Friday Night Live, Sky News, Sydney - Interview with Chris Kenny

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Now, we're crossing to Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, who joins us live from the Sydney CBD studios. Thanks for joining us, Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP: Good evening, Chris.

JOURNALIST: Look, I want to come to the diplomatic repercussions in a moment. But first up, let's deal with the consular issues. The latest advice we had from you was that 28 Australians, at least 28 Australians had been killed in this airplane disaster. Do you have any update on that?

JULIE BISHOP: Chris, there were 27 confirmed this morning and then we have found one dual-national, so another Australian citizen but a dual-national, and so that's 28. It could be higher because there are still a number of unidentified names,that have not been matched to a nationality yet, but at this stage 28 is the count for Australia. It's a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those Australians who were on board this fateful flight.

JOURNALIST: No doubt DFAT has been reaching out and contacting the families of all those victims. Can you tell us what DFAT's - your department is able to do for those families, what help it's providing at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP: We have provided a consular officer for each of the families so that they are able to deal with one contact that has been personally assigned to them and we're providing whatever support they may need. The families are obviously grieving, many are angry, they're devastated and we're doing what we can to comfort them. We will provide whatever support they need but at this stage I think most of them are just coming to terms with the enormity of what has happened in the last 24 hours.

JOURNALIST: And you're also looking at getting DFAT's officers, some of Australia's diplomatic staff into Ukraine. Can you tell us what the situation is there and exactly what they'll be doing once they get to that country?

JULIE BISHOP: I have spoken to the Ukraine Foreign Minister and he has agreed that Australia can get consular staff there as soon as possible and they will provide every support for us. We also have an AFP officer going to Kyiv. Some of our staff have already left from Australia. Others are coming in from other missions around the world. We have an embassy in Warsaw, we also have consular staff in the Netherlands, in The Hague, where of course this flight took off and in Kuala Lumpur where the flight was meant to land before passengers were to be transferred to Australia. We have a lot of support from Ukraine government to ensure that our officials will be able to access the scene of this crash. And this is a serious challenge facing Australia and other countries that are involved in this, that is to secure the crash site, not only so that bodies can be identified and repatriated but to protect the evidence at the site. And so we are working closely with the Ukraine government to ensure that the Ukraine government can secure the site at this stage but also that an independent, international investigation can be undertaken as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: I'll come to that a bit more in a moment but of course even just securing the site and getting to the wreckage and making sure that we get the black - the flight recorders and the like - all that is quite difficult, not just diplomatically but perhaps even militarily because while this country belongs to Ukraine, it is held, is it not, this territory, by pro-Russian rebel separatists?

JULIE BISHOP: That's precisely the challenge that we face. While this is in Ukraine territory, this part of Eastern Ukraine has been taken by the pro-Russian separatists and the Ukraine government is seeking to ensure that there's a ceasefire to enable the authorities to secure the site and to begin the identification and repatriation but of course as importantly, ensuring that the evidence, the debris, the black box, if it is still there, is secured. Because we intend to establish an independent, international, investigation and that evidence will be crucial.

JOURNALIST: Now, there is a lot of public evidence. As we keep saying, this territory is held by pro-Russian rebels. We know that those pro-Russian rebels have been armed by Russia in the past and there is a lot of public evidence about today including telephone intercepts and the like suggesting that that's exactly what happened - that pro-Russian rebels with arms, heavy arms, surface-to-air missiles provided most likely by Russia have been involved here. You met with the Russian ambassador today, after a briefing with the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was very strong in his message to Russia. I'm presuming that you must have very strong evidence that Russia implicated; if not directly, indirectly in this shooting down of a civilian aircraft.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, the facts that we know are these: the commercial plane was brought down and we understand by a missile in airspace over Eastern Ukraine which is held by the pro-Russian separatists. The Russian ambassador admitted to me that Russia was aware that the separatists had captured what they said was a Ukraine surface-to-air missile so even on Russia's version of events, the separatists had access to this kind of sophisticated equipment. But the Russian ambassador assured me that the separatists wouldn't have the capability to operate it. I find that somewhat incredible but nevertheless, Russia has a crucial role to play in all of this. Russia must cease its provocations, Russia must cease providing equipment or fighters or support to the separatists, must secure the border so that fighters and weapons and equipment not going over into Ukraine and of course we are looking to Russia to support the United Nations Security Council resolutions in relation to this matter, which will be debated very shortly in New York.

