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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23680

Joint Press Conference with Commissioner Tony Negus, Canberra

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: 25/07/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23680

Subject(s): Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

Location: Canberra

PRIME MINISTER:

It is good to be here at Australian Federal Police headquarters, although it is a sad and difficult mission that brings me here and which obviously brings the Commissioner to the lectern today.

I want to thank the Commissioner for many things, but in particular, for the opportunity to briefly inspect the AFP operations room where elements of Operation Bring Them Home are now being coordinated.

I also had the chance while I was here this afternoon to talk to members of the team liaising with the victims of MH17. This is taxing work but the decency and the compassion and the professionalism which Australian Federal Police force members bring to that I admire and respect.

As we can see, Operation Bring Them Home is continuing to gather pace, as it needs to. Yesterday, three Australian officials travelled to the wreckage site along with OSCE monitors. As you probably know, previously undiscovered wreckage has been found and I regret to say that more human remains have been found, and we expect that further remains will be found in the days ahead. With these remains exposed to the ravages of heat and animals and to the possibility of continued human interference, it is more important than ever that the site be properly secured.

I want to stress our objective here. Our objective is that the remains can be recovered, that the investigation can go ahead and that justice can be done – that the remains can be recovered, that the investigation can go ahead and that justice can be done. That is the sole objective of the Australian Government. That is the sole objective of Operation Bring Them Home.

As you know, there are currently about 90 Australian Federal Police personnel deployed to Europe to participate in the international police mission that is now being planned. I can advise that Ukraine has formally delegated to the Dutch leadership of all aspects of the investigation that is taking place. I can further advise that Australia is close to finalising an agreement with Ukraine for the deployment of Australian police, some of whom could be armed, to assist in the investigation and to recover remains. I can finally advise that a further 100 Australian Federal Police will be leaving for Europe today.

Again, I want to thank Commissioner Negus for his leadership in this very important operation.

I’m very pleased that amongst the AFP contingent will be Dr Simon Walsh. He led the Indian Ocean tsunami response and he is a world renowned forensic expert.

I want to thank Foreign Minister Bishop for her indefatigable efforts to secure international support for Operation Bring Them Home.

I thank Bill Shorten, the Opposition Leader, for the spirit and the support that he has given to the Government in recent days.

Above all else, I want to thank Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, our special envoy in the Ukraine. We are very fortunate to have someone - on the spot - of such experience and expertise to guide our decisions.

Overall, there are now more than 200 Australian personnel abroad as part of Operation Bring Them Home, but as you can see, there are hundreds here in Canberra as well. All of them are bringing to this task a very high level of commitment, a very high level of professionalism.

I thank them all and on behalf of the Government I want to say how much I respect and admire the work that they are doing.

This is, I want to say, a strong and purposeful mission that we are undertaking, but we are undertaking it with our partners in grief. There were many nations that lost citizens in the MH17 atrocity and we are working with them.

This is a humanitarian mission – that’s what it is – a humanitarian mission with a clear and simple objective to bring them home. That’s what the grieving families deserve – that’s what they deserve – and that’s what the Australian Government wants to deliver for them.

I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks.

Finally, let me stress that others can engage in the politics of Eastern Europe; all we want to do is to claim our dead and to bring them home.

Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER TONY NEGUS:

Thank you, Prime Minister. Can I just welcome you to visiting AFP headquarters here today. We’ve just spent some time with some people doing the very difficult and very painstaking work of contacting families and working with the people in Australia to make sure that the ante mortem material – the DNA material – is entered into databases and working with Interpol to make sure that we are going to identify these people as quickly as we humanly can.

This will be one of the largest overseas delegations of AFP officers we’ve seen since the Bali bombings should this go ahead. As the Prime Minister said, we have pre-deployed 50 people to London. We have about another 40 people working in the Ukraine and in the Netherlands doing, as I said, the painstaking work around disaster victim identification.

We continue to plan for other contingencies, and again, over the next 24 hours we will see another hundred AFP officers will forward deploy in preparation for any international mission that should go ahead to secure the site.

