Abbott Calls For Independent Investigation Of MH17; Foreign Minister Off To UN To Co-Ordinate Campaign

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has dispatched the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, to the United Nations to co-ordinate Australia’s demand for a full and fearless investigation into the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

Abbott

Speaking at a press conference, Abbott and Bishop said a binding United Nations Security Council resolution was needed to ensure that an independent and impartial investigation takes place.

Abbott said a proper investigation “is a matter of the utmost gravity for us and others”. He said 298 innocent people have been killed, “people who had no part in the conflict in Europe but whose lives were snuffed out”.

Asked about Russia’s attitude, Abbott said: “Let’s hope Russia does everything it can to facilitate a full and fearless investigation.” As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia is able to veto any resolution.

Abbott said: “We take a very dim view of countries that facilitate the killing of Australians… my purpose today is not the geopolitics of Ukraine… but to get justice for the dead and closure for the living.”

Abbott said his statements were in line with President Obama’s comments overnight. “All evidence shows MH17 was shot down from territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels.”

Julie Bishop will leave Australia as soon as possible for New York, where she will co-ordinate Australia’s campaign in the Security Council. Australia currently chairs the Security Council. Bishop said she had been unsuccessful in contacting the Russian Foreign Minister. However, the Trade Minister is in Sydney and Abbott will meet with him later today.

Bishop

There are fears that the crash site is unsecured and becoming contaminated, with reports of looting taking place. Abbott said: “Every day we delay the site is contaminated… it is quite possible there are efforts underway right now to sanitise the crash site… it needs to be secured for an independent, comprehensive investigation… anyone who tries to obstruct this is no friend of justice or peace.”

Asked whether Russia’s Vladimir Putin would be banned from attending the G20 meeting in Australian in November, Abbott said he would make no comment: “Let’s see what happens… but Australia is a self-respecting country… we want visitors to this country to have goodwill towards this country.”

  • Listen to Abbott and Bishop (25m – transcript below)

Transcript of press conference with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT: Today, our thoughts are with the families of the passengers on MH17 as they struggle to come to terms with their grief and with their loss. Yesterday, we saw the smouldering wreckage on our screens. Today, we’ve seen some of the faces of the dead. I don’t believe any Australian, any human being, could fail to be moved by what we’ve seen.

I have to say that as a nation, we need to prepare ourselves for difficult and painful weeks ahead as we strive to find out precisely what has happened and who was responsible. Right now, our priority does need to be gaining access to the site where MH17 came down. Right now, for all we know, because this site is controlled by Russian-backed rebels, right now for all we know, bodies remain strewn over the fields of the eastern Ukraine and armed rebels are trampling the site.

So, it is absolutely vital that an independent international investigation begin as soon as possible so that we can identify and recover the remains of all the Australians on board and we are working urgently with our international partners to that end.

Now, since my press conference yesterday evening, I’ve spoken with Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia, Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Poroshenko of Ukraine and this morning with President Obama of the United States. Minister Bishop has also been in close contact with her counterparts abroad.

I have to say that every one of the heads of government that I have spoken to is full of shock and indignation about what has taken place and every one of them is full of determination to ensure that we have a full and comprehensive and impartial investigation. Overnight, the United Nations Security Council met in emergency session to consider this matter and the Security Council issued a strong statement calling for a full, thorough and independent international investigation and for appropriate accountability. The Council stressed the need for all parties to grant immediate access by investigators to the crash site.

I regret to say that, overnight, a monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe did gain temporary access to the site, but it was driven off by gunfire, presumably from the Russian-backed rebels. This does highlight, though, the difficulty and the danger of this situation.

So, we are working with our partners at the Security Council to secure a UN-backed investigation. We do want a binding Security Council resolution for a full, independent, comprehensive international investigation that has access to the debris, to the site, to the black box and to anyone who might be able to shed light on these events and I can inform you that tonight Foreign Minister Bishop will leave for the United States to lead our campaign at the Security Council.

