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Abbott Says The News Just Gets Worse On A Grim Day For Australia And The World

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says news about the missile attack on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 has “just got worse”.


He said it was “highly probable” that the plane was shot down by a pro-Russian, separatist-controlled, surface-to-air missile in Russian-backed rebel territory in Ukraine.

Of the 298 passengers on the plane, Abbott said 28 were Australian. The others were: Netherlands 154, Malaysia 43, Indonesia 12, United Kingdom 9, Germany 4, Belgium 4, Philippines 3 and Canada 1. The nationalities of another 41 victims has not been determined.

  • Listen to Abbott (17m – transcript below)
  • Watch Abbott (17m)

Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s press conference on Flight MH17.

ABBOTT: As you all know, Australians awoke to very bad news and in the course of the day the news has just got worse.

There were 298 people on this aircraft. It is highly probable that MH17 was shot down by a pro-Russian separatist controlled surface-to-air missile. So, it was shot down over Russian-backed rebel territory by what appears to be a Russian-backed rebel missile.

I can confirm that the nationalities of the victims are as follows: Netherlands – 154, Malaysia – 43, Indonesia – 12, the United Kingdom – 9, Germany – 4, Belgium – 4, the Philippines – 3, Canada – 1. There are still 41 whose nationality is unconfirmed. The advice that I have is that the final number of Australians on board is 28.

We grieve for all but we particularly grieve and pray for the Australians who have lost their lives.

I can further inform you that a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular officer has been dedicated to each of the family groups of the victims involved. Eleven Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials are in the process of being deployed to the Ukraine.

I would urge people who are concerned about the fate of their family members or loved ones to ring those DFAT numbers – again the number here in Australia is 1300 555 135.

I understand that over 900 calls have so far been received by the consular emergency centre.

The Australian Federal Police is sending a liaison officer to Kiev to commence discussion on Australian assistance with the investigation process; including support for the initial Ukrainian investigation. We do welcome the Ukrainian investigation which has been announced but it is absolutely essential that there be a full, thorough and impartial international investigation which has full access to the site, to the debris, to the black box recorder and to any persons who may be able to assist with that investigation. Absolutely, essential and we are working for a binding UN Security Council resolution to this end.

I have spoken already today to Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, to New Zealand Prime Minister Key. I will shortly speak to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib. I will be making a range of calls over the weekend. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken to her Dutch and New Zealand counterparts. She has been in contact with her Indonesian counterpart and she also will be making a range of further calls.

I can inform you that the Russian Ambassador was called in in Sydney by Foreign Minister Bishop and asked for a categoric assurance that Russia would fully cooperate with this investigation.

I have to tell you that the initial response of the Russian Ambassador was to blame Ukraine for this.

I have to say that is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.

We all know that there are problems in Ukraine. We also know who is very substantially to blame for those problems and the idea that Russia can somehow say that none of this has anything to do with them because it happened in Ukrainian airspace frankly does not stand up to any serious scrutiny.

I want to say to the Australian people that as far as I am concerned when you have a situation where Russian backed rebels appear to have killed Australians using, it may well turn out to be, Russian supplied heavy weaponry – Australia takes a very dim view indeed and we want the fullest possible investigation.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, what can the international community do now?

ABBOTT: I think it is very important that we find out the facts and it is very important that we don’t allow Russia to prevent an absolutely comprehensive investigation so that we can find out exactly what happened here.

I mean this is not an accident, it is a crime. I stress it is not an accident, it is a crime and criminals should not be allowed to get away with what they have done.

There has to be a full, impartial, international investigation and Russia should certainly not be allowed to stand in the way of that just because the aircraft has come down over territory controlled by Russian backed rebels.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, if President Vladimir Putin doesn’t help with this investigation is he still welcome at the G20?

ABBOTT: That is a very fair question, Chris. That is a very, very fair question. I don’t want to pre-empt what might happen in the weeks and months ahead.

I just want to say that it is absolutely imperative if Russia is to maintain any international standing at all that there be complete Russian cooperation with this. No prevarication, no excuses, no blame shifting, no protecting of people who may be backed by Russia but who may have been involved in this terrible event.

QUESTION: And that would be a decision for you to withdraw the invitation – for Australia – or would it be a decision for the wider G20 group?

ABBOTT: Australia would be reluctant to act unilaterally in a situation like this because this is a very important international gathering.

Nevertheless, it is also very important that Australia act with the strength and self-respect that you would expect of a country of our standing.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Abbott, you are using slightly harder language than other world leaders in relation to culpability for Russian-backed troops, forces. Do you have any particular reason for doing so?

ABBOTT: This aircraft didn’t come down through accident. It was shot down. It did not crash, it was downed and it was downed over territory controlled by Russian backed rebels. It was downed by a missile which seems to have been launched by Russian backed rebels. Again, I want to stress that Australia takes a very dim view of countries which are facilitating the killing of Australian citizens. We take a very dim view of this.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, have you attempted any direct contact with Vladimir Putin?

