JULIE BISHOP: Good afternoon. I have just been speaking to our Prime Minister who has been on the phone to a number of world leaders overnight and he will be speaking to the media later today in Australia about those calls.
I left Australia on Saturday evening and while in transit, in Tokyo, I took the opportunity to call a number of the families whose loved ones had been killed on Malaysian Airlines 17. They had indicated that they wanted to receive a call from the government and, on behalf of the Australian government, I made those calls.
Everything I’m doing in the United Sates is with their interests in mind. Their stories were heartbreaking. The loss of their loved ones is devastating to them and I’m in Washington first to receive briefings and discussions with the heads and advisers of the US intelligence and security agencies. And I have done that here, in the Ambassador’s residence, this afternoon. I’ve received those briefings and have had very detailed discussions.
Later this afternoon I will travel to New York where I will head Australia’s United Nations team so that we can obtain the strongest possible Resolution of the United Nations Security Council to secure the site of this air crash so that the bodies and remains of those killed on this flight can be identified, retrieved and repatriated back to Australia and also for the other countries that have had citizens killed on this flight. Secondly, the Resolution will seek to establish an independent, international investigation into the cause of this air crash.
The possibilities as to what caused this crash have narrowed. What we do know is that MH17 was brought down by a missile in Eastern Ukraine – in territory held by the Russian-backed rebels. The details should be the subject of an independent investigation. We have seen reports and we know that the crash site has been contaminated – that bodies have been taken from the site. We have seen evidence of looting, of the removal of evidence, of equipment, of parts of the aeroplane. That must stop immediately. There must be access to this site so that independent, impartial experts can begin the process of retrieving the bodies and also gathering the evidence for the investigation.
I say to the separatists and to the Russian government that backs them, that there are 298 bodies on that site – their families, their loved ones want them home now. This is not a time to use bodies as hostages or pawns in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. It is time for these bodies to be brought home and it’s time for an investigation into who is responsible for this atrocity to begin. Those responsible must be brought to justice but my immediate priority is to secure the international authorisation and backing for the securing of the site and the commencement of investigation.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how do think Russia will approach that in the Security Council and have you managed to speak to Sergey Lavrov yet?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe that the Prime Minister is seeking to speak to President Putin overnight. In fact I believe he has done so. So the Prime Minister will be able to give details of the Russian reaction. I would expect Russia to fully support any Resolution that seeks to secure the site and establish an independent investigation. Even on Russia’s version of the events, there should be and independent, impartial investigation as soon as possible. But as for the securing of the site – it is an utter outrage that that site has been contaminated, that bodies have been removed and that they’ve not been handed over to independent authorities. There are authorities in Kiev now who could receive those bodies and Australia and I’m sure the other countries who’ve been affected by this awful, appalling tragedy are demanding that the bodies be handed over to the independent experts now.
JOURNALIST: Some people say the UN is a bit of a toothless tiger these days, are you actually really going to be able to achieve anything there?
JULIE BISHOP: There are individual nations involved here. The Netherlands have had about 198 of their citizens killed, Malaysia about 44, Australia 28 plus permanent residents, about 36 or 37, Indonesia, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Philippines – all of these countries have had their citizens killed by a missile shooting down a commercial plane in commercial air space over Eastern Ukraine. These countries demand the return of those bodies. The United Nations is an opportunity for us to show the international outrage at what has occurred.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think that the response from some European countries has been strong enough – the outrage from some European countries has been strong enough?
JULIE BISHOP: Well certainly the outrage from the Netherlands has been overwhelming. The Netherlands has been devastated.
JOURNALIST: But other countries that won’t …
JULIE BISHOP: Well other countries can speak for themselves. Other countries can determine what has happened here but all countries must support the return of bodies to their loved ones from whichever country they came. The fact that it has now been three days and the site has not been secured by independent authorities is utterly appalling. I cannot imagine any other air crash in our history, most certainly in our recent history, where days later bodies are still lying in the field and the relevant parts of the aeroplane haven’t been retrieved for investigation.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are the early indications that Russia and China will support this Resolution that’s being put forward?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I have every expectation that every country on the United Nations Security Council will support such a Resolution. The detail of the Resolution is still to be determined but I would expect every country on the Security Council to give it their full support.
JOURNALIST: Minister, David Cameron has said that on the evidence that has been made public so far, that he has access to so far, the West must fundamentally change its approach to Russia. Do you agree with that? And, if so, what might that approach look like?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ll allow Prime Minister Cameron to speak based on the access to the evidence that he has had. What I can say is Australia is determined to ensure that the bodies of the Australians killed on that flight are brought home with as much dignity as possible so that the families can lay them to rest. These are the sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and parents of Australians. They want their loved ones home and that’s what I’m doing in the United States - every effort to bring those bodies home, and secondly, to ensure that the site is secured for a proper investigation to be carried out so that those who are responsible for this atrocity are held to account.
JOURNALIST: What kind of time line are we looking at? If things go to plan as you would hope, Resolution, Security Council, when could that happen, as early as tomorrow? Are we talking days?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ll be aiming for the earliest possible time for the Resolution. I’m meeting with counterpart colleagues, the Dutch Foreign Minister, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary this evening and we’ll be pushing for the earliest possible meeting of the Security Council and passing of a Resolution.
JULIE BISHOP: As early as possible. If it’s tomorrow morning that would be appropriate in my mind - as early as possible.
JOURNALIST: Minister, today we had fresh reports from the Secretary of State of bodies being taken by drunken separatists. Is there any new information from your briefings about where they could be possibly held at the moment?
JULIE BISHOP: I did have a detailed discussion with the heads of the intelligence agencies about what has taken place on the site and that does include the removal of bodies. That’s why I’m calling on the separatists and the Russian government who has influence over these separatists to release those bodies to the independent authorities who are located in Kiev. They just need access to the site and I understand they are being prevented from accessing the site by the separatists who are in control of that part Eastern Ukraine to release the bodies as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Which agencies have you met with today?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve met with the heads of the US intelligence agencies and their advisers – a number of them.
JOURNALIST: Can you list them?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t that it’s necessary for me to go into details. The fact is I’ve met with the heads of the intelligence agencies and their advisers so that I have a complete picture. And we will continue to remain in contact with them. They have of course shared the intelligence that they have gathered and that’s why I can say with confidence that the possibilities as to how this airline was brought down and how these people were murdered has now narrowed to a missile fired from Eastern Ukraine. There is of course other information and that should be the subject of an independent investigation.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on the ground in New York at the UN – what will you personally be doing to pursue this Resolution and how influential can Australia actually be?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia has a great deal at stake here – 37 Australians - 28 citizens and a number of permanent residents of Australia, were on that flight. They have been murdered and the Australian government will not rest until we are able to bring the bodies home to the Australian families who are waiting for them. And we will not rest until an independent investigation is established that is impartial and thorough and competent and able to determine who is responsible for this so that they can be brought to justice.
I can’t overstate how determined the Australian government is to support the families and, as I talk to you now, I’m thinking of the conversations that I had with those family members. They want their loved ones home now – we owe it to them. We owe it to every family who had people on that flight across the world to bring the bodies home with dignity, with respect, so that they can be laid to rest.
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