JULIE BISHOP: Good morning. I have called this press conference to provide an update on what the Australian Government knows about this terrible tragedy involving Malaysian Airlines number 17.
I can confirm that 27 of the passengers on that flight were Australian nationals and we’ve been able to independently verify that from the manifest and from passports. The nationalities of all those on board is not yet known so the final number may be higher. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those on board.
I have just spoken with the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Frans Timmermans and we shared the anguish and pain of the loss of Australians and Dutch passengers on board that flight. Prime Minister Abbott will shortly speak to Prime Minister of the Netherlands Marc Reutter. I am also seeking to make contact with the Foreign Minister of Malaysia in relation to not only the Malaysian aircraft - it’s the second Malaysian aircraft lost in six months - but also because a number of Malaysian nationals were on board.
This is a terrible tragedy. We don’t know the cause, but there is speculation that the plane was shot down. If that is the case it is an unspeakable crime.
We are seeking a full independent international inquiry and investigation into the circumstances surrounding this crash in Eastern Ukraine. We are seeking access to the crash site - it is in rebel held territory in Eastern Ukraine - and we are seeking to send consular staff from Warsaw to the site and we’ll be seeking access and we need the authority to do that.
If anyone has any concerns for family or friends who are in the region, and they’ve not been able to make contact with them, I urge them to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 24-hour consular emergency centre hotline. If you are overseas the number will be +61 2 6261 3305. If you’re in Australia, the number is 1300 555 135. That’s a local call. As at 9am this morning we’d had about 170 calls to the Consular Emergency Centre.
The Australian Government National Security Committee will be meeting shortly to discuss this matter and our inter-departmental emergency taskforce will also be meeting shortly to discuss the details of what support we can provide. Of course the Australian Government will provide full consular support and as matters come to hand, as more information is made available, we will respond accordingly.
At this stage it is too early to speculate on the cause but we will do everything in our power to ensure that the cause of this crash is the subject of a detailed and full international independent inquiry.
JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop there are reports that Russian separatists have taken the black box. Do you urge Russia to hand it over to authorities?
JULIE BISHOP: Regardless of the circumstances we urge the separatists to cooperate with an investigation into this crash. If they have taken the black box that must be returned to authorities immediately. This incident underlines the urgent need to de-escalate the tensions and the situation in Eastern Ukraine.
JOURNALIST: Have you asked to meet with the Russian [inaudible] to Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: At this stage we are holding a National Security Committee meeting shortly and we’ll confirm the next steps thereafter. I expect we’ll be in a position to advise the media of our further action should that be necessary later in the morning.
JOURNALIST: Have you had any contact with the Ukrainian Embassy?
JULIE BISHOP: At this stage we have been in contact with the Dutch, we’re seeking to contact the Malaysians and our Embassy in Warsaw is seeking access to the site. We also have staff in The Hague in the Netherlands who are available for consular support and in our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur we’re also working on this matter. We will send whatever staff we need to the crash site as soon as we can get access.
JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop Tony Abbott said there was strong evidence the plane had been gunned down. What advice have you been given Ms Bishop?
JULIE BISHOP: There is very strong speculation that is the case but we can’t yet point the finger of blame until there’s been a full investigation. I understand that the United Nations Security Council will be convening to call for this full independent, international inquiry.
JOURNALIST: How come so many Australians were on board?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand, tragically, that this is a flight that was connecting to Australia. Amsterdam - Kuala Lumpur, Perth and that there were a number of Australians on that flight. I also understand that a number of people who were travelling to Melbourne for the 2014 AIDS Conference that commences this weekend were also on board.
JOURNALIST: Is there any indication of where the Australian passengers might have been from?
JULIE BISHOP: Not at this stage. We have passports, we have a manifest but we are working through that detail and obviously contacting family and friends as an immediate priority.
JOURNALIST: So you have started contacting families?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s what we’ll be doing as an immediate priority but our inter-departmental agency taskforce will be working through that as an immediate priority.
JOURNALIST: If it emerges that pro-Russian separatists were behind this if it does emerge that is a deliberate attack will Putin still be welcome in Australia for the G20 Summit in November?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s too early to say but we are taking this exceedingly seriously, with the utmost seriousness, and that’s why the National Security Committee of our Cabinet will be meeting shortly. That’s why we are contacting other leaders, other Foreign Ministers to discuss an appropriate international response.
JOURNALIST: What action can you take?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I don’t want to get into hypotheticals at this stage. There will be family and friends grieving in Australia. There will be people around the world grieving over the loss of their loved ones and our priority is to ensure that we can do everything we can to support Australian families who are affected by this tragedy.
JOURNALIST: Will you be reviewing the security arrangements at the G20 as a result of this?
JULIE BISHOP: These are all matters that we’ll be discussing at the National Security Committee today that’s being held very shortly.
JULIE BISHOP: We are obviously working with other authorities and we’ll be providing whatever information we can as it comes to hand, but at this stage we’re seeking to send consular staff to the crash site, we need to get access to it. I understand this will be challenging. It is in the rebel held area of Eastern Ukraine so we’re working our way through this, step by step to make sure that we can provide as much support as is humanly possible.
JOURNALIST: Has Mr Abbott spoken to the US President?
JULIE BISHOP: I spoke to the Prime Minister just a few moments ago. He is speaking to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, but I imagine that he will also be speaking to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and others who had nationals on board – Indonesia, Britain – and I expect that the Prime Minister will speak to those who are involved in this UN Security Council resolution, of course, Australia is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and I expect there to be a coordinated response from the Security Council for a full independent international inquiry and investigation into this.
JOURNALIST: On a slightly different issue, Israel has launched a ground invasion into Gaza. What’s your reaction to this?
JULIE BISHOP: It is a tragedy that it has come to this. The international community has been calling for a ceasefire. Egyptian President El Sisi had, we thought brokered a ceasefire to return to the November 2012 situation when there was a ceasefire.
Hamas have consistently and persistently refused to be part of a ceasefire. I condemn Hamas for refusing to put the interests of Palestinian people above their own political ideology and we call for a ceasefire immediately.
Civilians have been killed, people have been injured, it is a spiralling situation and a ceasefire seems to be the only solution to prevent the deaths, particularly of civilians.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that you’ll bring the people back home?
JULIE BISHOP: We will do everything possible to ensure that we can bring home those Australians who were aboard that tragic flight MH17.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you as well, there’s a report that an Australian is involved in a suicide bombing in Iraq. Do you have any information about that?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes I am aware of those reports and if this is correct this will be the second Australian that has been a suicide bomber in Iraq (/Syria). This underscores the Government’s deep concerns about Australians who are going overseas to fight in foreign wars. It is illegal, it is gravely dangerous and they are being radicalised and if this report is true, it is a tragedy that a young Australian could become a suicide bomber and kill others in Iraq.
That’s why we are taking this matter exceedingly seriously and we are doing all we can to prevent people going overseas as foreign fighters and not only putting themselves in danger but killing others. We will continue to work tirelessly to prevent Australians being radicalised and coming back home with their extremist ways and ideologies.
JOURNALIST: Will there be further updates [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP: I expect to keep the media informed, and as soon as we have information that I can pass on to you, we will keep the media informed. So I expect we’ll have another press conference later today.
JULIE BISHOP: Let’s take this one step at a time. First we need a full investigation to determine the cause of this tragedy and then we will be able to respond. Thank you, I will go to the National Security Committee meeting now.
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