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Transcript - 23651

Interview with Chris Uhlmann, ABC AM

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 18/07/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23651

Subject(s): Malaysia Airlines tragedy

CHRIS UHLMANN:

I'm joined by the Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Prime Minister, can you confirm how many Australians were on board this flight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it seems that there were at least 23 Australians on this flight. Obviously the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is talking to the Dutch authorities to confirm the number and the identities of the Australians involved, but it does seem that there were definitely 23 Australians on the flight and this is a terrible tragedy for them, for their loved ones, for their families and my deepest, deepest condolences to everyone, everyone connected with people on this flight.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Now there will be families around Australia this morning waking up to this news who will be desperate to know what's going on. What should those families do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, anyone who is anxious about friends, relatives, loved ones on this particular flight should call the Department of Foreign Affairs 24 hour consular emergency centre and the number is 1300 555 135 – 1300 555 135.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

What are Australian officials doing around the world at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously we're talking to the Dutch to try to find out exactly who was on that plane. We will be talking to the Malaysians and I hope to put a call in to Prime Minister Najib later today and we are making arrangements to deploy staff to Kiev to provide whatever assistance and whatever help is needed at a very, very sad time.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

It's extremely difficult, isn't it? What comfort can a government offer at a time like this to families?

PRIME MINISTER:

We can assure families that, at the highest levels of government, we feel for them, we grieve with them, we pray for them. That's really I suppose the first thing we do. The second thing is to try to provide whatever practical assistance we can in terms of counsel, in terms of repatriation of remains and so on, but this is just a very, very sad time made worse by reports that it might be a crime rather than an accident.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Well, certainly the Ukrainian President thinks it's a crime. He says it's an act of terrorism. Is there any confirmation that this flight was shot down?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we just have all sorts of reports and claims flying around. That's all we have at the moment – reports and claims. I'm very conscious of the fact that the Ukrainian President has made that statement. I believe there have been other statements from people in authority in Ukraine but we just can't say.

If it does turn out that this aircraft was brought down by a surface to air missile, there is no doubt that this would be, under those circumstances, an unspeakable crime and the perpetrators should swiftly be brought to justice.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

And there is only one place where a weapon system that can bring a plane down travelling at 10,000 metres which is where it was would come from and that's Russia.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, that's a fair point, Chris, but let's not leap to conclusions until we have harder facts than we do at the moment.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Alright, but if we look at the way that Russia has behaved in eastern Ukraine for some time now, the President is coming here for the G20 in November, really is Australia going to open its arms to the President of Russia if it turns out that some of its citizens died with the use of a Russian weapon?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's a fair question, Chris. Let's just wait and see exactly what turns out to have happened here. Let's wait until we've got all the facts in before we come to hard and fast conclusions. But obviously it is the clear and settled position of the Australian Government that larger countries should not bully smaller ones, that countries should not aid people who are in rebellion against their own government and that international disputes should be settled peacefully in accordance with international law.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Let's set aside this terrible crash at the moment from what's been happening in the eastern Ukrainian area. President Vladamir Putin appears to be quite determined to change circumstances on the ground and let the rest of the world catch up. Is that the way that a country should behave in the 21st century?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, plainly it's not, Chris. Plainly, disputes between nations should be settled peacefully in accordance with international law; that's the settled position of the Australian Government. We want to avoid any situation where big countries are bullying small countries. We deplore any situation where countries do things just because they can. There should be peace, but there should be justice as well and this is the position that the Australian Government brings constantly to all of the councils of the world. But to get back to the G20. The G20 is an economic gathering, it's not a security gathering. That doesn't mean that security issues are never discussed, but the principle purpose of the G20 is to try to ensure that the world's largest and most representative economies are working constructively and, where possible, cooperatively for the benefit of all the world's citizens and the aim of the G20 is to individually and collectively take steps to boost economic growth because that's going to be good for everyone, and I would like, if at all possible, the G20 to remain focused on economic growth rather than be sidelined, if you like, or hijacked by some of these other issues.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Certainly, but I guess if president Putin believes there are no real consequences for actions like this, then nothing changes.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a very fair point and obviously in other forums such as the Security Council, such as the United Nations, matters such as this can and should be dealt with.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Prime Minister, are any Australian investigators likely to be sent to the site of this accident?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, there are normal protocols that are followed in these sorts of situations and those protocols will be followed in this situation as well, Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Look, also overnight, Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza. You spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently. What was your message to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, it's the message that Australia has consistently given. We support Israel's right to exist. We support a two state solution in the area. We recognise Israel's right to self-defence and we deplore the firing of rockets, the constant firing of rockets, from Gaza into Israel.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

But does this offensive against Gaza, particularly a ground offensive, damage Israel in your view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, Chris, it's very early. There are just the opening reports that something is happening. I don't think that Israel particularly wants to escalate this conflict, but understandably Israel does want to ensure that its citizens are as safe as they possibly can be and Israel does have a right of self-defence against an entity which is so determined to continue to launch rockets at innocent citizens.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

To domestic matters, can you guarantee that Australians will see a fall in their cost of living with the scrapping of the carbon tax?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can certainly guarantee that the ACCC will be super vigilant to ensure that the consequences of scrapping the carbon tax do flow through in terms of lower prices. Now Chris, the ACCC is already monitoring some 570 businesses and these were businesses that were significantly impacted by the carbon tax and it's monitoring these businesses to ensure that the scrapping of tax does flow through, and there are quite heavy penalties that are potentially available to the ACCC if people aren't doing the right thing. But the point I make to the public is that when business costs go down, your bills go down. When business costs go down, your prices go down and the ACCC is there to ensure that that happens.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

And finally briefly Prime Minister, the mining tax was scrapped by the Senate last night, but they won't go ahead with the amendments that you want to make sure that all of the costs that go with that are scrapped. Are you intending to keep up this fight until that happens?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we went to the election Chris with a very clear position. We said that we would abolish the mining tax, but we would also abolish the spending that the tax was supposed to fund and you can't get rid of a tax responsibly without also getting rid of the spending and we took that to the election; we wore the opprobrium and unpopularity of saying that the school kids bonus would go because it was a cash splash with borrowed money and it's all very well Chris for people to say these are tough times, but we have to be responsible.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

We have to leave it there. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott.

[ends]

Transcript - 23651