Prime Minister Tony Abbott has held his sixth press conference in six days on the recovery operation for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
As he has done throughout the week, Abbott stressed that Australia is engaged in a humanitarian operation.
Abbott said that “others can get involved if they wish in the politics of Eastern Europe. Our sole concern is to claim our dead and bring them home”.
He said: “That is our mission: to secure the remains, to assist the investigation, and to obtain justice for the victims and their loved ones.”
Abbott indicated that an agreement with the Ukrainian government to allow Australian police involvement in the investigation at the crash site has been negotiated but requires ratification by the Ukrainian parliament.
- Listen to Abbott’s press conference (9m)
Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Canberra press conference today.
ABBOTT: Thanks everyone for being here and thanks for being here on a Saturday.
What I wanted to do was give you an update on Operation Bring Them Home.
There are now over 230 Australian officials who have been deployed or are being deployed to support Operation Bring Them Home. The 50 Australian Federal Police officers who had pre-deployed to London are moving forward to the Netherlands where they’ll be joined by reinforcements from Australia. Some ADF support elements including a medical team are also beginning to pre-deploy.
Yesterday, Australian officials again had access to the sites. Plainly, there are unrecovered body remains in the area and it’s the presence of unrecovered remains that makes it more important than ever that an international team be dispatched to the site to recover remains, to assist investigation, and to obtain justice.
Later today, the last airlift will go from Kharkiv to the Netherlands with the final remains from the Ukrainian train and I expect that it will be met in the Netherlands by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. I want to thank Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for her tireless work in support of Operation Bring Them Home. I thank Jean Dunn our Ambassador to Poland and the Ukraine who has been working tirelessly in Kiev and elsewhere over last week or so. I thank our Ambassador in the Netherlands Neil Mules for his excellent work. There are hundreds of officials working around the clock here and abroad – I thank them all.
But I do pay particular tribute to Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, our Envoy on the spot, who is exploring with Ukrainian officials and with Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe officials what we can do swiftly to help secure human remains as part of a Dutch-led international mission – what we can do very swiftly to help secure human remains as part of a Dutch-led international mission.
That is our mission: to secure the remains, to assist the investigation, and to obtain justice for the victims and their loved ones.
It is, I stress, a humanitarian mission. It is a humanitarian mission. Others can get involved if they wish in the politics of Eastern Europe. Our sole concern is to claim our dead and bring them home.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, how soon can you get agreement from Ukraine in terms of getting those Australian personnel on the ground?
ABBOTT: Well, we have many Australian personnel on the ground already. The agreement that we are seeking, the agreement that we have in fact negotiated with the Ukrainian Government, which needs ratification by the parliament, is agreement to secure a team that may be armed. But we have many personnel on the ground already in Ukraine and they are working very hard in support of Operation Bring Them Home.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, some security experts have questioned the wisdom of putting armed personnel into what’s quite a volatile and dangerous area. How committed is Australia to putting them into the crash site if they could be placed at danger themselves?
ABBOTT: Well, the last thing we want to do is to place anyone in danger. We don’t want to compound the tragedy of MH17 – the atrocity of MH17 – with any more tragedy. But, we do want to bring our dead home. We want to do it as quickly as possible. It’s important that we do our best to secure the site and to recover remains as quickly as possible because every day the site remains unsecured, there is more interference and the remains are subject to the ravages of the European summer, animals, disturbance, et cetera, et cetera. So, we do want to get this done as quickly as we humanly can and that’s why we’re exploring all options in the Ukraine now.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, yesterday you said we had about 190 federal police either deployed or being about to be deployed. Today you’ve said 230 – do we assume that there’s 40 ADF making up that contingent?
ABBOTT: No, that 230 is the full complement of officials currently abroad. It’s a very, very big team now. There’s 190 AFP who are there or on their way. There will be small ADF elements pre-deploying. We’ve already got some ADF personnel on the ground in Kiev; a liaison officer, you’ve seen a few Australian uniforms at various ceremonies already. When you’ve got a major humanitarian effort, as we have, it’s normal and natural to have ADF assistance and many countries have got their defence personnel on the ground already in Ukraine. There are Dutch personnel on the ground in Ukraine. As I understand it, there are Malaysian military personnel on the ground in Ukraine. So, no one should think that this is particularly unusual.
QUESTION: Is there a reason you’re reluctant to put a figure on the ADF contingent?
ABBOTT: Well, I don’t have a precise figure at the moment and obviously, as our planning evolves, and as the mission evolves, these numbers could change. The initial pre-deployment of police was 50 – 50 operational police. We’ve now got an additional 90 that are going to join them because as the mission evolves, the personnel requirement will evolve with it.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you mentioned Minister Bishop will be there to welcome some of these bodies. My understanding is she will then go to New York. What’s prompted that move?
ABBOTT: I don’t think you should assume that she will go to New York. One of our very high priorities is to secure the full agreement of the Ukrainian system, not just the government but of the parliament. So, I don’t think you should assume that Minister Bishop will go from the Netherlands to New York. You may well find that she goes back to Kiev in the next day so.
QUESTION: Overnight the EU maybe moved forward to strengthening sanctions against Russia. How delicate is this situation at the moment? Is this the time for them to be doing it?
ABBOTT: Well, what the EU does is a matter for the EU. We certainly have no plans to increase our sanctions and, look, there are two separate issues here: there’s the issue of the geopolitics of Eastern Europe – and people have their opinions on that and some countries are taking action on that – and there’s the issue of Operation Bring Them Home and my whole and sole focus is on Operation Bring Them Home.
QUESTION: Just on the 157 asylum seekers. Can you give us more detail about exactly when they’re arriving at Curtin or where they are currently?
ABBOTT: Look, I can’t give you that detail. I’m sure Scott Morrison could give you that detail. As you can imagine, my focus in recent days has been very much on responding to the MH17 atrocity. I would say, though, that what we do is always in accordance with our international obligations, it’s always in accordance with our legal obligations, it’s always in accordance with safety at sea, and it is all directed to ensure that as far as is humanly possible, we do in fact stop the boats because if you want to stop the deaths, you’ve got to stop the boats and we’ve had remarkable success over the last seven months or so. This is the first boat which has got as close to success, if you like, as one has in many a long month. We are determined to respond to this one in ways which underline – underline – our absolute implacable opposition to people smuggling and our complete and utter determination to do whatever we legally can, whatever we morally and ethically can to stop the boats because every boat that comes is exposing its passengers to potentially lethal risk. Every boat that comes is encouraging people smugglers and their customers to think that there is an illegal way to Australia. Well, there’s not. The message I repeat – the message I repeat – is that if you come to Australia illegally by boat you will never ever get permanent residency. So, if you want to come to this country, come the right way, not the wrong way, because if you come the wrong way you will never stay here.