Today - interview with Lisa Wilkinson

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST Returning now to flight MH 17 and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is continuing to work for the safe return of the bodies of the Australian victims and also pressuring Russia for a full investigation. I'm pleased to say that Ms Bishop joins us now live from New York.

Julie Bishop, thank you very much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Lisa.

JOURNALIST Minister, first up, I have to say on behalf of everyone back home congratulations on your strong stance at the UN and summing up so well how everyone is feeling back here at home That UN Security Council building is described in the Sydney Morning Herald as a shrine to good intentions, a chamber in which plain-language and firm resolve is mangled or obliterated by compromise and interference. I'm wondering how hard it has been for you to cut through with this Australian-led charge and find some justice?

JULIE BISHOP Lisa, our overriding objective was to get international backing for what we needed to do in Ukraine and that was secure the site, so that we could protect the bodies of the Australian and other victims of this plane crash and ensure that they were treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve, that had been missing for the last five days, and that we could then secure the site so that an investigation could take place, and that was the pitch.

Time and time again I would say to those that we were negotiating with over the terms of the resolution that this is all about the human side of this. It was all about the victims, and we just wanted to bring them home, and that was what cut through.

JOURNALIST Well, you certainly did. We see the Russian ambassador brought to tears with what you said. The victim identification process is now of course underway, but realistically, how long will it be before families will see their loved ones return home?

JULIE BISHOP It will take some time, Lisa. The bodies and remains have left the site by train. They have arrived in a small town called Kharkov in Ukraine. Our ambassador to Warsaw was present when the train arrived and there was a short ceremony, a minute's silence, and then the bodies and remains have been placed on planes, a Dutch plane and also an Australian C-17 that was prepositioned there. The bodies and remains will be now taken to the Netherlands, and so then the process of identification will commence.

Australian experts - and, sadly, we do have expertise in this, particularly after the Bali bombings - Australian experts will be present in the Netherlands and The Hague specifically for the purposes of identifying the Australian victims. And that could take some time. It might include having to take DNA from the families back in Australia. We have well-established protocols, particularly after the Bali bombing process.

JOURNALIST You've promised to bring the perpetrators of this tragedy to justice, but you've got a hopelessly tampered-with crash site that spans 50 square kilometres, bits of fuselage were taken away as rubbish. How hard is it going to be to find out exactly who did this?

JULIE BISHOP You're absolutely right that the site has been contaminated. This has not been treated as a crash site, an airline crash site, it has not been treated as a crime scene, and it was both. It was both the site of an airline crash and it was the site of criminal acts. So the securing of it is our absolute priority now and that's what I've been doing all throughout today in New York, working with our counterparts to ensure that we can secure the site and implement the terms of the resolution as soon as possible.

As far as the evidence is concerned, we have been of the view for some time that we know how this occurred. There will be more evidence to back that conclusion, but we need to determine who is responsible and that's why the investigation is so important. There is evidence other than the kind of evidence that will be on the site that will prove who did it.

JOURNALIST Responsibility, though, is a very grey area. I mean, it's one thing to track down the perpetrators of actually who shot down the plane. It's another to make Russia's president accountable if, in fact, Russian involvement is established. That's the tricky area.

JULIE BISHOP We have maintained from the outset that Russia has considerable influence over the separatists that have taken control of Eastern Ukraine, the site of MH17's crash, and we have called on Russia time and time again to use its influence. Only yesterday did we see for the first time the Russian President actually call upon the separatists to do something. Up until then, they had been left unfettered to contaminate the site, to allow looting to occur, to remove bodies, to remove parts of the plane, to remove evidence, and once the international pressure mounted in the lead up to the resolution and the adoption of the resolution yesterday, we saw the Russian President use his influence.

And from the time the resolution was passed unanimously, I'm informed by our special envoy in Kiev, Angus Houston, that the atmosphere and the environment has changed. Now we are able to get access to the site. Now we're able to get the black boxes returned to the Malaysian authorities, who are handing them over to the British who have expertise in this area. All this could've happened a lot earlier, had Russia used its influence when this whole horrible tragedy began.

JOURNALIST It also could've happened a lot later if you hadn't had the very strong resolve that you have. Julie Bishop, thank you very much for your time this morning.


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