THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
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TUESDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER 2014
MH17 - RESPONSE TO TABLING OF TREATY BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND THE NETHERLANDS
Of course the Opposition in this, as with all things related to MH17, supports the Government. The Opposition welcomes the tabling of the Treaty between Australia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands on the presence of Australian personnel in the Netherlands for the purpose of responding to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
There are dates that stick with us.
The years of war; the days of loss.
September 11, 2001.
October 12, 2002 and October 1 2005, the Bali bombings.
And now July 17. Each of us can no doubt remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard news of the tragic downing of MH17 on the 17th of July this year.
We know that 298 people on board lost their lives, that 38 of the victims called Australia home.
Beyond the dates and the numbers, we have also come to know some of the personal stories of the people on that plane.
Emma Bell, the teacher working in the Northern Territory community of Maningrida, where Aboriginal elders held a smoking ceremony last month to remember her.
Gary and Mona Lee, who migrated to Australia in the 1970s.
Sister Philomene Tiernan, a nun from Sydney.
Perth resident Nick Norris and his three grandchildren.
Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin.
Researchers travelling to the 2014 AIDS conference in Melbourne, including the former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange.
We know so many of the names, so many of the stories, and of course we know a little of the grief of the families.
Much of the past two months have been about coming to terms with what we saw on that tragic day in July.
We’ve seen the efforts that our investigators, part of an international effort, have made, to bring to justice those responsible for this terrible crime. Unexpected, unjust, and unjustifiable.
Of course the shooting down of an unarmed passenger jet in civilian airspace demands answers, and it also demands a reconnection of those grieving families with something of the people that they have lost.
James and Vanessa Rizk who lost their parents, Albert and Maree. They held a memorial service in early August with more than 1000 mourners, and were later able to hold a private family funeral for their parents.
The family of Mary and Gerry Menke from Mallacoota, who said ‘We look forward to receiving Mary and Gerry again soon in the place and the community they loved so much and which loved them.’
The work of returning the remains of those who lost their lives to Australia is phenomenally important to the families, those last objects that their loved ones touched, the things that they were holding and handling on their flight home.
The efforts of the international team have been helping families around the world both understand the source of the crime, and have their loved ones return to them.
One of the pilots, Captain Eugene Choo Jin Leong, was returned to his family for a funeral service in Malaysia.
His friend, another pilot, Azlan Abu Bakar, described flying home from the Netherlands, saying: "It was horrible bringing my very close friend. We used to fly together, and this time we fly together again but in different situation."
And yet as difficult as that journey was, that pilot’s remains were able to rest in an urn in his family home to allow his family to come and pay their respects.
These stories underscore the human tragedy underlying the efforts of Australian personnel in the Ukraine and the Netherlands.
The need for confidence in the investigation from all the loved ones of those 298 victims.
It is a mission that Australian personnel and their international partners have carried out with distinction in extremely challenging circumstance, including reports of a team spending seven hours – at times avoiding arms fire – to retrieve small pieces of debris and a silver necklace.
It is completely unacceptable that participants in this conflict on Ukrainian soil were not able to afford safe passage and security to the international team of experts working on the MH17 crash site.
Russia must accept its share of responsibility for the ongoing instability in the Ukraine, and must fully cooperate with efforts to understand the chain of events which led to this crash.
Australia has been an international leader in the discussion about the investigation, following the moving of resolution 2166 in the UN Security Council.
This is exactly the sort of use that we envisaged for Australia’s representation on the Security Council when we argued so hard that a country of Australia’s stature deserved its place on the Security Council.
Given the seriousness of the tragedy, and the urgency of the efforts by Australian personnel overseas, the Treaty being tabled today forms an important part of our national response.
The Treaty was signed and entered into force on 1 August this year, and acknowledges the responsibilities of Australian personnel, including to respect the sovereignty and laws of the Netherlands.
The Treaty also affords our personnel rights and protections during their important work, including allowing them to carry weapons and wear field uniform.
The arrangements provide that Australian personnel will remain under Australia’s command, and any necessary administrative or disciplinary action will be taken by Australia.
The Opposition notes that the Government relied on the National Interest Exemption to take binding treaty action before the Treaty was tabled in Parliament. We accept the time sensitivity of the situation at hand, and the primacy of affording proper protection to Australian personnel from the Department of Defence and Australian Federal Police.
I welcome the tabling of this Treaty and commend it to Parliament.