KIERAN GILBERT Live from Boston the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us.
Foreign Minister thanks for your time. This report has found that it was a Russian-built BUK surface-to-air missile that did bring down MH17. Does this reinforce Australia’s view that it was Russian-backed separatists responsible for that atrocity?
JULIE BISHOP This report's finding is most definitely in accordance with Australia’s initial view that MH17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile manufactured by Russia and it has been identified as being fired from an area in eastern Ukraine that was under control of the Russian-backed separatists.
This report has been some time in coming but 15 months on we are still grieving with the families and loved ones of those aboard MH17, including the 38 Australian citizens and residents who were killed in this atrocity.
KIERAN GILBERT The Russians are already obfuscating, saying this is simply the Dutch carrying out political orders in terms of this finding and saying that the missile used is no longer used by the Russian military. They’ve even got the state-backed firm that builds the missiles to question just where it was fired from. Their inability to cooperate with any investigation continues. How likely is justice in this case? It appears to seem hard to see how that is going to eventuate right now given the Russian behaviour.
JULIE BISHOP We are absolutely determined to hold the perpetrators of this atrocious act to account and this Dutch Safety Report is the first step along the way of the criminal investigation that is also underway. This report confirms the cause - that it was a Buk-missile system, a weapon from that brought it down and the criminal investigation will conclude, hopefully by the end of the year, and that will identify who is responsible for this act.
There is little comfort for the families and loved ones in this report because it does confirm what the Australian Government had said 15 months ago, nevertheless we are determined to continue to seek justice for the families and for those on board this flight.
KIERAN GILBERT Yes, and the criminal report, as you say, possibly by the end of the year but even with that we have a very strong indication, as you have told us already, of who is responsible even when it is confirmed. What sort of justice can we expect, if any?
JULIE BISHOP For a start Russia has known for some time the likely outcome of the Dutch Safety Board investigation because a draft report was made available so Russia has had some time to put its position together and I’m not surprised by what we’ve heard overnight in response to the release of the final report of the Dutch Safety Board.
I am convinced that this report was the subject of meticulous forensic investigation and now the Joint Investigation Team comprising the law enforcement, investigative teams from Australia, Ukraine, Malaysia, Belgium and the Netherlands can continue their work and we will be in a position to put together a tribunal so that we can hold the perpetrators of this to account and bring justice to the families.
We are currently discussing the most effective means of doing this because of course we did take a proposal for an international criminal court to be set up backed by the UN Security Council. Russia used its veto to prevent us from pursuing that avenue but we will not be deterred by Russia’s veto. We will find a way to bring those people who caused this, we will bring them to account.
KIERAN GILBERT Foreign Minister I know you’ve been in touch with many of the families of the victims aboard MH17 and one of the shocking findings of the Dutch Safety Board is that they can’t rule out that some of the passengers were conscious for the minute/minute-and-a-half that this crash took place.
JULIE BISHOP Some of the findings are brutal in their frank assessment of what could have gone on and, as I said, there is probably very little comfort for the families and the loved ones but at least we know the cause and we will continue to pursue the perpetrators of this crime. But for the families, our hearts go out to them. We are still grieving with them, each and every day since this occurred on the 17th of July in 2014 and if there is any comfort to come from this it is that the Australian people stand united with other countries in pursuing justice for them because of the loss of their loved ones in this most atrocious circumstance - the downing of a commercial airplane with 298 civilians on board in open skies. We must take action so that this doesn’t happen again.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister, a few other issues to address, the South China Sea has been the focus of your talks there at AUSMIN. Is Australia planning to be directly involved in naval patrols in the South China Sea as reported today in the Australian newspaper?
JULIE BISHOP This has been an opportunity for Australia and the US at a Ministerial level to discuss a whole range of global and regional security and defence issues. And the South China Sea was one matter that we discussed because of course Australia has an interest in ensuring that there is freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight over the South China Sea and around the South China Sea. This is where about two-thirds of our merchandise trade passes through this area, so it is very important to us that there be a rules-based international order in place and that includes upholding these principles of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight.
