Press Conference, Saturday, 26 July 2014









SATURDAY, 26 JULY 2014     



Subject/s: MH17; Middle East, Asylum Seekers.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING OPPOSITION LEADER: I wanted to take the opportunity of commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement that further Australian Federal Police Officers will be pre-deployed to London, in order to be able to search the wreckage site of MH17. Of course, Labor supports the deployment of further Australian Federal Police. We believe that our personnel are the best people for this job. Experienced, dedicated, very competent and we support their deployment. The next challenge is ensuring that teams are allowed onto the site, more than three or four at a time. It is critical now that the site is secured, it's a very large site for the wreckage, spread over I'm told 50 square kilometres. There needs to be a proper methodical search of the site from one end to the other. That can only happen with a large deployment of our own police force and any other members of the international team working together methodically across the site. It is critical that the Ukraine government now use all of their efforts to argue for access to the site. And that Russia uses its influence with pro-separatist rebels to allow teams larger than three or four people to have access to the site. We know that Angus Houston is on the ground now. He's a highly skilled, highly respected individual, and we support any efforts that Angus Houston calls for in terms of additional supports for the site.

JOURNALIST: Earlier this afternoon, the Prime Minister wasn't able to confirm the exact number of personnel that will be going over. Is that reasonable, that he wouldn't be able to do that?

PLIBERSEK: I won't criticise the Prime Minister for not being able to confirm an exact number. We were told several days ago there were already 50 people pre-deployed to London. Unfortunately we haven't had a briefing about this additional pre-deployment, but he has said publicly around 90 people. I think that that's acceptable. This is a critical thing, to get Australian boots on the ground. Australian lives lost, we know that we can make a contribution to the international investigation because of the professionalism of our Australian Federal Police and so we want to see a contingent able to thoroughly investigate the site as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: Will armed officers on the site increase tensions for separatists?

PLIBERSEK: Well, this is something that Angus Houston will have to examine very carefully. We don't want to send - we don't want to send unarmed Australian Federal Police into a situation where they might be injured, they might be taken hostage. Of course our first responsibility is to ensure that our Australian Federal Police are protected, can protect themselves. Whether or not having an armed guard would increase tension is something that Angus Houston is best placed to examine and to answer. Someone with his experience is the ideal person to make that assessment on the ground.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: I also wanted to say a few words about what's happening in Gaza at the moment. Anybody who's been reading the papers or watching television would be completely distressed to see image after image of people injured, bodies being carried out of the rubble. So many of these injured civilians are children. Children who've been sheltering in hospitals or in schools. It is completely unacceptable to continue to see this death toll rise to around 900 now. So Labor welcomes the 12-hour pause in fighting, but we say that this should be extended to a permanent ceasefire immediately. Too many people have lost their lives, too many of those people have been civilians, too many of those civilians have been children. It is critical, too, that parties come back to the negotiating table for a durable peace. We cannot afford a situation where every few months or every few years, the rockets start firing again. Civilians lose their lives. Hostilities increase. The only possibility for a durable peace is a two-state solution. An Israel behind secure internationally recognised borders, and a Palestinian State that is economically viable, that is able to provide its own security on its own territory. It is critical that the parties return to the negotiating table because too many people have lost their lives already in this tragic conflict.

I wanted to say a few words also about the asylum boat that's been on the high seas recently. It is extraordinary that Australians are still not being informed by their government, the government that they elected and put into place about what their government intends to do in this situation with asylum seekers who've been intercepted on the high seas. It appears likely that those asylum seekers will be brought now to Australia for processing. Well they could've been brought to Christmas Island weeks ago, as Labor suggested and processed there. The only thing that stopped the processing of these asylum seekers weeks ago is Scott Morrison's ego. It is important now that the government fully answer questions about where the asylum seekers are, where they're going, and what's going to happen to them. It is extraordinary that we have a minister who has, from the day he was elected, refused to answer the most basic questions about his portfolio - has put his own ego ahead of managing his portfolio responsibilities and who's now turned asylum seeker policy over to the High Court.



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