A year on from the MH17 tragedy, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reflects on the Australians lost – and those left behind.
Last Friday, our nation remembered all those who died aboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July 2014. This first anniversary was a poignant reminder of the senseless loss of 298 innocent lives.
I remember only too well my horror and disbelief when I was told in the early hours of 18 July last year that a Malaysia Airlines plane had come down over eastern Ukraine, that there were no survivors among the passengers and crew and that the wreckage had landed in what was essentially a war zone.
Our immediate priority was to ensure any Australian victims were located, treated with dignity and respect, and returned home to their loved ones. This required immediate access to the crash site, which was located in the midst of fierce fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed armed separatists. For that to happen, we needed to gain the support of the international community.
I made calls to counterpart ministers in affected countries: Ukraine, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and Belgium to garner support. Over three days in New York, the Australian delegation worked tirelessly to build support for a resolution seeking access to the site by international investigators. We were determined to bring our people home.
Our efforts resulted in a clear and unequivocal response by the United Nations Security Council demanding unfettered access to the crash site, an independent, impartial international investigation and accountability for the perpetrators of this crime.
Officials and staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade worked around the clock during this period. Immediately upon hearing the news, a 24-hour crisis centre was established. An MH17 task force was created to lead policy coordination, briefing and liaison. Fifty-six Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff were deployed to Ukraine and 18 to the Netherlands, as part of a specially trained emergency response team.