ABBOTT: I will be making a range of phone calls over the next few days. I don’t want to go into whom I might be speaking to but I will be making a range of phone calls.

QUESTION: This area, as we can see from television footage, has been very comprehensibly trampled over by people in uniform with weapons who are clearly Russian-backed militia members. Have you had any assurance from Russia or will you seek it that whatever evidence they have taken with them including possibly the black boxes would be returned to investigators?

ABBOTT: Based on what we are hearing from Russia, it is hard to have much confidence that there will be the kind of open and honest and transparent cooperation that you would expect.

This really is a test for Russia. It really is a test for Russia – how transparent and fair dinkum is it going to be? There can be no excuses. No buck-passing. No blame shifting. There has to be absolute full cooperation with an impartial international inquiry.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, [inaudible] Russia will seek to obstruct a full and open inquiry when the UN Security Council meets? Is that part of your concern here?

ABBOTT: Well, as I said, so far the signs are not especially promising but if there is sufficient international pressure for a full and impartial inquiry, hopefully the Russians will realise that their whole standing in the world is at risk here.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, do you have any more information about this 28th person we just heard from the Foreign Minister [inaudible]?

ABBOTT: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials are working assiduously to notify families, to notify next of kin and when that has been done obviously it will be possible to say more about the Australians who have been on that plane.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, do you envisage, and it is a practical question, any trouble repatriating the remains of the Australians who have died?

ABBOTT: Look, it is premature to try and answer that question. Obviously, the Ukrainian Government can’t get access to this site at this time.

Hopefully, as a result of action at the UN Security Council in coming hours they will get access but it is important not just for the Ukrainian Government to get access to the site, it is important for a full, impartial, comprehensive expert international investigation to take place and obviously Australia is eager, as the country who had the second highest number of citizens on the plane, Australia is eager to take a leading role in this investigation.

I think the 28 Australian dead are owed strong representation in the investigation that must take place.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, on a personal level, we’ve all been shocked and horrified by what we’ve seen and heard, but are you also angry by what’s happened to so many Australian citizens?

ABBOTT: Well, of course I am. Of course I am. I mean these were innocent people going about their lives and they have been wantonly killed by Russian-backed rebels, quite possibly – maybe probably – using Russian supplied equipment.

Now, I take the dimmest possible view of this – the dimmest possible view of this – and I expect the international community to take appropriate steps to ensure that this kind of thing never happens again and that the perpetrators of this outrage are suitably punished, suitably brought to justice.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, can you please elaborate on what form that investigation would take? What sort of mechanics would be there, how could it be done in an independent way?

ABBOTT: There are all sorts of precedents for international air crash investigations. There are all sorts of precedents for the investigation of incidents involving airlines. Some years ago now, an American warship by mistake downed an Iranian aircraft. There were immediate apologies, there was massive compensation paid and, as I understand it, there were various changes to procedures to ensure that this kind of thing, as far as is humanly possible, could not happen again in those circumstances.

So, without going into the detail of this, I am confident that this can be done and can be done impartially and comprehensively.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, that sort of weapon is highly sophisticated. It’s a weapon that would normally be part of a much larger military force than a regular military and there’d be a chain of command and a comprehensive verification process once a target was picked up on radar. How do you feel about the idea that it’s in the hands of a fairly ragtag militia group?

ABBOTT: Anyone who gave such a weapon to people who were absolutely incapable of using it, any country which was inspiring and orchestrating the kind of activity which we are now seeing in Eastern Ukraine, I think has a heavy responsibility, should feel a sense of shame over what has taken place.

QUESTION: If Russia does cooperate and they’re found to be somewhat culpable in terms of supplying the weapons or something similar, do you think at that point you would be comfortable welcoming Vladimir Putin to Australian soil, shaking his hand as cameras from around the world watch on?

ABBOTT: Well let’s wait and see what transpires, but again, if we go back to the experience some years ago when the US warship was responsible for a tragic, tragic accident, America acted honourably under those circumstances and if there is a degree of Russian culpability, well, then you’d like to think that Russia would act honourably, but only time will tell.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, what assurances or guarantees can you give the families of the victims?

ABBOTT: I obviously guarantee that there will be mourning all around our country for them and for their loved ones.

There will be flags flying at half-mast across our country tomorrow. The Governor-General and I will be attending a church service on Sunday to show our respects to the families of the dead, to honour the dead, and at some suitable time in the future, there will be a national service to mark this terrible event.

I do want to assure the families of those who have died that our thoughts and prayers are with them. We bleed for them, we grieve for them and we will do everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators of this are identified and as far as is humanly possible, brought to justice.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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