Doorstop interview, Perth

  • Transcript, E&OE
06 August 2014

JOURNALIST You gave an indication that the recovery part of MH17 was only a couple of days away from being finished. Are you confident that all the bodies will be recovered?

JULIE BISHOP We hope to bring home all the Australians who were killed in the MH17 crash – that is why we have been so determined to search the site as thoroughly as possible. However, we are still operating in a war zone and our access to the site is hampered from time to time.

I spoke to Angus Houston overnight and he assures me that we will continue to go back to recover what we can but there are 298 bodies that need to be identified so that process is underway in the Netherlands. We hope to be in a position to be able to identify some Australian remains, but again this is going to be a very long process.

JOURNALIST Do you have 298 bodies to identify?

JULIE BISHOP Well, currently, a number of them are remains so that is why DNA testing and other testing will be so essential and that is what is going on in the Netherlands at present.

JOURNALIST Are Australian authorities more hopeful than last week when the Federal Police seemed to be softening up the Australian people to the possibility that not all can be recovered?

JULIE BISHOP I'm very hopeful that our Federal Police have done what they can in terms of recovering remains and personal belongings because we know how important the personal effects of people on that plane will be to their families. So our team will have done as thorough a job as they are able in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

They are in the middle of a war zone – the conflict is raging around them – and they seek access to that site on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis. So that was our aim to ensure that we could bring all Australians home and that is what we are still aiming to do.

JOURNALIST The black box recording you spoke about – no recordings to indicate that anyone would know it was coming?

JULIE BISHOP That's right. My understanding is that the voice recording on black box would indicate that the pilots didn't see anything coming and that would be the passengers likewise.

JOURNALIST Was there any chatter at all?

JULIE BISHOP No, not in relation, apart from the usual airline chatter. So it does fit with the evidence that we have that it was a surface to air missile that takes only a matter of seconds from firing to hitting its target.

JOURNALIST You mention the Russian Ambassador was brought to you before any sort of hard evidence was available – what would the ramifications have been if it was proven they hadn't been involved?

JULIE BISHOP Well if they hadn't been involved I think that we would have seen a different behaviour from the Russians. At the outset Russia did say they had nothing to do with it, that it was Ukraine's responsibility because this plane came down in Ukraine territory. Yet they have been involved every step of the way so I think our instincts will be proven correct.

JOURNALIST But it was risky wasn't it, because to call an Ambassador in is never done lightly and to get it wrong would have serious implications.

JULIE BISHOP That is true and we certainly acted on the best advice and information and intelligence that we had and I do pay tribute to Australia's intelligence agencies for the work that they have been doing in this and other cases.

JOURNALIST You also mentioned you did a stopover in Washington and were briefed by their intelligence services and got some quite specific information from them. Is there information that their intelligence services and our intelligence services had which haven't been shared with the public?

JULIE BISHOP They have information that will form part of the investigation and the intelligence services gave me enough information to know that we were on the right track. So I was confident that the approach that we were taking was backed by sufficient evidence for us, for example, to take that resolution forward to the UN Security Council and the call for a thorough, independent, impartial investigation.

We are also resisting current calls by the Russians that there be a UN intervention to the crash site because Russia wishes to be part of that intervention – they are not impartial in this and so Australia will resist such moves.

JOURNALIST You said in there that it may never been known precisely who was responsible for this. By that do you mean you may never know which individual pushed the button or which group?

JULIE BISHOP I was talking about the individual.

JOURNALIST So you are confident that the group would be held to account?

JULIE BISHOP I am confident that we will be able to determine how this plane was brought down and the circumstances and I am confident that we will be able to identify the group. But that we will be able to identify and bring a specific individual to account remains to be seem.

JOURNALIST Because you were able to [inaudible] the 16th of July when the missile launcher was brought into the Ukraine from Russia?

JULIE BISHOP I think you will also find that is on social media.

JOURNALIST Can I ask you about Baby Gammy? What is your position as Foreign Minister in terms of this – I know it is a very grey area – but are you starting to form an opinion about this now?

JULIE BISHOP It is a very tragic case and I don't think anybody can hear about these circumstances and not feel terribly sad for baby Gammy and for everyone involved in this – it is a very tragic case. This kind of commercial surrogacy arrangement is not something that would normally fall within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's remit.

But due to the circumstances with the case and the consequences of it I have asked my department to work with the Attorney-General's department, the Department of Immigration and also the State authorities to see what our response should be and what role the Government, whether it be State or Federal, can play in this circumstance or more broadly in commercial surrogacy arrangements. We will also be working closely with the authorities in Thailand over this case.

JOURNALIST Back to MH17, when you said "brought to account", what specifically do you mean?

JULIE BISHOP Well there are ways and means of holding people to account for this kind of atrocity, at a global level we do have international courts of justice. But again this would depend very much on the investigation, what we are able to achieve and this is being led by the Netherlands.

So Australia's focus has very much been on recovering the bodies and personal belongings, that was our humanitarian mission. But part of the resolution that we obtained from the UN Security Council was to hold an investigation and that is what the Dutch authorities will be doing. We will support them, of course, but we will not lead that investigation, our focus has been on the humanitarian effort.

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