KIERAN GILBERT More now on the anniversary of the MH17 tragedy. I spoke to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and began by asking her about this new footage that has emerged.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Kieran.
It is disgusting to watch that video footage. I can’t verify the authenticity of it but it is certainly consistent with all that we were told, the advice that we received 12 months ago that flight MH17 had been shot down by a missile in Eastern Ukraine and that the pro-Russian separatists were involved. This footage is very disturbing and coming as it does, exactly 12 months to the day, just adds to the inconsolable grief that the families and friends of the victims aboard that flight must be feeling today.
KIERAN GILBERT And obviously it is going to be a poignant day, a very difficult day, for those individuals, those families that you’ve had a fair bit to do with over the last 12 months Minister.
JULIE BISHOP Yes, I’ve kept in contact with a number of the families and our consular staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have continued to maintain contact with the families of those Australians aboard that flight. It will be, I’m sure, a very moving and very sombre day for the almost 200 family members who are coming to Canberra for this national memorial service. There will be a plaque unveiled by the Prime Minister with the names of the Australian residents and citizens and then there will be a service in the Great Hall as well where we pay our respects to those innocent passengers aboard that flight.
KIERAN GILBERT If we reflect now on that day 12 months ago when you found out it must have been a moment of just complete shock at this unspeakable horror.
JULIE BISHOP I’ll never forget the phone call in the middle of the night, the 18th of July in our time, but it was the 17th of July in Europe, and being told that a Malaysian Airline, which shocked me for a start, another Malaysian Airline flight, had been shot down over Eastern Ukraine and that all 298 passengers and crew on board were killed and that included a number of Australians.
I remember it like it was yesterday and the news got worse during the next day as we found that there were more Australians on board than we initially feared. But that’s why we were so determined to go to the United Nations and get international backing for a ceasefire of the conflict in Ukraine so that we could get access to the site, retrieve the bodies and remains and belongings of all those on board and then commence the investigation so that those responsible for this atrocity can be held to account.
That’s why we are calling on the UN Security Council again to support the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal so that the findings of the investigation that has been underway for almost 12 months can be sent to that tribunal and prosecutions can begin without delay.
KIERAN GILBERT Obviously that was a big focus of yours when Australia was at the table of the UN Security Council. Does this footage that has been attained by News Corp, it has been sent to the investigators, the News Corp footage - does that, in your view, affect anything or in terms of where the Dutch investigation, the Dutch-lead investigation was at. It was pretty clear who was responsible.
JULIE BISHOP I’m not aware of the status of this footage. I’m assuming that the Dutch Safety Board and the independent investigation has a copy of it and they can authenticate it but it is consistent with what we were advised at the time and it is shocking to view it. It is quite repulsive to see the actions of these separatists just moments after the crash and to see them going through the luggage and it dawning on them that they had been responsible for the death of so many civilians, the passengers and crew on board that fateful flight.
KIERAN GILBERT Obviously there is still grief among the families of the victims but there is also obviously a sense that they want justice to be dealt to those responsible. How far away do you think that is before culprits are identified and brought to justice?
JULIE BISHOP Well five nations – Australia, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium and Malaysia - have been involved as a Joint Investigation Taskforce supporting the work of the independent investigation and we five have called on the UN Security Council to establish an Independent Criminal Tribunal. This will not be easy because a number of countries will take differing positions and it was not easy last time to get a unanimous resolution and I don’t expect it to be any easier this time but I intend to travel to New York.
I’ve been in touch with my counterpart foreign ministers in the Netherlands, Malaysia and also a number of other foreign ministers who represent countries that are no non-permanent members of the Security Council because of course the composition of the Security Council has changed amongst the temporary members since last year. We are working closely with the P5, we appealed to Russia to support this establishment of a tribunal. It is the next logical step in the procedure that was set up under the initial resolution and that is to establish an Independent Criminal Tribunal to prosecute those responsible for this.
KIERAN GILBERT Does the intransigence of Putin mean that justice might never be dealt out here?
JULIE BISHOP We should not give up. We should continue to work with Russia and all countries to ensure that we can establish a tribunal otherwise it would be just turning the page on an atrocity where a civilian plane, in civilian air space was shot down from the skies. We must never allow that to happen again. This goes to the heart of international peace and security and the security surrounding civil aviation. So it is an exceedingly important matter.
The Security Council was seized of it last year and I believe should remain seized of the matter by establishing an International Criminal Tribunal. And there are precedents for this, there have been examples in the past where the Security Council has backed the establishment of a criminal tribunal and we want it to do so in this instance.
KIERAN GILBERT I want to ask you a couple of other issues if I can? On the Iranian deal, was this really achieved with the US wanting to secure an outcome in part because the Iranians share the same enemy with the US, and of course us, in the form of the so-called Islamic State?
JULIE BISHOP I don’t believe that that was the primary consideration at all. I believe that the P5 +1 – that’s the United States and others, are determined to constrain, limit, freeze, Iranian progress on a nuclear program and so their driving desire is the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East in particular and Iran had a nuclear program. It was not subject to the international inspections regime. As a result of this agreement Iran will become part of the international inspections regime and that’s why we welcome it.
We are very cautious however because Iran has to complete its side of the bargain and that involves inspections at each and every stage of its nuclear programs and it means Iran must comply with the specific detail and terms of this agreement.
So Australia has sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear program and related activities. We will review our sanctions once we are satisfied that Iran has completed its side of the bargain and that that has been verified by the international inspectors.
KIERAN GILBERT Do you think it could have a liberalising effect on Iran given that population of 77 million, that if the economy starts to do better as an emerging economy, that it might have the liberalising effect on that nation moving forward?
JULIE BISHOP In a perfect world Iran would become engaged as a responsible member of the international community. I was in Tehran earlier this year, I know that the sanctions have been having an impact and that the public were very keen for the P5 + 1 deal to be concluded so that the sanctions could be lifted. They are suffering under the sanctions and therefore the sanctions have been having their desired effect.
There’s been a change of heart in the leadership as President Rohani and the Foreign Minister Zarif have worked exceedingly hard to ensure that this agreement was concluded as have the other countries represented. So if Iran takes steps towards becoming a responsible and totally engaged international community member then that is a very positive outcome.
KIERAN GILBERT My last question, we’ve got Peter Greste on Sky News a bit later today, my colleague Laura Jayes will be speaking to Peter. The verdict in that trial, to be delivered on July 30 - what is the Government’s view when it comes to this ongoing issue in the court? Many people might be surprised at that given Peter is now home. What is the government’s view ahead of that verdict?
JULIE BISHOP We have maintained our support for Peter Greste. I have maintained contact with Peter. In fact, I spoke with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry last evening about this and other matters and reiterated to him that we expect that Peter Greste will be freed from these charges.
He is home of course, we were able to secure his release, but it would be a travesty of justice if he were to be found guilty of these charges in his absence and there were any punishment inflicted on him that would prevent him carrying out his job as an international reporter and journalist.
So we have made our position plain to the Egyptian Government throughout and I’ve maintained contact with Peter Greste about this and we certainly hope that the verdict on the 30 July will see Peter able to continue to contribute to international media activities as a journalist.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister I appreciate your time. Thank you.
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