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Transcript - 23652

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW, Melbourne

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: 23652

Subject(s): Malaysia Airlines tragedy.

NEIL MITCHELL:

On the line is the Australian Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you accept that a bit like September 11, this changes the world?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a grim, grim day and the apparent confirmation that it has been shot down rather than crashed as a result of an accident does obviously raise the stakes because it becomes not an accident, but a crime – an unspeakable crime – and obviously there are at least 23 Australians who are the victims of this unspeakable crime.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I should tell you, Prime Minister, we are broadcasting into Sydney and Brisbane as we discuss this so this is how important this issue is. What are the implications here? What are the implications for the future for the next few years?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, today I think it’s important that I should first of all offer my deepest condolences to the families of the Australians on board this plane and I should offer condolences to the families of everyone who was on board the plane. I’ll be attempting to put in a call today to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Najib, and to Prime Minister Rutte of Holland because these countries deserve our support at a difficult time.

But, as well as expressing deepest condolences to the families of those on board, as well as offering thoughts and prayers to the Australian families, we do need to consider the wider implications of this and that’s why the National Security Committee of the Cabinet will be meeting this morning and I’ll have something to say to the Parliament just to update the Parliament on exactly what we know later in the day.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What was your reaction when you heard there were Australians dead? We don’t yet know whether it was 23 or 27, do we?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Department of Foreign Affairs can confirm that there were 23 on board. There may well have been more, but we can confirm that there were 23 Australians on board and the Department of Foreign Affairs is working with the Dutch authorities and with Malaysian Airlines to confirm identities. They’ll be getting in touch with next of kin and family members as quickly as possible. The Department is making arrangements to send a team to Kiev. Obviously the families, the next of kin, will be offered every assistance in terms of counselling, in terms of the repatriation of bodies and so on, because this is a grim, grim time for the families of those on board the plane.

Australians stick together in tough times, but it is a grim day for the world, as you say, Neil, because if – as now seems certain – this plane has been shot down, that is a horrific act and everyone right around the world should be filled with revulsion at actions like this that put innocent people at risk; that take innocent life on a massive scale.

NEIL MITCHELL:

From Australia’s point of view, there are more people who have died here than died on September 11. Do you have a hotline number for the people who might have families on board?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, there is a DFAT line and I would urge people who are concerned to call it – 1300 555 135 – 1300 555 135.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’ll continue to mention that through the morning, but you talk about the implications. If the rebels brought down this plane, it’s Russian equipment, now surely the Russians have to answer to this if that’s the case?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think that’s a very fair point, Neil. They’re Russian proxies essentially. This is only happening because Russia wants to stir up trouble. Now, it’s important that we don’t make a bad situation worse but nevertheless, if, as now seems certain, it’s been brought down by a Russian supplied surface-to-air missile, Russia bears a heavy share of responsibility.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Vladimir Putin says Ukraine takes responsibility because it’s their airspace, well that’s another argument. If the Russians bear responsibility, in a few months the Russian President’s due here for the G20. Do you want him in this country?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to pre-empt what might happen down the track, Neil. I think it’s important that we carefully get together all the facts. It’s important that we carefully consider everything that should flow from the facts as we know them, but this is no light thing. This is not something that can just be dismissed as a tragic accident when you have Russian proxies using Russian-supplied equipment to do terrible things if, in fact, this is what turns out to have been the case. Now, at the moment, all we can is that the indications are this way. Let’s wait and see exactly what transpires, but nevertheless, this is no small matter. This is no small matter indeed.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re right, we don’t know everything yet but the indications are, as you say. Would it be fair to say that the invitation to the Russian President will be under review at some stage?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I just don’t want to pre-empt what might happen down the track but, plainly, this is a matter of deep concern to the Australian Government and it ought to be of deep concern to the wider world because plainly, what’s been happening in Ukraine for many months now is an attempt by Russia to bully a neighbour. Now this is just outrageous. It is absolutely outrageous. I don’t say there are easy responses when a large and powerful country attempts to bully a smaller and less powerful neighbour, but nevertheless it is an outrage and I think there’s no other word to describe it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, also today we have a ground invasion of Gaza by Israel. Does Australia support that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, this is, I suppose, further evidence of the difficult and at times dangerous world in which we live and it is an uncertain world and it’s more important than ever that we should do whatever we can here in Australia to be as strong as we can and to be as safe as we can be and I think that’s the takeout from all of the various flashpoints around the world at the moment is that countries need to put their own houses in as strong order as they can…

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you just spoke about powerful countries bullying less powerful countries. Is that what’s happening with Israel and Hamas or does Australia support what Israel is doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we certainly support Israel’s right to exist. We support Israel’s right to self-defence and we deplore the attacks on Israel from Gaza. Now I don’t have any further detail on what may or may not be happening at the moment. All I know is that Israel is regularly rocketed from Gaza. That shouldn’t happen and, look if…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well the United States has said there shouldn’t be a ground invasion, there is a ground invasion. Do we have a position on it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as you can imagine Neil, I’ve been rather preoccupied this morning with the matter involving at least 23 Australians who have died on an aircraft which has been apparently shot down by Russian-supplied missiles. Now, that if you don’t mind me saying so is, I think, of higher priority than offering commentary on something that doesn’t directly involve Australians.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough. We also have – talk about international instability – an Australian, well, the allegation that there was an Australian suicide bomber in Baghdad.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, again Neil, this is a difficult and uncertain world and without wanting to in anyway dampen Australians habitual optimism and confidence, we do need to appreciate that these are uncertain times and in uncertain times it’s imperative that we make ourselves as strong as we possibly can be because, yes, the Middle East is a powder-keg and this declaration of a caliphate obviously has sent seismic waves through at least some of the Muslim world and tragically and deeply regrettably, quite a large number of Australians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to engage in jihadist activities and we have to be very, very much on our guard against people coming back to Australia with the knowhow and the intention to do us harm.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, I know you need to get away, it’s indecent to be talking about domestic politics so I won’t do it, but are we – which I was hoping to, but we won’t do it, it would be indecent with these deaths – but are we entering, do you believe, a new period of extreme instability around the world?

PRIME MINISTER:

I hope not, Neil. I hope not, but there are a number of flashpoints at the moment: obviously the Ukraine; obviously the Middle East; there are some tensions in our region, particularly in the South China and East China Sea, and all of them obviously give rise for considerable concern.

Now, again, I don’t want to quash or say anything that might tend to quash Australians’ habitual optimism and confidence because we should always approach these problems with the conviction that we can make a difference and that we can change the world for the better, but I think we also have to accept the fact that there are many things happening at the moment that are regrettable and there are many things happening at the moment that do give rise to considerable concern.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much, Neil.

[ends]

Transcript - 23652