We will continue to traverse these seas in international waters under international law as we are entitled to do but we did talk about the need to de-escalate tensions, calling on all parties to resolve their territorial claims peacefully.
Australia doesn’t take sides in the claims of sovereignty over these islands and over these seas but we most certainly call on all parties to negotiate these territorial claims in the most peaceful way possible.
KIERAN GILBERT And we could be involved in, directly involved in, US-led patrols of the disputed territory?
JULIE BISHOP The United States is involved in naval patrols in this area all of the time, I mean, this is where much of its naval fleet is based and so it is not surprising for the US to exercise its right to travel through this region according to international law and I’m sure they will continue to do so, as Australia and other countries will continue to do so.
We have called for a halt to reclamation work, by China notably , but others have also been engaged in this, a halt to construction work on these artificial reefs that have been created, and we welcome President Xi’s statement in Washington recently that China did not intend to militarise these Spratly Islands which are in the South China Sea. So we are looking for a de-escalation of tensions and hope that all parties can resolve these issues peacefully.
KIERAN GILBERT Do you accept that there is a risk of a clash or a skirmish if the US sends a military ship around those reclaimed areas?
JULIE BISHOP We are talking in hypothetical scenarios at present. The United States is entitled, and will as a matter of right, exercise the rights that it has to travel around these areas, to fly through these areas according to international law and will continue to do that as other countries will continue to do that.
As I said, so much of Australia’s trade passes through these areas, it is an area that our planes fly through constantly so we want to see the principle of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight upheld and we will continue to exercise our rights according to international law.
KIERAN GILBERT Is there a difference of opinion on Syria between you and the Australian Government, and the United States when it comes to Bashar al-Assad? You reiterated today at that news conference in Boston that you support all options on the table. Kerry and Obama seem to be much less inclined to support Bashar al-Assad staying, even in the short term, Minister.
JULIE BISHOP We certainly welcome the United States leadership in seeking to find a political solution. Now that Russia has become involved in the conflict in Syria it complicates matters somewhat but the United States and Russia are carrying out talks as we sit here now and so that is a welcome sign.
Russia’s intentions and motives in Syria are still very opaque, somewhat complicating the situation there but we are at one in believing that a political solution must be pursued, that the military option would not resolve the situation. It would most certainly degrade, and hopefully ultimately defeat Da’esh, the terrorist organisation that is operating in both Syria and Iraq. And the reason we are involved in the first place is because there are so many Australians, about 120 at last count who are supporting this terrorist organisation by fighting in Syria and Iraq and we want to protect the Australian people back at home and also in our region and abroad so that is why Australia is involved.
But we do believe that there needs to be a political solution and that all transition options, and I emphasise transition, all transition options are on the table while we seek to find a way to resolve the underlying conflict between the Syrian regime and the majority Sunni population.
KIERAN GILBERT Final question Minister, across the other side of the US, in Las Vegas today, the first democratic debate of that primary season. What are you picking up there? Is Hillary Clinton still well and truly the favourite, not just for democratic nominee, but also for President in next year’s race?
JULIE BISHOP Well as you can imagine I haven’t entered into the domestic political debate here but I’ve certainly listened to the discourse about the Democratic nominations and also the Republican nominations. There is no doubt it is going to be an interesting race on both sides and of course the Australian Government will work with whomever the American people choose as their President. But there is a long way to go between now and the inauguration of a new President in January 2017.
I will try to find time to watch the Democratic debate tonight, I find it of great interest, I know some of the personalities involved, some of the candidates involved in this. I’ve met them on both the Democrat and the Republican sides so I’ll be taking a personal interest in who is likely to be the nominee for both sides in this Presidential race but it is very early days at this point.
KIERAN GILBERT Yes it’s a marathon indeed.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thanks so much for that from Boston this morning, appreciate it.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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