JULIE BISHOP Today marks the beginning of the journey home for those Australians on board Malaysian Airlines 17 who were killed some six days ago. The ceremony we saw today was dignified and provided the level of respect that those who were killed in this crash have deserved from the outset.
In the presence of the King and Queen of the Netherlands, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the Governor-General of Australia and representatives from all countries who lost citizens on board that flight, this was a moving and appropriate ceremony. To have an Australian plane – a C17 – with an Australian crew on board as part of this just proves how united we are with the Netherlands and the other countries in our grief, our anguish and our determination to ensure that we can account for every one of the victims on board that flight.
So there is still more work to do. We must secure the site of the crash. We must ensure that the investigators and those who have the gruesome task of identifying body remains are able to do that in safety, unfettered, without any tampering from anyone. Tomorrow morning Foreign Minister Timmermans and I will go to Kyiv. We’re travelling together and I will meet our team headed by Special Envoy Angus Houston. And together the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and I will meet with the Ukrainian leadership and discuss how we can logistically plan the securing of the site and the work that must be undertaken. Painstaking, long, difficult work. But we will not rest until we have accounted for everybody, every Australian aboard that flight.
JOURNALIST Minister, the Ukrainians have announced that there may be a peacekeeping force involving Australia to secure that site. Can you confirm that?
JULIE BISHOP I will be travelling to the Ukraine to meet with the Ukrainian leadership to build on the discussions that Prime Minister Abbott has had overnight, including with the Ukrainians, Dutch and others. So we are looking at the most effective way of securing that site and those details will be worked through tomorrow with the Ukrainians but also by Prime Minister Abbott continuing the discussions that he has been having with a number of leaders.
JOURNALIST Sorry Minister, there are reports coming out of the Ukraine that two of the bodies on the planes were Australian. Is that verified at all?
JULIE BISHOP We’ve not had those details verified. As the Governor General said, we greeted each casket today as if an Australian were on board. But of course this ceremony will be repeated over the next couple of days so that all of the bodies that have been located can be afforded the same dignity and respect and honour that was accorded to them today. And I want to thank the Netherlands Government, the King and Queen and the Netherlands Government for the superb way in which this ceremony was conducted and the warm welcome that they have given to all of the foreign visitors who’ve come here to pay respects to their loved ones and the citizens of their various countries.
JOURNALIST Minister, in terms of loved ones travelling from Australia, what have you been told about those who are coming, the numbers who are coming and what sort of provision is there for those who are coming here to Eindhoven.
JULIE BISHOP The consular department of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are constantly in touch with the families. Each family has had a consular officer allocated to them and from the conversations that I have had with the families, our consular officials have been in touch with them on a regular basis. So we are compiling details of the wishes they have about travelling here or travelling into Europe generally. We’ve had offers of support from both Qantas and Virgin to bring people to Europe if that is what they wish to do. But we are compiling all these details now. As I have said to each family member that I have spoken to, the Australian Government will do whatever we can to ensure they can get closure, eventually get closure after such a harrowing, appalling period in their lives.
JOURNALIST How many Australians were there today among those who were mourning?
JULIE BISHOP We had a number of Australians who are present. I’m about to go to the hanger were the families and relatives, mainly from the Netherlands but a number of people from around the world are there. And I hope to meet the Australians that are there and reassure them that the whole country is behind them. The whole country is supporting them.
JOURNALIST Minister, how many from Australia were here today?
JULIE BISHOP We don’t have the details but I will certainly go and give an account as soon as I can and hopefully have some idea but I do understand that there are Australians here related to those who were killed on this fateful flight. So the Governor General and I will be there to meet relatives but also meet with the friends and families and relatives of others killed on that flight. I understand that there are so many connections between the various countries, friends, relatives, permanent residents, people who were living in Holland, people who were living in Australia, so there are an enormous number of connections and I think that this will go on for quite some time as people work out how deeply engaged the international community has been, not only at this personal level, but most certainly at a government to government level. We are united in ensuring that the site is secured, that the bodies are found, the bodies are repatriated and that the criminal investigation can get underway because we are determined to find who was responsible for this atrocious act and to hold them to account.
JOURNALIST If any Australian relatives want to go to the crash site will the government help or support that?
JULIE BISHOP The Government has already been in contact with them in relation to their wishes in that regard and they are dealing with their allocated consular officer and we are compiling our understanding of what the friends and relatives and families are looking for. Our concern in all of this is to give the families their rightful embrace of those who were killed on that flight. We just want to bring them home.
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