ABC’s AM Program, Kyiv: interview with Chris Uhlmann

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST It's become an all too familiar daily ritual. Heavy fighting in Ukraine has again prevented Australian and Dutch investigators from reaching the MH17 crash site. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop remains in Kiev where she's been lobbying Ukrainian politicians ahead of tomorrow's special session of parliament. She's hoping MPs will vote to give control of the crash site to the Dutch and ratify an agreement that would allow Australians to carry weapons if necessary. Julie Bishop, for four days Dutch and Australian investigators have tried to get to the crash site and each day they've been turned back. Is there any sign they'll get through soon?

JULIE BISHOP Chris, our team is desperate to access the crash site to retrieve the remains. But, we've now been informed that there could be the remains of up to 80 bodies on the site and so that has just made us even more resolute in our determination to access the site. It's heart-breaking; it's so distressing. We have the team in place, we have the experts ready to work and we can't get to the site, but there's a full-scale war going on. The parties are using heavy weapons; there's artillery and missiles and while the political leadership give us assurances of a humanitarian corridor and a ceasefire, on the ground it is so complex. It's fast moving, it's ever changing, there are many forces at play - the Ukrainian army, the multiple separatist groups and Russia and my great fear is Russia is actively undermining this process. We've had the strongest possible support from Ukrainian government, but still the fighting goes on and there is no ceasefire.

JOURNALIST Isn't part of the problem in that part of the world though at the moment, that the Ukrainian government is trying to press an advantage that it sees against the rebels?

JULIE BISHOP The Ukrainian government has a military objective and that is to retain its sovereignty and obviously take back territory that was filled by the separatists, but they have been offering us a lot of support for a humanitarian corridor and a ceasefire, but we sent out reconnoitres in the morning; we send out a team in advance and they get halfway down the road, maybe a quarter of the way down the road, sometimes three-quarters of the way down the road - we tried this three days in a row - and then the shelling starts and whilst I can't point the finger at who starts the shelling, we get the absolute assurances from the Ukraine government that it's not them.

JOURNALIST Can you expand a bit then on your fears about Russia? Of course the United States has said that shelling is coming from the Russian side of the border so what are you being told?

JULIE BISHOP We have briefings, not only for our own intelligence people here but from others, and the picture that is being put together is of missiles coming from the Russian side and there are ways and means of experts assessing that and the separatists are heavily armed. I mean they've got artillery; they've got missiles. You don't buy this stuff in a 7-11. They have got very sophisticated weaponry and they're using it.

JOURNALIST So the Prime Minister has been in touch regularly Vladimir Putin. Is the Russian president lying to the Australian Prime Minister?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister hasn't spoken to President Putin for a little while now, but on the occasions that he has, President Putin says that he's committed to ensuring that our workers can get onto the site. Well, we've now tried four days in a row and we can't get onto the site and this is heartbreaking. Tomorrow I am hoping that we will reach an important milestone in our time here and that is when a resolution regarding the Dutch and Australian presence here is debated in the parliament and passed and that's important but what's even more important is for us to get access to the site.

JOURNALIST Are you concerned about reports now that the road has been mined and that's the roadway to the site?

JULIE BISHOP I don't know that those reports are confirmed. We've certainly heard of them. If that is true, it is utterly despicable. That's utterly, utterly unacceptable.

JOURNALIST One last thing and I know that have been completely focused on what's going on in Ukraine at the moment, but there is a war going on in Gaza; 1,300 Palestinians have died and 56 Israelis. What is the Australian Government saying to its friends in Israel at the moment about bringing this to an end?

JULIE BISHOP There must be a ceasefire. We are supporting the efforts of the United States through Secretary Kerry to bring the parties to the table. While ever rockets are being fired from Hamas, Israel will retaliate, so there must be a ceasefire. The Australian Government has responded by providing additional humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian territories. I authorised a further $5 million to be provided just the other day while I was here in Ukraine. That brings our support to the Palestinian territories for humanitarian purposes to over $60 million this year and that is a significant amount of money in terms of the Australian aid budget, but we are urging both sides to stop the firing, stop the firing of weapons and missiles and rockets and ensure that civilians are not in harm's way. The only way to do that is to have a ceasefire and for them to go back to the negotiating table. So we absolutely support Secretary Kerry's efforts in that regard.

JOURNALIST The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.

Media enquiries