Over 100 delegates were on way to Aids conference

‘Reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world,’ says Australian prime minister Tony Abbott

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott at a press conference in Canberra. He said the crash made for  ‘a grim day for Australia’, and looked more like a crime than an accident. Photograph: Alan Porritt/ EPA

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott at a press conference in Canberra. He said the crash made for ‘a grim day for Australia’, and looked more like a crime than an accident. Photograph: Alan Porritt/ EPA

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 23:05

With at least 27 Australians among the dead on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, prime minister Tony Abbott said it was “a grim day for our country and a grim day for our world”.

“This looks less like an accident than a crime,” Mr Abbott said in parliament.

“The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.”

Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten said the deaths were “murder”.

“The missile that brought down MH17 and the missiles that have claimed numerous other Ukrainian aircraft could not possibly be made by the people who’ve possibly fired them,” he said.

“These separatist terrorists are obtaining these instruments of murder from elsewhere.”

Many of those on board the plane were due to catch connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur to Australia, including about 100 delegates en route to an international Aids conference in Melbourne.

Those on the flight included researchers, health workers, activists and people living with HIV.

Visiting crash site

In a speech at the national press club in Australia’s capital Canberra, current IAS president and Nobel laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said the loss of life was hard to comprehend.

She added that the conference would still be held. “The decision to go on . . . we are thinking about them, because we know that it’s really what they would like us to do. It’s how we take the decision.”

A number of high-profile people are attending the event, including Bill Clinton and Bob Geldof. Among the Australians confirmed to have been on board flight MH17 was a nun from Kincoppal-Rose Bay School in Sydney.

Sr Philomene Tiernan was returning from a spiritual retreat in the town of Joigny, in France.

Monsignor Tony Doherty, parish priest at Rose Bay, knew Sr Philomene for 30 years. “The first thing you think about her is an incredibly gentle personality . . . one of those gentle spirits that you never touch without coming away a little bit enriched,” he said.

“Her contact with young women up at Kincoppal was powerful.”

Australian officials are seeking access to the crash site and a government team is on its way to Ukraine’s capital Kiev.