I can advise that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has already deployed six officers to Kiev. More are on their way, including a five member emergency response team. We also have AFP investigators on their way and we stand ready to deploy more as this situation develops. Contingency arrangements are in place to provide for the repatriation of bodies, although I must caution that this is likely to be weeks rather than days away.

During these difficult weeks ahead, the Government will do everything we can to support the bereaved families. I should say that I was grateful for the Leader of the Opposition’s support in the Parliament yesterday and we will be ensuring that Mr Shorten gets regular briefings on what’s happening.

I want to stress that Australia will do whatever we humanly can to ensure that this matter is absolutely thoroughly investigated to find out what we can and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Our objective is to ensure for the dead and for the living – dignity, respect and justice.

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Prime Minister. At this time of deep mourning we can assure the Australian people that every effort will be made to retrieve the bodies of the Australian victims of this terrible incident so that they can be brought home and laid to rest with the utmost dignity.

I have been in contact with a number of counterpart Foreign Ministers, Foreign Secretaries over the last day, including the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, New Zealand, Indonesia. I have calls in with the Foreign Ministers of Canada and the Philippines and with United States Secretary Kerry. I have also spoken with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin and he has assured me that the Ukrainian Government will provide Australia with every support that we need in order to have our officials in Ukraine and that we will be able to access the site, first, for the consular purposes of identifying the bodies, retrieving the bodies, and of course secondly for the purposes of the investigation and the protection of evidence.

I have, as you will be aware, spoken to the Russian Ambassador to seek Russia’s assurance that it will cooperate with an independent impartial international investigation. I’ve also spoken with representatives of other governments on the Security Council, including the Chinese Ambassador, to seek their full cooperation as one would expect with the United Nations proposals.

As the Prime Minister has indicated, overnight the United Nations Security Council issued a press statement which expressed deep sympathies and called for a thorough independent international investigation. I have spoken with our representative in the United Nations and I understand that our calls for a binding resolution will be debated during the course of next week and that is why I will be leaving for New York as soon as possible to work with our Australian officials and representatives in New York to secure that binding resolution for the independent investigation – and this of course will also require a ceasefire to ensure that the experts, the investigators are unfettered in their efforts to investigate this site.

I will also be travelling to Washington to meet with security and intelligence experts to ensure that Australia is fully briefed on the international intelligence that is available in relation to this matter for we are determined to ascertain what happened, why it happened, how it happened and who is responsible.

In Kiev, as the Prime Minister has indicated, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have already despatched a number of officials. We have our Ambassador from Warsaw, Jean Dunn, there for consular purposes. We also have a consular team in the Netherlands, The Hague where a number of family members are likely to be. We also have consular support in Kuala Lumpur.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has and remains in contact with the families of the Australians who were involved in this incident, those who were killed on this flight, and will continue to do so. The families at this stage have asked that their names not be released and until such time as we have their permission, we won’t do so. We appreciate that some family members have gone public and that there is information available about the names and identities of the victims, but until the Australian families give us their consent, we will not release those names.

I have spoken with both Qantas and Virgin who have offered their full support in the event that any family members wish to travel to Europe but of course the Australian Government will support all efforts to retrieve the bodies once the investigation and access to the site is completed.

I will continue to liaise with my counterpart Foreign Ministers and Secretaries throughout this very difficult time to ensure that we get the fullest cooperation at the United Nations so that there is a unanimous, fully-backed resolution that is binding on the UN Security Council to ensure the ceasefire and the thorough independent, impartial investigation can take place as soon as possible.

QUESTION: So what’s the indication from China and Russia about their attitude to a binding UN Security Council resolution?

BISHOP: I spoke to the Chinese Ambassador and he has passed on our deep concerns to Beijing and my understanding from our representative in the United Nations in New York overnight was that China fully supported the statement. We are working around the clock in relation to the binding resolution and that is why I will be in New York to lead our team in the negotiations in that regard.

