Press Conference, 20 July 2014








SUNDAY, 20 JULY 2014

SUBJECT/S: MH17, United Nation’s Security Council; Saint Mary’s service for victims of MH17; International AIDS Conference; Russia and the G20; Repatriation of victims to Australia.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. The first thing to say of course is that the Prime Minister, his wife, the leader of the opposition Bill Shorten and I, the Governor-General, his wife, the New South Wales Governor, the Premier Mike Baird and a number of others attended a service this morning at Saint Mary’s cathedral to commemorate the shocking loss of life from MH 17 today. The service was a great opportunity to remind ourselves that in Australia the whole community is shocked by this act of extraordinary violence and the loss of human life that has come from it. We now know that at least 36 Australian citizens and permanent residents have lost their lives. Children, parents, grandparents, teachers, a whole range of people right across the Australian community, from all parts of our community there are many, many families grieving today and many communities grieving the loss of a community member. The service today was an opportunity to show that all Australians are united in their grief, and united in their support for the families who’ve lost a loved one, for the communities who’ve lost a member of their community.

Very shortly, Australian will be engaged with the UN Security Council in debating a resolution about granting full access to the site of this terrible crash. It is absolutely critical that Security Council members unanimously support the call for an investigation that is transparent, that is made up of investigators from a number of countries, so a credible, transparent,international investigation. Access to the site must be granted immediately and it must be unimpeded. I think every Australian would be outraged at the suggestions that there are paramilitary personnel on the site at the moment that are interfering with investigations, preventing investigation and it seems perhaps preventing the removal and retrieval of bodies. This is completely unacceptable. There is no explanation, no excuse for anything other than for authorities to have full access to the site to retrieve and remove bodies and also of course, to ensure that the site is not tampered with, that any investigation is thorough and is credible.
The third thing to say is that tomorrow I’ll be travelling to Melbourne to go to the International AIDS Conference. As well as the Australian citizens and permanent residents that were mourning for, we understand the grief of other nations, particularly the Netherlands who’ve lost so many of their citizens. We also understand the terrible grief being suffered by those attending the International AIDS Conference to have lost so many colleagues in this shocking tragedy. The people who are travelling to the conference in Melbourne are people who have spent their lives, dedicated their careers to helping others. We’ve got health campaigners, doctors, researchers, scientists, people who have made a huge contribution to saving literally millions of lives by ensuring better access to medicines in countries where the epidemic is most fierce. So as well as the terrible individual tragedies of these lives lost, as we think of the families and friends and colleagues of all of those on board, we also think of the cost to humanity of losing so many fine researchers and health activists at one time.

I want to just, before we move into questions, mention another tragedy that’s happening today. We now know that the death toll in Gaza is over 300. We need to find a peaceful resolution immediately to the military conflict that’s occurring in Gaza. Of course the rockets must stop, Hamas must agree to a ceasefire and I also urge Israel to ensure that any response to that rocket fire is proportionate and spares the lives of civilians. We are hearing of a lot of civilian casualties at the moment and I am full of concern for those people also.

JOURNALIST: On MH17, the Prime Minister this morning said on television that Russia can’t wash its hand of the situation. What are your thoughts on the way that Russia and President Putin are handling this so far?

PLIBERSEK: The priority for Australia has to be getting on to the crash site and retrieving Australians from that crash site. The second most important thing to do is ensure an international investigation into exactly what’s happened here. I am extremely concerned, however, about reports that Russian backed separatists are engaged in preventing access to the site and preventing the investigation that must happen. We need to establish what type of rocket this was, who fired it and where they got it from, but that’s the next step for us.

JOURNALIST: I suppose for a lot of the families, of let’s say the Australian victims, they’d be wondering whether or not President Putin should be allowed into Australian for the G20 Summit, or should attend the G20 Summit. Can you understand some of these families and more broadly the Australian community believing that he shouldn’t be here in person?

PLIBERSEK: I absolutely support [inaudible] concerned about the, what President Putin has said. Certainly his first response in seeking to blame Ukraine for this terrible tragedy is completely unacceptable.  He has the opportunity now, in the Security Council, to back the full international investigation and he also has the opportunity to send a very strong message to Russian backed separatists in Ukraine that they must cooperate with an international investigation. They must cooperate in allowing bodies to be removed from the site and repatriated, taken home, brought home to Australia and to all of those nations that are sharing in this tragedy with us. President Putin has the opportunity of showing leadership on this by backing that investigation and ensuring that Russian backed separatists allow the international team investigating and removing and repatriating bodies to do their work in [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: But about him coming to the G20?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that that’s something that we need to consider when it becomes clear what type of rocket this was, where it came from and who fired it.

JOURNALIST: And the Sister Tiernan, she was from your electorate?

PLIBERSEK: No, she was from a neighbouring electorate I believe, but I was able to meet this morning at Saint Mary’s with a number of her fellow Sisters of the Sacred Heart and a number of other Orders were also represented there. There were a number of young women from Kincoppal who were at the service this morning and I know that they are feeling a great deal of grief at this time. We were able to offer our condolences to those other nuns, but of course it’s a tragic time for them as it is for all of the families, friends and colleagues of those Australian citizens and permanent residents.

JOURNALIST: Just back on to Russia, do you think that the broader international community and countries like Germany and Britain also need to do their bit to try and encourage Russia or force Russia into supporting an independent and international inquiry?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. I think any nation, any world leader that is in contact with Vladimir Putin with any nation that has any influence with Russia should be using that influence right now to ensure that Russia supports a UN Security Council resolution to allow a credible, independent, international investigation. And that, also on top of that, that Vladimir Putin urges Russian separatists very clearly to ensure that the site is accessible, that there is no tampering with the site.

JOURNALIST: But are you concerned that Germany and Britain might be tempering their comments because there’s an economic imperative for both countries?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think, no I couldn’t say that now, I don’t see any evidence of that.

JOURNALIST: Okay, and also Julie Bishop has been finding it difficult to get on to her Russian counterpart and Tony Abbott still hasn’t been able to speak to Vladimir Putin. What do you think that this sort of stuff signals?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is extraordinary that the Russian foreign minister apparently is on holidays and not contactable and that President Putin, at a time like this of international shock and horror, is not available.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns that the MH17 incident could inflame tensions here regarding the Ukraine/Russia conflict?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don’t share those concerns. I believe the Russian community and Ukrainian community here in Australia are both shocked and appalled at the loss of life from MH17 going down, and I’m sure that as good Australian citizens they will be as shocked and as horrified as any other Australian citizen at this loss of life.

Thanks everyone.


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