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Statement – Tenth anniversary of the downing of Flight MH17

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP

Mr Speaker, on 17 July it will be ten years since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the east of Ukraine.

I will represent the Australian Government at an event to mark that very sad anniversary at the MH17 memorial in Amsterdam, alongside friends and partners from the Netherlands and many other countries touched by this tragedy. And, most importantly, alongside the loved ones of those who were lost on Flight MH17.

Here in Australia, a memorial service will be held at Parliament House as an opportunity to come together to honour the lives lost and to stand with their families and loved ones

It will be a very sombre day.

It will be a moment to pause and remember those whose lives were tragically cut short in a senseless act of violence.

It will be a moment to commit ourselves to continue to seek accountability for those responsible for this despicable crime.

Australians will remember the shock of waking on the morning of 18 July 2014 our time to learn the shocking news. An ordinary, scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had been shot from the skies above the east of Ukraine.

All aboard – 283 passengers and 15 crew – had lost their lives in unspeakable circumstances.

Innocent people travelling for love or family, for business, or just to see the world. Flight crew doing their jobs, working to get their passengers safely to their destinations.

Thirty-eight of those lost had called Australia home.

Others onboard were bound for connecting flights to Australia to attend an international AIDS conference in Melbourne.

Many in our community were preparing that day to welcome home family and loved ones, or to greet visitors and colleagues from abroad.

We were united in our pain and grief with others all over the world.

The people of the Netherlands and Malaysia suffered particularly grievously.

Nationals of other countries were also among the dead.

But a violent attack on an international passenger aircraft is, ultimately, an attack on all the world, on our ability to connect, to maintain and build relationships and to do business with one another in peace and safety.

It is not just grief that we shared with our friends and partners in other countries affected by the attack on Flight MH17.

Our grieving nations also shared a resolve to fully investigate the downing of Flight MH17, to identify those to blame, and to hold them responsible.

Australia has been united in pursuing that work in the decade since that terrible day, and I want to acknowledge the work of the previous Government in this regard.

And we have been united with our international partners.

Soon after the attack, Australia led work with other countries for the unanimous adoption by the United Nations Security Council of a resolution seeking a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident. The resolution called on all countries to cooperate in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Our work together on that vital task in the years since that tragic afternoon in July 2014 has deepened old bonds and built new ones.

I want to note in particular our work with the other countries of the Joint Investigation Team – Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

The story of Flight MH17 is not just one of profound tragedy and loss, but also of solidarity in seeking truth, justice and accountability.

I want to pay tribute today to those who travelled to Ukraine and the Netherlands after the downing of Flight MH17 to investigate the crash, and those who tirelessly worked on investigations and advocacy for accountability in the years since. In particular, I want to acknowledge the work of members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police, as well as officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and my own Department.

I also wish to pay tribute to all those who supported grieving families, friends and communities as they came to terms with the loss of their loved ones in such unimaginable circumstances. I hope you each know how important your work has been.

Above all, over the last 10 years, the next-of-kin of those lost on Flight MH17 have been central to our endeavours in seeking truth, justice and accountability for the victims.

I pay tribute to their bravery, their strength and their perseverance. Seeking justice for those aboard Flight MH17 has required many of those who loved them most to tell and re-tell their stories of loss in successive legal proceedings.

Mr Speaker, we do know who was responsible for this unforgivable, murderous act.

Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile system that had been transported from Russia into an area in the east of Ukraine that was under the control of Russian-backed separatists.

Just under two years ago, the District Court of The Hague made unequivocal and conclusive findings of the Russian Federation's involvement in the downing of Flight MH17, and findings of guilt against Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Leonid Kharchenko.

The evidence used to convict these individuals was a result of the extensive and collaborative work of the Joint Investigation Team.

I reiterate my sincere thanks to the hundreds of investigators involved in this thorough and painstaking work – from our own Australian Federal Police, and counterparts from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine.

Australia has imposed sanctions on Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko, as well as a fourth individual, Sergey Muchkaev, commander of the Russian military unit that supplied the weapon that shot down Flight MH17.

Since 2022, Australia and the Netherlands have been working together to pursue a case against the Russian Federation in the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization for Russia’s role in the downing of Flight MH17.

In March last year, the Council of ICAO upheld our argument that it had jurisdiction to hear our case against Russia.

As a result, we have been able to proceed to put our substantive case against Russia to the Council.

The evidence used in these proceedings followed the extensive efforts of investigators who participated in the technical investigation led by the Dutch Safety Board, and the criminal investigation conducted by the multinational Joint Investigation Team.

Last month, the Russian Federation withdrew from the ICAO proceedings.

Australia deplores that decision by the Russian Federation.

Nonetheless, we have commenced the presentation of our case before the Council, including the compelling evidence demonstrating that the Russian Federation was responsible for the downing through its role in the transport, deployment and use of the missile launcher that shot down Flight MH17.

Our work is not done and there will be further hearings before the Council. We will not abandon our efforts. Together with the Netherlands, we will continue to call upon the ICAO Council to hold the Russian Federation to account for this senseless act of violence.

Mr Speaker, we continue to mourn the lives lost in the attack on Flight MH17, and our thoughts remain with those who lost loved ones, for whom the coming anniversary will be particularly difficult.

We remember the victims of that attack. Australia remembers them. The international community remembers them.

Together, we will honour their memory and continue to pursue all avenues available to us to seek justice for their loss.