the port wouldn’t work. Yes, though other frequent lenders like India had refused. Yes, though Sri Lanka’s debt was ballooning rapidly under Mr. Rajapaksa.

Over years of construction and renegotiation with China Harbor Engineering Company, one of Beijing’s largest state-owned enterprises, the Hambantota Port Development Project distinguished itself mostly by failing, as predicted. With tens of thousands of ships passing by along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the port drew only 34 ships in 2012.

And then the port became China’s.

Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

Australians deserve a more transparent and independent foreign policy with an explanation of our selective support for dodgy quasi-dictatorships in its assessment of these complex issues.

And back to the presenting challenges posed by the transit of the unnamed security staff employee from Kabul.

It’s perhaps time to bring back that ANZAC tradition which our LNP ministers in Canberra claim to live by. Has it really migrated across the Tasman to the ministerial offices of Jacinda Ardern? Will it be taken up by the Shadow Ministry in Canberra as it strives for some pragmatic bi-partnership with the Morrison Government in challenging times.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.

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15 comments

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  1. James Robo

    How can young people be motivated to move from personal concerns to commitments to peaceful relations and support for the UN Charter which was developed to prevent more Hiroshimas?

  2. Tessa_M

    Why does President Trump glorify war when he has no record of military service?

  3. Aurora

    I agree – threats to our national sovereignty and our battles against COVID-19 should not be sidelined.

  4. Leila

    Denis: You have added a convincing if circumstantial case for discussion purposes on how the DFAT Embassy in Kabul may have been involved in the clearance offered to this unnamed security officer to arrive in Sydney. The add on about the flight to the Sunshine Coast and the road trip to Toowoomba should be a cause of concern as the Queensland Government accepted the exemption for the security officer on face value.. Our investigative journalistic networks should take up this issue and make the findings public. Clearly, the Queensland Government has been asked by unknown Canberra insiders to go soft on this breach of its COVID-lockdown regulations for the many in the interest of the few.

  5. Chris

    Very interesting article – often all the details aren’t easily available on these types of events which are quickly buried once a bigger story hits. Always important to ensure transparency in these matters.

  6. Paul

    Great of you to take up these strategic issues, Denis. COVID-19 is bad enough but the consequences of chasing Chinese naval vessels in the South China Sea and theIndia Ocean is a waste of our limited resources. These antics are a re-election strategy for Donald Trump. For a leader who was once quite athletic at college, Donald Trump .specialised in obtaining five draft deferments to avoid a tour of duty in Vietnam. Seems that higher corporate duties associated with money making and tax minimisation were more important to Donald Trump.

    Read the Donald Trump story and decide for yourself from this article in Business Insider Australia:
    https://www.businessinsider.com.au/donald-trump-avoided-the-military-draft-which-was-common-at-the-time-vietnam-war-2018-12?r=US&IR=T

  7. rubio@the coasr

    Thanks Denis. We need more sunshine on the Central Coast. But will the Mainstream Media take up your challenge to promote discussion on this important issue?

  8. Stella

    Denis, this was a great well-researched article. I enjoyed reading your insights on Australian foreign policy in the current CoVid era.

  9. Sam

    Preparation for war is a terrible agenda during these COVID-19 times.

  10. PaddyC

    ‘the government (Sri Lankan) …’handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99,000 years’…
    Reminds me of a similar deal the federal (lnp) government did with China on the Port of Darwin not that long ago. Similar circumstances perhaps?

  11. paul walter

    I nearly fell of my chair seeing Anastasia Palaszczuk, palpably angered at the cavalier arrogance of the authorities, Dutton’s and Porter’s friends who long ago lost the right to any trust from Australians.

    I do not BELIEVE their excuses, or from the SUFFOCATED, increasingly dishonest ABC, now in its death convulsions after Morrison government’s asphixiations of it.

    The murky machinations going on under or behind the Covid smokescreen ought to alarm even morons, let alone bright people.

  12. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks Peter for that extract from The Guardian.

    Despite the consensus-building rhetoric from sections of the federal LNP, commitment to the protection of a virtual One Party State is a strong agenda in conservative politics with the support of minor far-right parties through their directives on the allocation of preferences to the Coalition.

    In Queensland for example, Conservative parties won the Rosewood Polling Booth within the Blair electorate in 2019 through the use of populist rhetoric and and a disciplined allocation of prreferences. The LNP itself could offer additional fear mongering communications. and virtually tied with Labor of primary votes in a large local polling booth where 1,806 votes were recorded of which 125 or 6.92 per cent were informal.

    This situation was repeated at some many more disadvantged polling booths.

    Citizens journalism should be interactive and welcome more feedbck about progressive alternative strategies to this fear-mongering.

    The input of our AIM editorial team was also appreciated. It was noticed that the first map of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire did not open. I was able to supply a new map but all that takes the time of our supervising team.

    I had to work fast to finalise this article while it was still topical. It is dead in the mainstream media which excusese tthe antics of the unnamed security officer on face value.

    Other Australians are being given on the spot fines for lesser offences.

    The Queensland Government has correctly demanded an end to such lame excuses to justify breaches of quarantine.

  13. paul walter

    Boiling frogs.

    But they have been relentless in the imposition of long term plans developed at the think tanks of the wealthy, ostensibly concerning “efficiency” and ‘freedom”, but actually about corruption legitimated and re imposition of feudalism.

    It is pretty much a global process over the last generation or two, and dang me if it don’t seem some how coordinated.

    The efficiency is only equalled or surpassed by the incredible narrowness of thought and feeling, the utter myopia and lack of imagination, about what civilisation could actually be or mean.

    Do others share my feeling that there is a truly weird pathology at play in today’s world, sort of very WASP as they thought of the ruling elite mentality during Vietnam.

    There must be insanity in the efforts to block out sociology. Like,

    “Don’t tell me those spots are smallpox, it might upset me, besides it might inconvenience me on my trip to this weeks footy” denialism?

    Sorry, it only depresses a person, what can you say?

  14. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    This ABC News Feed dated 4 August 2020 contains the letter issues by the Regional Security Officer at our Kabul Embassy written on DFAT letterhead: I had not seen the DFAT letter when I submitted the story to AIM Network but perusal of the letter only re-enforces my concerns.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-04/coronavirus-queensland-ban-consular-quarantine-exemptions/12522068

    As there are no direct flights between Kabul and Sydney, the unnamed security officer was given some leeway in his choice of air routes. The add on flight to the Sunshine Coast and the road travel to Toowoomba (280 kms) seem to be quite inappropriate for anyone travelling from a COVID-19 hotspot like Kabul where traces of antibodies have been noted in half the population.

    Another interesting ABC News Feed: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-05/covid-positive-flying-security-guard-toowoomba-via-maroochydore/12521692

    Australians are indeed fortunate to have access to these ABC newsfeeds on their phones and computers.

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