QUESTION: And what’s Russia’s attitude to a binding resolution?

BISHOP: At this stage Russia has supported the press statement but we don’t know the attitude to the particular aspects of the binding resolution. We are still in the process of drafting that with our counterparts in the UN and I will be assisting in those negotiations. I have attempted to contact the Russian Foreign Minister. I’ve not yet been able to do so, but I’m continuing my efforts to speak to the Russian Government.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, the Russian Government has suggested that your comments were unacceptable yesterday and the Foreign Minister hasn’t been able to get in touch with the Russian Foreign Minister. It doesn’t sound like that’s a government that’s willing to cooperate. What’s your response to that?

ABBOTT: Well, my comments yesterday were very much in line with the comments that President Obama made overnight. President Obama made a very strong statement overnight – very much in line with the statement that I’ve made earlier – and President Obama’s statement was reinforced by a very strong statement by the US Ambassador to the United Nations overnight.

So it’s clear that all the evidence at this stage suggests that this aircraft was shot down from territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels, by Russian-backed rebels, most likely using equipment supplied by the Russians. Now, this is a problem – a very serious problem – and the point I made yesterday I repeat: Australia takes a very dim view of countries which facilitate killing of Australians, as you’d expect us to. We take a very, very dim view of this and the idea that Russia can wash its hands of responsibility, because this happened in Ukrainian airspace, just does not stand serious scrutiny.

We all know what’s happening in Ukraine and my purpose today, though is not to talk about the geopolitics of Ukraine, my purpose today is to get justice for Australia – in particular to get justice for the dead and for the living – that’s my purpose today, and the only way we will get justice for the dead and closure for the living is if there is a full, comprehensive, impartial, international investigation starting more or less immediately because every day that we delay, the site is contaminated, quite possibly there are attempts in place to sanitise the site. The site needs to be secured. The investigation needs to take place and frankly anyone who tries to obstruct this is no friend of justice, is no friend of peace and I call upon all to work towards a full and impartial comprehensive international investigation.

QUESTION: Prime Minister have you spoken to Mr Putin and if not when can you speak to him?

ABBOTT: Well, you have just heard the Foreign Minister say that she has so far been unsuccessful in contacting the Russian Foreign Minister but the Russian Trade Minister is in Sydney and I will be meeting with him later today to convey to him the concerns that Australia has.

QUESTION: But what about Mr Putin himself? I mean, what efforts can you make?

ABBOTT: Well, I will be having a range of conversations with a range of people in coming days but I just want to make absolutely crystal clear Australia’s reasonable minimum expectations of a full and impartial international investigation impeded by no one will find out the facts to establish exactly who was responsible so that justice can be done.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, just getting back to your points before about every day that passes, is there a realistic estimate about how long we have before it is impossible to do a proper investigation and the other thing I suppose given that people have been fired on, how would you, would you anticipate that someone would have to provide some military support wouldn’t they for this group going in to investigate?

ABBOTT: Well, this is something that we will be in discussion with our partners about but I absolutely take your point that overnight there were investigators on the ground in place who were forced to withdraw when firing broke out. So, it is absolutely critical that we do have a secure site and that this investigation can go ahead unmolested by anyone.

QUESTION: And the UN Security council is going to have to move quickly for once?

ABBOTT: Julie will no doubt want to add to this, but we are sending the Foreign Minister to New York precisely to ensure that this matter is dealt with as swiftly as it can be because this is a matter of the utmost gravity for Australia and for others given that 298 innocent people have been killed – 298 innocent people have been killed. People who had no part in any conflict in Europe, people who were simply living their lives. Now, their lives have been snuffed out in the most horrific way and that is why this investigation needs to go ahead. This is why the standing of all parties will in the end be determined by the thoroughness and the completeness of their cooperation of this investigation.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, you may not want to address this now but it still seems incongruous that Russian President would come here in four months’ time for the G20 meeting unless the situation is resolved to the satisfaction of all the countries who were affected.

