ABC Radio National Breakfast










MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014     


SUBJECT/S: MH17.            


ALISON CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.


CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, it’s taken several days but Vladimir Putin has finally taken Tony Abbott’s telephone call. Could this signal Russia is prepared to be more cooperative?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it was extraordinary that it’s taken this long for Vladimir Putin to answer the phone to Tony Abbott, considering the very high toll that this terrible tragedy has taken on Australian lives, Australian citizens and permanent residents. I can’t interpret whether this is a good sign or not, but it would be extraordinary if Russia didn’t support the Security Council resolution calling for a full, transparent, international investigation, for investigators to be allowed unimpeded onto the crash site immediately. It would be extraordinary if they did not support that.

CARABINE: But the Prime Minister has expressed concerns that the Russians may give all the right assurances, say the right things, but then will interfere with the site, interfere with that full and independent international investigation. From what we’ve seen so far on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, do you share those fears? Are those fears well-founded, that the Russians won’t cooperate?

PLIBERSEK: I think the first thing to ensure is that they support the formal resolution. The second thing that is required of the Russians is that they use all of the influence that they have with the separatist rebels to ensure that there is proper access to the site, that there is no threat of interference or violence towards investigators. I think the international community would generally have a view that Russia would have a strong potential influence on these separatists. They should use that influence.

CARABINE: But the Kremlin has indicated that it will support an independent investigation, but the bottom line: can Vladimir Putin be trusted?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think I’m the appropriate person to ask that question, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to offer a view.

CARABINE: Now, right from the start the Prime Minister has used very forthright language. He is no doubt that Russia is implicated in the missile attack on MH17. Is the Opposition of the same view that Russia can’t wash its hands of this one?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think we need to take this step by step. The first thing we need to do is secure the bodies, to make sure they are held in appropriate conditions and returned to Australia, returned to their countries of origin as quickly as possible. The second thing that we need to do is ensure the site is accessible to an international team of investigators. There are already people in Kiev who could be going to the site now, who could be securing the site and gathering evidence, that’s the next most important thing to do. That investigation has to run its course, but when we know who is responsible, I think the international community would demand a very strong response. The loss of almost 300 lives is an absolutely unacceptable tragedy and we need to establish clearly who’s responsible, and hold whoever is responsible to account.

CARABINE: So does Labor hold Russia responsible for the downing of MH17? Is it implicated to some extent?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate in that way. What I would say is that there is strong evidence that the missile was fired from territory held by Russian-backed rebels, there is credible evidence of the type of missile that was used. If that is indeed found to be the case, the type of missile is identified as something that could have been or is likely to have been provided to rebel separatists by Russians, then of course there is a degree of responsibility. But I have to stress that it is important that this goes through a step by step process. This site covers many square kilometres, there will be debris from the type of missile - that has been used that has to be gathered and carefully examined to ensure that it’s the type of missile that people believe that it is. Then the next step is to establish through other means how this missile – who fired it, and how it came to be in the hands of whoever fired it.

CARABINE: And those others means, of course, is the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a full independent, international investigation. Julie Bishop expects Russia will support that resolution, do you believe that will be the case?

PLIBERSEK: I think it would be extraordinary if Russia didn’t support this resolution, I think it would be extraordinary. But supporting the resolution is one thing, using its influence with separatists to ensure proper investigation to the site, to ensure that debris is not removed, to ensure that sadly the bodies are able to be dealt with properly. They need to use their influence with the rebels to ensure that as well, it’s not just a matter of signing on the dotted line, but of using everything at their disposal to aid and support a proper investigation.

CARABINE: But if the Russians continue to be uncooperative and it doesn’t use its influence with the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, what is next? Is there anything really that Australia or the rest of the world community can do, or will we effectively be stymied?

PLIBERSEK: Well no, of course there are consequences to a lack of cooperation, but I don’t think it’s the right time now to start talking about those potential consequences. I think we need to take this step by step, at getting an investigative team in there right now and demanding the cooperation of separatists are the two most critical things to do right now. There are potential consequences, the European community has been very badly affected by this, there were - as you know - in particular many Dutch nationals on this plane. I’m sure that there is a strong degree of expectation amongst all of the nations that have had citizens affected by this, for the perpetrators to be found and to be punished.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, you’ve been briefed by agencies on the latest situation in Ukraine. We’ve all seen the vision of bodies being removed and placed on a train, the black box also being taken away, belongings being looted. Is it now too late for the site to be secured in any shape or form?

PLIBERSEK: I think every minute that passes is – it’s a shame that any time would continue to elapse before investigators are allowed to do their work properly. But this is a very forensic task, they’ll be looking for very small pieces of missile, for example, in amongst the wreckage. And I think that the very highly skilled investigators that we have would still be able to find evidence at the site. It is just completely against any of the rules of humanity that investigators would be prevented from accessing the site, but more particularly that bodies would be not properly handled, not properly and respectfully handled at the moment. So any time elapsing is a problem, but I think it’s still important to get a team in there as quickly as quickly as we can.


CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, just finally, there is still the question of Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the G20 is Brisbane in November. The Prime Minister is suggesting he will only be invited if there is full cooperation and an apology, and full regret and remorse are expressed. Would that be good enough for the Opposition or is Vladimir Putin not welcome in this country regardless of what happens next?

PLIBERSEK: I think, as I’ve said, it’s important to establish step by step who is responsible here. If the suggestions that Russian-backed rebels have fired this missile and it was supplied by the Russians, then there is a degree of culpability and we would expect consequences to that culpability. But it is very important to establish this in a methodical way beyond doubt.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, thank you for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Alison.

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