We have just witnessed another solemn and dignified ceremony to receive the last of the remains of those on board MH17 that have been removed from the site to date. I want to pay tribute to the Dutch Government led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte for holding four equally moving and dignified and precise ceremonies and paying such honour to those who were killed including the 38 Australians. The Australian Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove and I were at the first ceremony last Wednesday and we were at the last ceremony, so far, today, so that we could on behalf of the Australian people and the Australian Government pay respects to all those who were killed on that flight.
Yesterday Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans and I were in Kharkiv and that’s where the bodies are being prepared for transport to the Netherlands. There was a significant Australian contingent there playing a prominent role in what was a grim but necessary task. And as I talked to those Australians who were involved in that task I knew that we can now assure the Australian people that the remains of their loved ones are in the custody of people who care.
There is still a very long road ahead of us, a number of hurdles have arisen, but the Government is absolutely resolved to bring our people home.
Question: The Ukrainian Parliament are looking to hold an extraordinary session on Thursday so that they can do a whole lots of things including ratify the agreement that you’ve signed with your Ukrainian counterpart to authorise the policing mission - is Thursday soon enough, or are you hoping they can move on that Monday?
Minister Bishop: We want our experts in there as soon as possible, we want to be able to start retrieving the last of the remains as soon as possible and we want an investigation to commence as soon as possible. So the Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans and I will be travelling back to Ukraine tomorrow and hopefully meeting with the senior representatives of the Ukraine Government to urge them to ratify our respective documents on Tuesday. This is a significant request, to have a parliament recalled after it went into recession on Friday, but last week we were assured our documents would be ratified on Friday but domestic politics and internal matters intervened, so we are returning to ask if it’s possible to reconvene the parliament on Tuesday because every day we are not on the site it becomes more contaminated and just makes the job more difficult, and it’s another day that people aren’t getting their loved ones home. So we will make that trip tomorrow and hopefully we can achieve something that will expedite the process.
Questions: The Dutch have already sent 40 police over that are unarmed and I understand Australia has already sent 50 over this morning, when will he rest of the troops or the police go over?
Minister Bishop: Well unarmed police can go over at the invitation and consent of the Ukraine Government but in order to bring in arms, it’s in their constitution, you have to have parliamentary approval, and so we will await the parliament’s ratification of it, but in the meantime we can preposition and put our resources in place, outside Ukraine ready to move as soon as possible.
Question: What would you like to see happen to the people who did this?
Minister Bishop: Well first we have to get all of the remains off the site, that’s our overriding objective, and this is to bring our people home - to give them the respect that they deserve and give our families back in Australia the opportunity to lay them to rest. So that’s our overriding concern. The Dutch are of course leading an investigation into how the crash happened and that will hopefully turn up who is responsible, so they will need access to the site for some time and presumably they will then be able to give us the answers we are looking for.
Question: But when you get those answers, and it’s confirmed who did this, what would you like to see happen to the perpetrators of this crime?
Minister Bishop: Well we have to get the evidence together; we have a good deal of it already but we do need some evidence from the site, and hopefully in the negotiations by the OSCE with the separatists we can have access to the site and remove the necessary evidence so that it can help us put the jigsaw puzzle together of what happened on the 17th of July. Yes we can make a lot of assumptions, and we’ve got reasons for doing so, but this must be an open thorough, credible, impartial investigation and Australia doesn’t want to do anything to hinder an unfettered investigation that comes up with the answers. We want the answers. The Australian people and all of the people who were killed and their families deserve the answers.
Question: Minister, when you go forward, and you have the answers, what do you want to see happen? Do you want to see them go to jail, or do you want to see them bombed?
Minister Bishop: Let’s take this step at a time: we get the remains home; we investigate the site, that will mean taking objects off the site, and then we’ll leave it to the investigators. Let’s take this a day at a time, that’s all we can do – a day at a time. Today we have seen the last of the remains handed over to date, to be treated respectfully, with dignity and with honour. Now we need to go through that process of identification, and this is going to take a long time – this is going to take a long time – so that’s our focus. We will concern ourselves with the results of the investigation when that’s known.
Question: One of the Australian families has gone to the crash site and is there already, what concerns for families who want to go there?
Minister Bishop:The Dutch Government, and we agree with this, believe it would be very ill-advised for people to go to the site. This is still in the middle of a war zone. There are heavily armed separatists who are engaged in conflict with the Ukraine military, and the separatists are around the crash site. And also, it is meant to be a crash investigation site. Now we know it’s been contaminated and it’s been trampled upon, but we have to give the investigators every opportunity to find evidence in its place. And so, as much as the families want to go there, we would ask that they allow us to carry out the investigation and enable them to travel there when it’s safe. And also, there are 298 people who were killed, that’s many families and we want to be able to ensure that they get the opportunity when it’s safe for them to be there. There could be nothing more tragic than if something were to go wrong because they went on to the site too early.
Question: Could you explain the role of Eindhoven in the deployment of AFP officers and can you confirm how many left from here today and how many will be leaving in the coming days?
Minister Bishop:We have a number of police from Australia already pre-deployed in London; they’ve now come over here – there were 50, the Dutch had about 40 – but the base here will be used for logistics and planning, and as we are able to get into the site then we will be able to get equipment and people and resources in there. So this is a staged process, but that’s why it’s so important for us to get the legal authorisation that is required in Ukraine to enable us to go in there with some form of protection. This is a humanitarian mission. We are there overwhelmingly to collect remains and bodies and bring them home. So it’s a humanitarian mission, and we are always, always supported by the ADF in humanitarian work. We need them logistically, we can’t do something of this scale without them, but we want to ensure that they can come in according to the Ukraine constitution. This investigation must not be derailed because down the track somebody says it wasn’t properly authorised. So we’re crossing t’s dotting i’s and making sure that the legal framework is in place and the operational framework is in place.
Question: Have you seen reports that the Russian may not see that as legitimate in any case?
Minister Bishop: In all of our discussions, at the highest level – that is President Putin to Prime Minister Abbott – there has been a common understanding that we need to secure the site and we should be removing the remains and the evidence from the crash site as soon as possible. So we will hold President Putin to his word, he’s given those assurances to Prime Minister Abbott and we expect that to be the case.
Question: Could you just clarify, those 50 AFP officers that went in here today – they went in on the C17 – they’re all unarmed and they are all to go before the ratification?
Minister Bishop: I’m not going in to any details about operations, I’m not going to flag anything to people who might be out on the site but I do know that through the OSCE we have been negotiating with the separatists, they have on our behalf, so that we can have access to the site unarmed. We have had people on the site, with their consent – so this is all about getting the consent of the separatists: they hold this region, they hold this territory – so Ukraine Government has offered up a unilateral ceasefire, so there will be no firing on the Ukraine side. That gives us some confidence that we can get people on there but the necessary legal framework must be in place so that we can put much larger numbers of people on there, so we can do our job quickly, and leave. We don’t want to be here for a moment longer than we have to be here - we want to be able to do our job and I have every confidence that the Australian team and our Dutch partners will do it as thoroughly and professionally and expeditiously as possible.
Question: Minister how do you feel about the way the Dutch people paid their respects?
Minster Bishop: The Dutch people have been absolutely magnificent. We are united in our grief and again I say, we pay tribute to the people and to the Government for the way they have restored respect and dignity to what has been such a harrowing experience. When I was in Kharkiv yesterday it was very distressing to witness the scene, but we have experts, professionals, from a number of countries, led by the Dutch with Australians there and they were so caring and so respectful that I felt reassured that at last, as our people make their journey home, the Dutch people have restored some sense of respect and dignity and solemnity to this terrible situation.
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