Melbourne Press Conference








MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014     



Subject/s: MH17; Middle East.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Australia is still in mourning today as we discover more details about the passengers who are on MH17. Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents, people of many nations who’ve lost their lives. I’m here in Melbourne today to attend the World AIDS Conference and I’ve already met with a number of senior researchers and activists this morning talking about some of the people who have been lost in this terrible tragedy. People who have spent their lives working for the benefit of others, tragically losing their lives in this terrible plane crash.

I think it’s very important to say that Australians are shocked and appalled, not only at the shocking loss of life, but the added difficulties that pro-Russian separatists are providing when it comes to retrieving bodies. The friends and family of those who have been killed, of course, immediately want to see those remains brought back to the home countries of the people who have lost their lives. It is completely unacceptable that access to the site for retrieval of bodies is being impeded. There are reports today that bodies have been removed from the site but it’s not clear where those bodies will be kept or that they will be properly secured and looked after. It is absolutely critical that we get that information straight away and that the remains of Australians can be returned home as quickly as possible. In addition to removal of bodies from the site it appears that the wreckage is being tampered with, whether this is for the reason of covering up the cause of the crash, whether it is to hide for example the type of missile that has been used to bring down this plane, or whether indeed there is looting going on, is also not clear.

This shows again how absolutely critical it is that there is a full, international, independent investigation allowed to commence immediately. There are people in Ukraine right now, in Kiev, who could begin this investigation. They must be allowed to begin their work straight away. In addition to that pro-Russian separatists must allow proper access to the site for the removal of bodies. It is unacceptable that there are these delays around the removal of bodies. It is clear that the international community supports the Security Council recommendation that there should be a full international, independent investigation. Countries in our region, our ASEAN neighbours have made clear that they support such an investigation. European countries have made clear that they support such an investigation. Latin American countries, the United States obviously. Around the world there is agreement that there must be a full, international, independent investigation that begins immediately. It would be of course completely unacceptable for Russia to refuse to support such a Security Council recommendation.

But Russia has another responsibility. As well as supporting the Security Council recommendation for this investigation, Russia must also use its influence with the rebels that are in the eastern part of Ukraine, in this region, to allow access to the site. To allow unimpeded access for this investigation and for the securing and retrieval of bodies. There is very strong evidence that these separatists are in frequent close contact with Russia. Russia should use its influence to ensure that the site is secured and the investigators and retrieval teams can go about their business.

Once this investigation establishes who exactly is responsible for this crime, it is critical that there is a strong international response. It’s clear with loss of life on such a scale that someone must be held accountable for that loss of life and I’m pleased to note that the UN Security Council resolution which is proposed, proposes not only an international investigation but that strong measures should flow from that investigation when we are certain about what exactly has happened here.

There’s very credible evidence though that it’s a surface-to-air missile. There are suggestions about the type of missile. There are strong suggestions about who might have fired that missile. But we need to take a methodical approach to establishing who fired the missile and where they got it in the first place and when we know that take very strong international measures against the perpetrators of this terrible crime.

I want to say that Labor supports the sending of Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston as Australia’s envoy in the Ukraine. Angus Houston is a distinguished Australian who has served Australia in some very difficult tasks in the past. This is a very difficult task and all our thoughts all our support go with him. We hope that he is able to oversee the return of Australian bodies, citizens and permanent residents, as quickly as possible to their families here. Are there any questions about this issue?

JOURNALIST: How much longer do you think these people should be there before something is done about securing the site?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t think a single minute should go – there should not be a single minute between when this site is secured, when bodies are removed and properly cared for so they can be transported back to their countries of origin. This has gone on too long already. There is absolutely no excuse for the interference that we’ve seen from Russian backed separatists in preventing proper access to the site and proper retrieval of bodies. It’s already gone on too long, so I don’t think it should go on any longer, it’s already gone on too long. The important thing is to get a team in there that can remove and properly transport bodies.

JOURNALIST: Should Vladimir Putin be banned from Australia if he doesn’t support an independent investigation?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s absolutely critical that Vladimir Putin supports the UN Security Council resolution and I would be amazed if he doesn’t. It would be a grave misjudgement for Russia not to support this UN Security Council resolution or indeed to veto it. What I would add to that though is it’s not just supporting the words of the resolution that will be the test for Russia. We know that Russia does have influence with the separatists rebels that are in control of this part of Ukraine. Russia must not just sign on the dotted line for the resolution, Russia must use every bit of its influence with these rebels to ensure proper access to the site, proper treatment of bodies, the ability to gather evidence unimpeded and this will be the test for Russia. Their willingness to support an international, independent investigation, not only in word, but also in deed.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott came out against very strongly Russia very early. Do you support how he’s handled the response to this on behalf of Australia?

PLIBERSEK: I think emotions have run very high. We know now that at least 37 Australians, citizens and permanent residents, have lost their lives. It’s a very emotional time for our country. It is important that we establish a proper investigation now so that those who are responsible can face the consequences of their actions.

JOURNALIST: On another matter, how concerned is the Labor Party about Israel’s attacks on Gaza?

PLIBERSEK: We are extremely concerned about events in Gaza now. It appears that over 400 civilians have lost their lives. At last count 73 children had lost their lives. One report suggests that more children have lost their lives than militants. We understand that with Hamas firing rockets at Israel it was inevitable that Israel would seek to protect itself. Hamas rockets fired against Israel must stop. Equally however with so many civilian lives being lost now it is absolutely imperative that there is an immediate ceasefire. The consequences of this activity in Gaza are taking an extremely high toll on the civilian population there and we would urge an immediate ceasefire.


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