JULIE BISHOP Our team is desperate to reach the crash site. We have our experts in place, we’re ready to go. We were not able to reach the crash site today but we will try again tomorrow. We are working closely with all of the parties involved to ensure a safe passage and unless it is safe we will not move. So our operational teams are working around the clock to ensure that we can try again tomorrow and hopefully reach the crash site and it is heartbreaking because we have learned that there are likely to be a significant number of remains on the site and we are here for the purposes of retrieving the remains, so that we can bring our people home
Tomorrow we also hope that there will be an important milestone in that the deployment agreements between the Ukraine Government and Australia and the Netherlands will be debated as part of a resolution before the parliament. I have been meeting with representatives of government parties to urge upon them the necessity of this resolution to be passed and so I’m meeting with Yulia Tymoshenko, head of one of the coalition parties, to urge her to ensure her party votes for this. We need a simple majority; there are 450 seats in the Ukrainian parliament, we need 226 votes. The coalition has 237. So we are hoping to stress upon them all the importance of passing this resolution so that the Australian, Netherlands, Malaysian teams can be present here under appropriate conditions.
JOURNALIST Minister, at what stage do you simply say this isn’t working, we have to have a new approach, we have to come at it another way?<.
JULIE BISHOP All options are on the table. We are looking at every angle, every alternative, every option. We’re working closely with OSCE, the Organisation that has 50 monitors on the ground throughout eastern Ukraine. We’re working with Ukrainian military. We’re working with the separatists. We have to remember there is a full-scale war going on. There are heavy weapons, artillery, missiles. The sides, and there are a number of sides, are fighting each other. So while the political leadership can give us assurances about humanitarian corridors and ceasefires, when it actually gets down on the ground, they’re fighting each other. So we assess it each day, we tried a couple of reconnaissance trips today and thought that it was too dangerous. So we didn’t take the trip. But while there are remains, potentially of Australians, on that site, we will continue. We’re not going to be deterred until we reach the crash site. It may take time, but we will get there..
JOURNALIST Minister, what do you say about reports from the Ukrainian government’s security spokesperson that is claiming that the rebels have laid landmines on the road leading up to the crash site because surely that shows just what, you know, almost impossible for our officers to get there?.
JULIE BISHOP We know this is a full-scale war. There are heavy weapons in use now and there’s artillery and missiles. So we’re expecting a very dangerous situation. That’s why we’re being so cautious; we’re taking advice from all sides. The Ukrainian military, the many varied separatist groups and of course, the Russians. There are a number of parties involved in this fight. So we’re being exceedingly careful but there are, we believe, Australians, their remains, are still on that site and we’re determined to get onto the site, retrieve the remains and the belongings, and then get out of there..
JOURNALIST Minister, how hard are you having to work, dealing with the politicians here in the Ukraine, to convince them of passing this legislation tomorrow? Is there any concern that it may not pass?.
JULIE BISHOP I’m not taking any chances. I know how parliaments work, and this parliament is no different in the sense that it is a matter of arithmetic. We need 226 votes. There are 450 seats. The coalition parties amount for about 237 seats. So I’m not taking any chances and I’m visiting everyone I can to stress upon them the importance of passing this resolution, so that the Australians and the teams from the Netherlands and Malaysia can be here under appropriate terms and conditions..
JOURNALIST Minister, you spoke to the Red Cross today, what progress did you make in the recovery of the belongings of those killed in the crash?.
JULIE BISHOP Now this was a really distressing meeting because they spoke about the fact that they believe that there are significant remains on the site. And we believe that in the morgue in the eastern Ukraine area, there will be a room full of belongings that were taken from the crash site in the early days after the plane went down. So in Donetsk at the morgue, we understand that there is a significant amount of belongings there. I offered the Australian governments support. We will do whatever we can to get those belongings to the Netherlands so that they can be sent back to the families. We recognise the importance of personal effects at a time like this and when we learnt that there had been a collection in the days after the crash, and stored in Donetsk, then we were determined to get them out and that was the offer I made. So we hope that that will happen in the next few days but as you know there’s fighting around Donetsk. This is a very complex, fluid, ever-changing situation. We are not deterred. We’re determined to get onto that crash site and retrieve the bodies.
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