Topics: Flight MH17 investigation; Medevac bill.


12.40pm (ACST)


Simon Birmingham: I’d like to make some comments as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Government and particularly Foreign Minister Payne who is in Papua New Guinea. In relation to developments surrounding the downing of Flight MH17, on 17 July 2014 298 lives were lost with the downing of MH 17, 38 of those people called Australia home. Of course, many thousands more individuals suffered enormous pain, heartache and grief that has lasted for years and a torrent of compassion was unleashed across Australia and around the world.


Australia welcomes the announcement overnight by the joint investigation team into the downing of MH17 that there will be the prosecution of four individuals in the Netherlands for their alleged roles in the downing of this flight. This is an important development in terms of the commitment by the Netherlands to prosecute these four individuals and to ensure accountability for the enormous loss of life that occurred. The prosecution will entail three Russian individuals and one Ukrainian individual.  These suspects being prosecuted as a step towards justice for those who lost their lives and the families who have suffered such unimaginable loss and grief. Australia calls upon all nations to support the efforts to bring justice to the loss of life, calls upon all nations to uphold the UN Security Council resolution that supports the finding of truth of justice and of accountability.


We particularly want to thank the joint investigation team partners, our partner nations the Netherlands, Malaysia, Belgium and especially from Australia, the Australian Federal Police whose enormous efforts have ensured that the painstaking detail and investigation and research has reached this point of prosecution being announced. There will be a long way to go in relation to the resolution of these matters, but it has been a long path already. This announcement is a crucial step towards justice for those who have suffered such pain and we remain committed to working with the authorities in the Netherlands, the other partners in the joint investigation team to do everything possible to ensure that justice is realised for those families who have suffered such grief.


Journalist: Do you believe that Russia will ever directly be held responsible?


Simon Birmingham: Well of course the joint investigation team previously in May of last year released some findings which prompted Australia to notify Russia that we held Russia and we do hold Russia responsible for the downing of Flight MH17. This is a further step in relation to that chain of responsibility. Australia has initiated discussions that involved the Netherlands and Russia in relation to these matters and we continue to call upon all nations including Russia, to act in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions including that supported by Russia, which call on all nations to cooperate to support justice and accountability.


Journalist: One of the complications involved in extraditing these men, obviously many people would like to see them actually face their trial, what role can Australia play in putting pressure on Russia to see that happen? 


Simon Birmingham: Australia will continue its communications with Russia that were commenced in May of this year and we want to make sure that we build upon that in terms of encouraging full cooperation with these proceedings. There are constitutional limitations in both Russia and the Ukraine, which we acknowledge but we do urge every single nation including Russia to be true to their word, give in to the UN Security Council and co-operate to ensure justice and accountability for this atrocious act.


Journalist: Are you hoping that this is just the beginning of the criminal proceeding; obviously there are other people who need to be held accountable, are you confident that the investigation will result in more arrests?


Simon Birmingham: The joint investigation team has been thorough in the painstaking detail and analysis of exactly what occurred, attributing responsibility to the state of Russia as well as identifying individuals in relation to their role and complicity in these events. We look forward to a full prosecution occurring that will ensure a day in court is had for those victims who no longer have a voice, and for their families who’ve suffered such pain and heartache. 


Journalist: Can I just grab you on Medevac?


Simon Birmingham: Sure.


Journalist: I just want to know what the government’s legal options after the Federal Court’s decision?  


Simon Birmingham: Well the simplest way to address this issue will be to repeal the legislation, and the government wants to see the repeal of the legislation is clear. Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party voted for legislation that they did not understand the consequences of, or with scant regard for the consequences, and we want to make sure that Australia continues to have the most secure borders in the world that allow us to run one of the most generous refugee and humanitarian intakes in the world. And we would urge the Labor Party to recognise the failings in this legislation, to recognise the gaps that have now been uncovered in this legislation and simply to support its repeal.


Journalist: But if it does want to repeal, then how do you expect it to get it through the Senate? 


Simon Birmingham: Well we hope that the Labor Party will come to their senses will recognise that the Australian people have long supported policies that deliver secure borders in Australia. Our policies have ensured the cessation of arrivals to Australia, have allowed us to get every child out of overseas detention circumstances in Australia, to resettle thousands of individuals, and what we want to do is maintain policy settings that ensure no future flows of people to Australia which will get us to the point where ultimately we have nobody in detention circumstances. Thanks guys.