Doorstop interview, Kyiv

  • Transcript, E&OE
01 August 2014

JOURNALIST Minister, is your mission complete here?

JULIE BISHOP My work is done but the mission goes on. Today I can confirm that we have a much larger convoy on its way to the crash site. There will be about 100 in this convoy. After the reconnoitre and the advanced party efforts yesterday, we have judged that it's safe for a much larger team to go on to the crash site and really start work in earnest. The last word I heard was that they were leaving Ukraine-held territory and heading into the Russian-backed rebel territory, so they're not there yet, but we are very hopeful that they'll get there today and start the work that they were sent here to do. I can also confirm that the agreement for our presence here, that was ratified by the Parliament, has now been signed off by the President and gazetted. So all the legalities are in place and that's also a relief, from my point of view. So we have the personnel, we have the equipment, we have the resources. Today, there will also be refrigerated vans on site so that remains can be treated appropriately and with dignity and respect and be then transferred. And so we are now well underway to completing the mission that our Government sent us here to do. From my point of view, it's time for me to go home. I left Australia two weeks ago and we obtained our unanimous resolution at Security Council; we obtained the ratification of agreements for us to be here and there's been a successful mission to date, in that we now have Australian and Dutch investigators and body identification experts on the site.

JOURNALIST And you have a very poignant mission this weekend.

JULIE BISHOP Yes, I do. I've been invited to attend the celebration of life for the Maslin children and their grandfather. I mentioned this family in my speech to the Security Council over 10 days ago. Every time I talk about it I tear up, so I won't go any further. I don't know how I'm going to get through Sunday, but we will, we will. And it's just a reminder of what we're all doing here. This is about trying to get closure for the families of 38 Australian residents who were killed in this most tragic act. It's brought Australia right into the centre of a vicious military battle. Through a cruel stroke of fate, Australia has been inserted into the geopolitics of Ukrainian-Russian conflict and our focus has remained steady throughout. This is about the families. It is about the families that have lost their loved ones, and we will do our job and we will leave.

And I just want to thank the Australian team in Canberra, in the Netherlands, in Kiev, down on the site and in New York for putting together the most extraordinary effort. It's like a very well-oiled machine, and to do this offshore, a long way from home, has been nothing short of remarkable. But I am still thinking of our team out there on the site. I can't think of a more grisly task that they will have to undertake, but nevertheless, they're determined to do it. We've been resolute throughout and I believe we will be able to complete the mission within two weeks.

JOURNALIST It's still a very volatile situation, even though yesterday was a great achievement. We had one - our reporter had a gun held to his head. To send 100 in today, is there some more assurances that you had to get that they would be okay, or get safe passage through?

JULIE BISHOP Well, we have no choice, in the sense that it was a condition of the separatists that people be unarmed. If we had insisted on arms, we wouldn't be on the crash site. It is a humanitarian mission; there should be no reason for it to be armed. It is police led, but we assess the risk day-by-day, hour-by-hour. And through the good offices of the OSCE, we have monitors on the ground and we're now working very closely with Ukrainian military. We have much better situational awareness. We have a much better idea of what's going on, and we know where to go, where not to go, and try and avoid dangerous places. And might I suggest that perhaps the media need to be a little more careful in where they're going. If people are having guns held to their head, maybe they'd better be part of the convoy rather than out on their own. It's just a suggestion.

JOURNALIST So when do you - with the agreement to have AFP officers armed, when do you make a decision whether to arm those officers or can they be armed at any day? Obviously you're probably not going to tell us.

JULIE BISHOP Well, no I'm not, but also, this is not what the agreement was all about. I know it's tempting to focus on that part of it, but the agreement was actually about our presence here, and we've been invited in by the Ukrainian Government, they've given their consent for us to bring in all manner of equipment and people and specialists and dogs into their country to undertake a very complex body retrieval and identification process. Essentially, lifting a crash site from here and taking it to another country, in terms of the wreckage and the bodies and the evidence. So this is a very complex matter. It had to be covered off legally. We had to put in place a legal framework, and so we looked at every contingency and one of the contingencies was the ability - the legal competency to bring in arms. But we do not envisage any arms on the site with our police at any time.

JOURNALIST Is the ceasefire that was promised to you by the Ukrainian Government in place still and did it look like holding? Because it hasn't held for the last two weeks.

JULIE BISHOP Well, the Ukrainian Government isn't the only party to this; it's only one side. You have the Ukrainian Government, you have various separatist groups and they're not necessarily working to the same agenda and then you have Russia. And so we can work closely with Ukrainian Government and they have provided us access at the highest level. Their deputy prime minister, their defence minister and their foreign minister as well as President Poroshenko have been available to work with us and share information, tell us what they are planning to do, so that we can then adjust our mission accordingly. Likewise, the OSCE have been working closely with the rebels; as far as they know what the rebels are up to, they can share that information with us as well. So, we are getting information from across the board and that's how we plan our mission every day, hour-by-hour. I do want to thank the Ukrainian Government for the incredible level of support that they've given us, particularly over this week. I think it would be unprecedented for these agreements to be drafted, ratified, gazetted, and passed by the Parliament all in one week and yet we've been able to achieve that.

JOURNALIST Are you - is there any truth to the rumour that the Australians and Dutch contingent in Donetsk will be moving city? They'll be changing location?

JULIE BISHOP They're operational matters and I'm not going into that. What I can assure you is that the Australians and the Dutch are working very closely together and they're putting the safety of our people as one of their paramount priorities. They will get onto the site, do their job, but they're also very mindful of the safety of our people. So they'll take whatever steps they believe necessary to ensure that our police and our supporters and investigators and enablers are all safe. Okay, thank you and best of luck and be safe.


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