ABBOTT: Look, let us hope that Russia plays its part in the international community and does everything that it can to assist a full and fearless investigation and does everything that it can to ensure that this investigation has full access to the site and has full access to any individuals who might be able to shed some light on what has happened. Let’s hope that whoever is responsible for supply of that particular weapon, whoever is responsible for the operation of that particular weapon is produced and is able to offer such insights as can be offered. Let’s hope all that happens. If that happens, well, obviously that would be a sign of good international citizenship by everyone who has helped to bring it about.

QUESTION: If it doesn’t happen would you consider banning Russia?

ABBOTT: Well, let’s wait and see what will happen but I can give you this assurance: Australia is a self-respecting country. We are a self-respecting country. Obviously, we want to ensure that visitors to this country have goodwill to this country; visitors to this country are people who have done the right thing by this country and let’s hope that that is exactly what we will find in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: You have said that the initial response of the Russian Ambassador is deeply unsatisfactory. Has your opinion improved since then?

ABBOTT: Well, I might ask the Foreign Minister to offer her thoughts on this but to blame others is not a very satisfactory response in a situation like this. As I have said before, the plane was brought down over territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels, almost certainly by a missile launched by Russian-backed rebels and most likely by missiles supplied by Russia. Now, President Putin has said that this wouldn’t have happened if there was peace in the Ukraine and he is absolutely right. We have to ask ourselves the question – why isn’t there peace in Ukraine? I stress today, my intention is not to buy into the rights and wrongs of Ukraine particularly. My intention is to ensure that we get justice and closure for the Australian dead and their families and the only way we can get justice for the Australian dead and their families is if there is a thorough investigation and that means getting access to the site as swiftly as possible. Without access to the site as swiftly as possible, there can be no confidence that we will get the facts. There can be no confidence that we will have justice and that is why it is imperative that that site is made available to investigators without molestation, without hindrance, as quickly as possible.

BISHOP: May I make this point, given the gravity of the incident, Australia and others believe it is essential that we have a binding UN Security Council resolution. However, that will not delay the preparation for an investigation; the facilitation of an investigation and the mechanics for an investigation being out in place. We believe that given the gravity of the incident we need the UN Security Council binding resolution but our first priority is to ensure the site is secured and the investigation can commence. To also ensure that those who have expertise in identifying and repatriating bodies have unfettered access to the site. So, we will not be waiting for a UN Security Council resolution but we will be pursuing one as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Without UNSC backing Foreign Minister, how could the site be secured safely and with the full consensus of international community?

BISHOP: Ukraine has indicated that it would provide unimpeded access to experts to any international organisation. We are seeking the UN Secretary General support for the International Civil Aviation Organisation to lead such an investigation. Russia has informed us by the Russian Ambassador, and our indications from the UN Security Council meeting, is that Russia supports a full and open transparent investigation. After all, as the Prime Minister indicated, Russia’s first response is to say that Ukraine is responsible for this therefore Russia should welcome an open, transparent international impartial investigation.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister, will Australia play a key role or a lead role in the investigation if it does happen?

BISHOP: At this stage Australia has made it clear that we will offer our expertise, our resources to ensure that this investigation can be established as soon as possible and the site can be secured as soon as possible. That is why we are sending such a significant team to Kiev. That is why the Prime Minister and I have been speaking to the relevant leaders and Foreign Minister to secure that site and ensure that that investigation occurs as soon as possible. Australia stands ready to provide whatever support and whatever resources we can to ensure that this investigation and security of this site can take place so we are able to identify the remains and bring them home and that all remains are treated with utmost dignity.

ABBOTT: And given that there were 28 Australians on that aircraft, I think that they deserve to be represented in the investigation.

Thank you very much.

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