Again, this is one of the largest missions we’ve seen from an Australian police delegation overseas. We’re working with our partners very closely and the Dutch, and only two months ago I was in the Netherlands and signed a MoU, or an agreement between the Dutch police and ourselves, and no one could have foreshadowed how important that would be in the coming weeks.

With that, I’ll pass back to the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, will the AFP officers be backed up by Australian Defence Force personnel?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, many of the AFP deployed won’t be armed. Some of them could be armed, and yes, there will be some ADF as part of this deployment, should it go ahead.

QUESTION:

How many numbers of ADF personnel do you anticipate might be heading to [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re still very much in the planning stages of the mission. It is a fundamentally humanitarian mission. That’s what it is – a humanitarian mission to do the right thing by the grieving families of Australia and the wider world. Let’s never forget there were 298 innocent people on that aircraft. They have been wronged, their countries have been wronged, but this is a humanitarian mission as far as we humanly can - after the event - to do the right thing by the victims and to do the right thing by their families.

QUESTION:

Will they be accompanied by Australian troops or Dutch troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re planning this international mission in conjunction with the other countries that are in the same predicament as we are, particularly with the Dutch. The investigation into the incident – into the crime – is a Dutch-led investigation so it’s being planned in conjunction with others.

QUESTION:

Has the fall of the Ukrainian government, has that had any practical impact at all in terms of moving forward with this process?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Obviously the internal politics of the Ukraine is a matter for the Ukrainians, but we are very close to finalising a Memorandum of Understanding with Ukraine – with the President of Ukraine. That is what is required under Ukrainian law and it’s on that basis that deployment will go ahead under the overall auspices of United National Resolution 2166.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you said that the deployment would take no more than a few weeks. How can you be sure that it would only take that time, because there’s discussion about the investigation taking months, if not longer?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re talking about two separate things. One is an international police mission to secure the site, to recover remains, to assist with the investigation. That should take no more than a few weeks.

The other is the completed investigation and the long and inevitably difficult process of disaster victim identification. Now that, I regret to say, is a long and slow process. Just to give you an indication of how long and slow it can be, after the Bali bombing it was I think almost three weeks before the first victim came back and I think it was more than four months before the last one came back. So, that’s simply an indication of how long it can take to identify remains in a situation like this.

QUESTION:

What do you anticipate Russia's reaction would be once, or if, Australian troops do enter Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to stress that this is a police-led mission. It would be an international police-led mission, and it’s a humanitarian mission. That’s what it is. This is a humanitarian mission to ensure that we bring them back. That’s absolutely what it is. Now, as you know, I've had two conversations with President Putin. President Putin has been, without going into the exact details of who said what to whom, President Putin has been full of sympathy, as you’d expect from another human being, for what's happened to 37 families in Australia and he certainly has been publicly and privately supportive of securing the site so that a full impartial investigation – an impartial international investigation – can be completed, and all of the bodies can be brought home.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can you confirm that the ADF would be there to safeguard the AFP? And Commissioner Negus, can you just tell us was that something that you had specifically asked for?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, David, I'm very conscious of the need to ensure the safety of personnel involved in this mission, should it go ahead, but this is a humanitarian mission. It’s a police-led mission with one purpose and one purpose only: and that’s to bring our people home. One purpose and one purpose only: that’s to bring our people home. The point I made earlier – others might want to get involved in the politics of Eastern Europe – all we want to do is to claim our dead and bring them back.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, realistically [inaudible] how long may we have to wait for the deployment to begin?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the sooner the better – the sooner the better. Every day's delay makes the condition of remains more parlous. Every day’s delay means more interference with the site. So, we do want this to get underway as quickly as possible, but obviously we are working with our international partners and we will work at an appropriate speed given the partners we have.

