Former US President Bill Clinton has addressed the Melbourne AIDS 2014 conference in an emotional tribute to lost colleagues.
“The loss of our colleagues and 290 others in what appears to have been a deliberate act is a stark reflection of the negative forces of our interdependence. People who don’t want a future of inclusive economics, inclusive governments, inclusive communities,” he said.
President Clinton paid tribute to leading AIDS researcher, Dutch man Joep Lange. “He and the five other colleagues we lost lived lives which are overpowering in their contribution to a shared future,” he said.
“Those who shot them down represent the other side in our struggle to define interdependence. The open hand against the clenched fist. Cooperation against control. Life against death. It matters not that the murder was meant to be committed against other people.”
Clinton also paid tribute to Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop who is currently working with other nations in the UN.
“I was proud to be in this country when the Australian foreign minister spoke at the United Nations yesterday,” said Clinton.
“I hope that all of our countries who value freedom and honour will look at the statement made yesterday by the Dutch foreign minister before they give in to the temptation to say ‘maybe we should weaken our resolve to take a strong stand because after all they didn’t mean to shoot this plane down’.
“It is important in this group that devotes its life to giving other people life that we honour the service and lives of those who were lost, and the promise of the children that was cut short, by standing as the Dutch foreign minister stood yesterday in the United Nations, as the Australian foreign minister did.
“We are here on the 20th anniversary of the conference to celebrate so much of the progress that has been made because the world made the right decision to fight AIDS. We dare not walk away.”
Earlier, a group of protesters interrupted Clinton’s address to call for a tax on financial transactions to help the world’s poor.
As Clinton took to the stage, about 20 audience members sprang up shouting “Clinton end AIDS with the Robin Hood tax” and “End AIDS with the Robin Hood tax”.
Members of the Robin Hood Tax coalition believe a small tax on bankers could make a huge difference to the lives of people in the world’s poorest countries.
The campaign calls for a Financial Transactions Tax, a levy of between 0.5 and 0.005 per cent on all financial products that are traded.
Clinton was quiet during the five-minute protest and then thanked them for letting him have the stage.
“The last time I spoke here I gave them a platform and I was glad to do it and I thank them for letting me have one now.”
Later in his speech he added: “This is called a conference but I think it’s really a movement. That’s why it’s OK if someone stands up and has their say.”
Meanwhile Governor-General Peter Cosgrove is travelling to the Netherlands to receive the bodies of the Australians killed in the MH17 disaster. A train carrying the remains of the victims recovered from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane reached the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday night.
The bodies will soon be transferred to the Netherlands for identification and eventual repatriation. Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he has asked Sir Peter to travel to the Netherlands.
He will be there for the arrival of Dutch and Australian aircraft carrying the remains. “It is important for the families and for our nation that our people be received by one of our own,” Mr Abbott said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mr Abbott says the identification of bodies could take some time. “The task of identifying the victims is a process that must be conducted carefully and accurately,” he said.
“By its very nature, it may take some weeks before we can honour the dead by returning them to those they loved and those that loved them. But we will bring them home.” Mr Abbott says the government will transport victims’ families to the Netherlands to accompany their loved ones home, if they so wish.