Doorstop outside the Verkhovna Rada, Kyiv
JULIE BISHOP We welcome the vote at the Ukraine Rada today. It was overwhelmingly in support of the Dutch-led leadership of the investigation, and also the deployment agreements for The Netherlands and Australia with the Ukrainian Government so that our presence here is legal. Our presence is also subject to conditions and this is what we have been waiting for. So we welcome the vote. We are very grateful to the Ukrainian Parliament for recalling its Parliament so that this vote could take place. And a substantial majority, we needed a simple majority of 226, and through the course of the vote we got from 321, then 324 votes. But this is just one part of our mission. We now need to ensure that we get access to the site. There is a reconnaissance mission under way now. We are hearing hour-by-hour of their progress and if they are able to make the site today, then they will be able to assess the situation and return, hopefully safely to our base, and then start a full convoy tomorrow of all the necessary investigators and experts who must be on that site without further delay so that we can search the site, retrieve the bodies that we know are still there, and remains, and gather the evidence that is required for this independent and impartial investigation into how this plane was downed and who is responsible for it.
JOURNALIST Minister, does this mean now you will be taking armed AFP officers into the crash site?
JULIE BISHOP No, what this means is that we have an insurance policy in place that if necessary, only if necessary, both the Dutch and the Australian personnel can bring arms into the country. But we are not taking arms onto the site. Our convoy will not be armed. It's a police-led humanitarian mission. But what it does mean, this agreement means that, for example, we can bring our sniffer dogs in and Australia has a number of sniffer dogs who will be required on site for searching for remains. So we are able to bring in expert equipment, we are able to operate here according to Ukrainian law. That's why it was important for us to get this today.
JOURNALIST Do you know if there are 80 bodies are over there?
JULIE BISHOP We understand that expert forensic advice says there could be around 80 bodies still on the site. This is from people who have been involved in the body retrieval in Kharkiv where they were preparing the bodies for transfer to the Netherlands, and that expert forensic advice is that there could be around 80 bodies on the site and that is why the Netherlands, who lost 194 people, Australia lost 38 citizens, we are determined to access the site so that we can collect the remains, with some dignity, and return them to the Netherlands where they can be identified and then the grieving families across the world who lost 298 people can have some closure.
JOURNALIST What are the assurances worth on both sides, of safe passage when the reality on the ground is there is anything but security?
JULIE BISHOP Yesterday our teams were working very closely with the Ukrainian Government, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Defence Minister spent hours with our teams going through the options of how we could get on to the site, how we could get a humanitarian corridor in place, and a ceasefire to allow them to get on to the site, do their work and leave again. And we have those assurances at the political level and I believe them. Likewise, OSCE are working with the separatists to ensure they will allow safe passage. But what we find when we get on the ground is that there is shelling. Now, there is more than two sides to this; there are the Ukrainians, there are the myriad separatist groups and there are the Russians. We are dealing with Ukrainians and the separatists.