QUESTION:

Do you see any problems in sending troops to a warzone?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’re not going for any purpose other than to bring our people home – to bring everyone's people home. That’s why we are there.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, did you talk to President Obama in the last 12 to 24 hours, and what can you say about any US support for what you’re doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, this is not a US operation. I absolutely stress this is not a US operation. Should this go ahead, it’s an international mission by the countries whose citizens have been so wronged to ensure that we get them back as far as is humanly possible. But yes, I did speak today to President Obama and I have to say he indicated his full support for what Australia and other countries have in mind.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you said it obviously is a joint investigation with those countries wronged. Have any of those countries forward-deployed police anywhere and can you give us an idea of how many numbers we’re talking about?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there are quite a large number of personnel from a number of countries in Ukraine already. There are Malaysian personnel in significant numbers in Ukraine – civilian police and other. There are Dutch personnel in significant numbers in Ukraine and there are personnel from other countries. So, Australia's presence in Ukraine is in line with the sort of presence that other countries have.

QUESTION:

Commissioner Negus, can you just address the question before about any request that you made about ADF backing, and also can you tell us what kind of ratio of your personnel do you expect to be armed? And also what concerns broadly do you have about the safety of your people there?

COMMISSIONER TONY NEGUS:

Look, of course it’s been well documented this is a difficult part of the world at the moment and certainly the safety of our own officers going in there is paramount and the Prime Minister’s been very strong about that. We will be deploying in there in an unarmed capacity. There may be some members that can be armed, but if this mission goes ahead, it will be led by the Dutch. We’ll be working hand in glove with the Dutch to make sure that this mission is done as safely as possible. Now the security environment over there is absolutely critical to make sure that our investigators can go in and do their job and we need to make sure that as it evolves, we continue to evolve with it.

QUESTION:

Just to be clear – where are those 100 going to be deployed too? Are they going to be waiting in Ukraine these 100 that are about to deployed?

COMMISSIONER TONY NEGUS:

The officers that’ll be deployed over the next 24 hours will be involved in the search process should the mission go ahead. They will be pre-deployed to the Netherlands and they will be sitting there, again, at the disposal of the Dutch police to make sure that we’re working with them closely in that context.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can I just ask you about your comment a couple of times about Eastern Ukrainian politics. Does that indicate you might step away from further criticism of Russia just to ensure that there is [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what I’ve tried to do over the last week since this atrocity took place has been to respond appropriately to the events of the particular time. What we are focussed on now, what we are solely and wholly focussed on now, is Operation Bring Them Home. That’s what we’re focussed on.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you said before, just on the political situation in Ukraine, that it wouldn’t affect the agreement we have with them. It’s been reported, though, that that needs to pass through the Ukrainian Parliament. Surely the resignation of the Prime Minister and the collapse of his coalition must slow that down, do you not agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s not my understanding.

QUESTION:

That it doesn’t need to pass through Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

My understanding is that it does need parliamentary approval but nothing that’s happened overnight is expected to hinder that.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you’ve obviously forward-deployed these AFP personnel. Have any troops been forward deployed and how many are over there?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a very modest ADF team in Ukraine. It’s led by a Colonel who is a liaison officer. I think there may be one or two involved in planning and there would be a very small close personal protection team for people like Angus Houston.

QUESTION:

Regarding asylum seekers, if that particular boat will be and those on board will be heading to Australia. The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says that that will not be their final destination, that he doesn’t want to see them being resettled in Australia, but the fact that they’re being put on the mainland, doesn’t that mean that they would have extra rights, then there’d be a possibility that they’d have a legal right to claim asylum here in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thanks for the question, and I will deal with it at a little length if you don’t mind. Our objective is to stop the boats, because the only way to stop the deaths is to stop the boats. Over the last six or seven months we’ve had remarkable success. This is the first boat which has got anything like as close as this in that time. It is very important that we don’t relent in our efforts to protect our borders. The fact that this boat has come as close shows that there is still a lot of work to be done. It shows that you need permanent vigilance, if you like, to keep our borders safe and secure.  We will at all times uphold our international obligations, we will at all times respect our legal obligations, we will at all times act in accordance with safety at sea.

As for the people on this boat, we do have very strong understandings with Sri Lanka. We have – I have it from the Minister – an understanding with India and I would certainly expect a very large number of the people on that boat to go back to their countries of origin. But the fundamental point I make – in total agreement with Minister Morrison – is that don’t get on a boat to come illegally to Australia because even if you get here, you won’t stay here. You will not become a permanent resident of Australia is you get on a boat and come here illegally.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 23680