ABC AM, interview with Chris Uhlmann

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Malaysian airways crash, Ukraine

10 March 2014

CHRIS UHLMANN: Australia has sent one long-range maritime surveillance plane to help with the search for the missing Malaysian aircraft, and another will join it today.

And while there is no evidence the flight was brought down in a terror attack, news that at least two men were travelling on stolen passports is disturbing, and the theft of travel documents has long troubled Australian authorities.

Earlier I spoke with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who's in London for annual defence and foreign policy talks with the British Government.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, have you been in contact with your Malaysian counterpart?

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is a very distressing and anxious time for the families of those passengers on the Malaysian Airlines plane and we still have no clear information on the fate of that airline and its passengers and crew.

I have contacted the Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman this afternoon United Kingdom time, offering Australia's support and assistance.

The Malaysian Foreign Minister confirmed that Malaysia has established a coordination centre at their national disaster control centre. They are galvanising their resources and the assets deployed by other nations.

The search activity underway involves dozens of ships and aircraft, including two Orions from Australia as well as assets from Malaysia, the United States, Singapore, Vietnam, The Philippines and China.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now there are reports this morning that there has been a sighting of some debris. Do you know anything about that?

JULIE BISHOP: I am aware of those reports but until such time as the plane is located I don't wish to speculate on what might have happened or whether that debris is connected to this plane.

The search area appears to be across a very wide area – the west and east coast of Malaysia and the south coast of Vietnam – but we still don't know how or why the plane came down, but we can assume that it has.

CHRIS UHLMANN: One of the concerning things about this is that it appears that two people got on board that plane travelling on false passports, that must be a very disturbing development for you?

JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of theories relating to passenger identification – they are currently being investigated so I don't want to speculate – but our officials are in urgent and ongoing contact with authorities in Malaysia and overseas.

So as soon as news comes to hand of course we'll pass it on, but at this stage there are a number of theories and a number of lines of investigation that are underway.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Certainly and there's no suggestion at this stage that they were involved in a terrorist attack but they were travelling on stolen passports – that in itself is a concern. Then to be able to get on the plane means that there was a real breakdown wasn't there, in passport control?

JULIE BISHOP: There may be no connection at all, but nevertheless it is a worrying development, and I note that a number of overseas authorities are involved in looking at this issue as to how many passengers were travelling on false or questionable passports.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Were there any pre-existing concerns about passport controls in Malaysia?

JULIE BISHOP: None that I'm aware of but it has been a global issue for some time, I don't think that this is an isolated incident.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now, you are in London for talks on Ukraine. What is the mood in Europe at the moment about the way that Russia is behaving, and are sanctions likely?

JULIE BISHOP: The concern here is that, rather than de-escalating the situation, it appears that pro-Russian forces are strengthening their position in Crimea. The military situation is tense and there are indications that Russians are entrenching forces in Crimea.

CHRIS UHLMANN: There are clearly two very, very different world views: Russia's and the West's. And from Russia's point of view, the West's supported what it sees as an illegitimate government. The government there was overthrown and it says that the West backed that action. Do you have any sympathy at all for the Russian point of view?

JULIE BISHOP: Well there's no justification for an increase in Russian presence in Crimea. Russia's assertion that it can intervene in Crimea or Ukraine to protect Russian-speaking communities is not only without justification, but it sets a disturbing precedent for other former Soviet republics.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Foreign Minister, thank you.

JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And Australia's Foreign Minister is Julie Bishop and she is speaking to us from London.

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