JOURNALIST: You called in the Russian ambassador, Russia's Ambassador to Australia today, after that you would've briefed the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said he was deeply, deeply unsatisfied with the response from the Ambassador. Tell us what the Ambassador told you about Russia's concerns; its culpability in this incident.

JULIE BISHOP: I called the Russian Ambassador in first to seek an explanation from Russia as to how a commercial airline that was travelling at such altitude could be brought down over Eastern Ukraine. The Ambassador began by blaming Ukraine and indicated that it was Russia's view that this was all the fault of Ukraine military. I asked further questions and he became much more defensive about it. I sought a guarantee that no Russian equipment or weapons could have been used to bring down this plane. I also sought other assurances from him about Russia's involvement and he was very defensive.

JOURNALIST: Did you get any assurances that no Russian weapons had been involved?

JULIE BISHOP: He said that no weapons had been involved but then he told me about the separatists gaining access to a surface-to-air missile but he claimed it was from Ukraine. As to my other request, he said he would go back to Moscow and get answers for me. I asked if a call could be put through to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and I was later informed this evening that Minister Lavrov is on holidays and not able to speak to me. I asked to speak to a deputy minister or a vice-minister from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I was told that that was not possible.

JOURNALIST: Now, you mentioned the need for an international, an independent, a thorough and proper investigation of what's gone on here. You'll be working through the United Nations Security Council tonight to make that happen, in New York of course, Australia being on the United Nations Security Council. Russia has a veto on the Security Council. It has used that veto in the recent past to stymie international action on Syria and on Iran. Are you concerned that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, could be so brash as to use his veto to stop a proper investigation of this incident?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, if as Russia claims, Ukraine is responsible then I would expect Russia to support a full and thorough, independent, international investigation. After all it's in Russia's interests as well to determine who is responsible for this. Russia claims it was Ukraine. Well, the only way to determine who is responsible, who is backing those who are able to bring down this commercial plane, is to have a full credible, independent, impartial, international inquiry and investigation. And that's what we'll be seeking in a couple of hours' time when the UN Security Council meets in an emergency meeting in New York. What I expect to happen is a statement that Australia has been drafting in consultation with other members of the Security Council, a statement will be released and then we will seek to debate a resolution that will facilitate the mechanics of putting together an international investigation. In the meantime, the Ukraine government has commenced its own investigation to secure the site. But of course, it must be an impartial, independent investigation so we hope that we'll be able to get the UN Security Council resolution and then the international investigation can take over from the Ukraine investigation.

JOURNALIST: I mentioned how recalcitrant Russia has been under Vladimir Putin when it comes to Syria and Iran. Of course, at the very least when it comes to what's happening in Ukraine, Russia has been guilty of annexing effectively Crimea and subverting Ukrainian nationalism through support for these pro-Russian separatists. In other words, the reason this country is in a war-torn situation is because of Russian activism. Do you believe that the European Union and the United States, the international community more broadly, have been too weak, too soft on Vladimir Putin and we're now paying the price?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, Chris, from the outset, we have condemned Russia's actions in interfering in the sovereignty of Ukraine. We condemned the annexation of Crimea and the referendum that was meant to justify it. And Australia imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its behaviour. As far as this is concerned now, what we want to achieve is an investigation - fully and thoroughly. We owe it to the families of the 28 Australians on board to try and determine how this happened, why it happened and who is responsible and then track down those responsible and hold them to account. That's got to be our focus at present.

JOURNALIST: Well, [indistinct] but when it comes to the human dimension of that of course, we're seeing the pain and suffering of the families of 28 Australians killed, we see our brothers and sisters in the Netherlands dealing with a 173 people killed and of course, the people of Malaysia, suffering greatly through this their second disaster. Will we be having a national ceremony of mourning for this country and of course other people from other countries next week?

JULIE BISHOP: Chris, I have rung my counterpart foreign ministers in the Netherlands. Of course we share the pain and the anguish of losing so many of our nationals. I have spoken to the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Minister of Belgium. I've been in contact with Dr Natalegawa from Indonesia and we are sharing condolences, extending sympathies to each other's country, to each other's nationals at this tragic time. And we are all shocked by what appears to be an unspeakable crime against innocent civilians.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, thanks very much.

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