Bishop tells  of life in  disaster spotlight
Emotional: Julie Bishop. Picture: Dione Davidson/The West Australian

I woke about 2am on July 18 and there was a text message about Malaysia Airlines. I read it as referring to MH370 and I went back to sleep and woke again at 4am.

When I read the text more fully I realised we were talking about another Malaysia Airline's flight.

I spoke to the Prime Minister and he had a sense of what this meant for Australia and every call he has made since then has been instinctive and right.

For example, he said, "I think you should call in the Russian ambassador".

I said, "Prime Minister, there hasn't actually been any connection with Russia at this point. We'd better be careful here".

So I had a conversation with Russia's ambassador to Australia and he had clearly been briefed from Moscow.

That reassured me that the PM's call had been right and Russia was involved.

That afternoon I spent most of my time contacting the leaders of other countries that lost citizens.

The first call coming in was from Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, who said, "We have to do something about this".

On the Saturday morning the PM rang and said "We are on the UN Security Council, why don't we get a resolution enabling us to set up an investigation into the crash?"

I said, "PM, you've already gone out and pointed the finger at Russia. They are on the Security Council, it will be vetoed."

He said, "You'll go to New York and you'll convince them".

I looked at my watch and asked when? He said, 'Oh . . . an hour? Two hours?"

I hadn't been back home and I immediately thought, "I haven't got anything to wear!"

Passing a Security Council resolution normally takes months but by the time I arrived in New York the DFAT team had drafted and circulated a resolution condemning the attack, calling for an independent, thorough, international investigation and calling for access to the site.

I had a four-hour stopover in Tokyo and I rang the families of those who had been killed.

They were the toughest phone calls I have ever had to make and one was to a family in my electorate here, the Maslin-Norris family.

I can't even talk about it now. But I knew from the moment I talked to that family that we were doing the right thing.

They said to me as I hung up, "Just bring them home". What-ever we did over the next two weeks was to do that.

So I got to Washington and met the US intelligence people and what they said was pretty specific and that was about 17 Ukrainian military aircraft shot down in this conflict, so the Ukrainians started flying a lot higher.

So the separatists got hold of weaponry that could down a plane at much higher altitudes and that, we believe, was a surface-to-air missile brought in from Russia on about July 16.

It was a very cloudy day, so let's assume they thought MH17 was a military transport plane.

The missile hit the cockpit and that was a precision hit. You have to be a very skilled operator to do that. The plane exploded immediately, so I can assure you the passengers and crew did not see anything coming.

What's troubling is that it was evident it was only about 20km from the Russian border. What military plane from Ukraine would be heading to Russia?

There are questions still to be answered.

As to the why, I don't know that we will ever know.

Under international aviation law, the country where the crash occurs must conduct the investigation. Russia would not recognise that Ukraine had the authority to conduct the investigation.

I called my friend Frans Timmermans and said, "The country where the crash occurred can transfer responsibility to another country so make it the Netherlands. Nobody can argue that wouldn't be an independent, full, thorough investigation.

When we went into the Security Council that afternoon, 15 hands went up around the room and I quietly did a little (double fist pump) "Yes!"

I woke up on the Tuesday in New York thinking, "OK, we've got the resolution. What now?"

The bodies, the remains, the wreckage had to be taken out of one country into another.

I flew to the Netherlands that night to work out with the Dutch Government to do this. We set up a base in Kiev in Ukraine and the PM called Angus Houston, who was our lead co-ordinator in our search for MH370 and, I'm not kidding, he said, "Houston, we've got a problem". Angus dropped everything, flew to Kiev and over the past two weeks has put together the most extraordinary team of professionals.

We decided it had to be a police-led mission so we pre-deployed 50 AFP to London to get them in at a moment's notice. All these decision were subject to getting agreement from Ukraine to hand leadership of the crash investigation to the Netherlands.

Anyway, the Parliament in Ukraine had a huge domestic brawl and they all went home.

I got hold of Frans Timmermans and said, "We've got to get them to recall the Parliament". Over the next two days we fronted every single leader, minister, authority that we could find. .

On the Friday before I went back to the Netherlands, the day their Parliament went into recess, we established secure communications in a hotel so I could read without our phones being hacked. The guys from Defence did that.

When I came back on the Sunday night, I was told the National Security Committee phone hook-up was at 3.30am our time. I'd had about an hour's sleep over four days, so I rolled into this room in my pyjamas because it's supposed to be just a phone call and there were huge video screens.

In Canberra you've got the Chief of the Defence Force in uniform, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner in uniform, the PM in his blue tie uniform - and I'm in my Qantas jim-jams.

Somebody said they thought I was the minister to attend a National Security Committee meeting in pyjamas, but I'm sure that Winston Churchill used to.

Over the next couple of days we will complete the task of finding all the remains, all the personal belongings and then the investigation will proceed.

I think we will know what happened. It's just we don't know who pushed the button. But I believe the Dutch and Australian investigative teams will be able to determine that as well.

What's this all about? Well, 38 Australian residents, 28 citizens, were killed in heinous circumstances and as a Government, we could not leave them there.

Australia has taken unprecedented steps. For a country without a real connection to Ukraine, we have forged a connection in a part of the world we wouldn't have thought that possible. Our relationship with the Dutch has deepened.

Australia took the lead. If we hadn't got the Security Council resolution, if we hadn't got the investigation transferred from Ukraine to the Netherlands, if we hadn't got the authority from Ukraine passed by its Parliament - because they did recall the Parliament - if we hadn't done all these things, I'm afraid that crash site would still be there in the midst of a war and would be forgotten.

We would never be able to bring some small closure to the families.


This is an edited transcript of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's speech to the Australian Institute of Management WA

The West Australian

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