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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 3291

Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (16:56): by leave—I present a report that is not quite a delegation report, but it is the report of the delegates who attended the United Nations General Assembly between September and December 2010 as parliamentary advisers to the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN.

Australia has been sending two members of the federal parliament to the United Nations General Assembly to serve as parliamentary advisers to our permanent mission there for 54 years—a very long time. Australia, of course, is one of the founding members of the United Nations, and was one of the most consistent contributors to its finances. So Australia is seen as a very strong supporter of the UN and its agencies, and of the United Nations General Assembly process.

The General Assembly actually runs from mid-September to mid-December and is held, of course, in New York, heralded by the ringing of the Peace Bell by the Secretary-General in the rose garden of the United Nations headquarters. In the first couple of weeks of the General Assembly there was a forum on the Millennium Development Goals, which were set 10 years ago by the United Nations.

The Millennium Development Goals were set with the ultimate aim of eradicating poverty and hunger, improving education, providing gender equality and empowering women around the world. In many countries of the world women are really severely discriminated against, not only in terms of their human rights in marriage and so on; they are also prevented from having education, holding jobs and so on. In many parts of the world there are very high infant mortality rates and the Millennium Development Goals aim to reduce those mortality rates.

Improving maternal health was another Millennium Development Goal and combating HIV AIDS, malaria and other communicable diseases is the sixth goal. Ensuring environmental sustainability was the seventh goal and developing a global partnership for development was the last millennium goal. We are not doing as well as we should be towards achieving those goals but certainly progress is being recorded, which is a very good thing. I found the period that I was at the UN a great experience and it gave a great overview of the way the United Nations and its agencies worked. I think there is a need for reform of the United Nations, especially in its decision-making process, which is a process of consensus whereby if one country does not agree to a course of action then that action does not occur. Quite useful programs and decisions can sometimes be held up for a very long time. We were given an example where one country has held up a decision for some 10 years because of this consensus approach to decision making. That certainly needs reforming.

The structure or membership of the Security Council also needs reforming. Its membership represents the power blocs of the world at the end of the Second World War and it is time we recognised that the Second World War ended more than 60 years ago. The permanent membership of the Security Council should be revised to reflect the modern power structures of the world.

The two parliamentary advisers had to choose two United Nations General Assembly committees to belong to. I chose to be on the second committee, which was economics and finance, and the third committee, which dealt with human rights issues and medical issues. It was very interesting and educational to see over two months how the Australian diplomats and other diplomats worked together to come to an agreement on the hundreds of resolutions which were put to those committees. Most of the hearings were held in camera. The diplomats showed a great deal of skill and intelligence in debating the small variations in words which were put up by different delegations and in achieving outcomes.

There were other countries that had MPs at the United Nations. We had a meeting with the Malaysian group, who were there for about three or four weeks. In fact, Australia was quite unusual in having delegates there for the entire General Assembly process. At the end of our time there a further meeting was held of the International Parliamentary Union, which was attended by about 70 MPs. They all made it plain that they saw the UN as having a major and good role in the world, for all its faults. In my view, the United Nations has been a force for good in the world through its agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and UNESCO. In its peaceĀ­keeping roles, the United Nations has succeeded in keeping the world a more peaceful place.

There is a quote from Dag Hammarskjold displayed around the United Nations building that the UN was not designed to take humanity to heaven but rather to prevent it from descending into hell. It is my view that the UN has succeeded in that objective. In the years since World War II, the world has not descended into the hell of a nuclear war, even though there were lots of minor skirmishes around the world. The UN managed to maintain a higher level of peace than might otherwise have been the case in the years since World War II ended.

Overall, it was a great privilege to go to the United Nations. I enjoyed the experience and learnt a great deal about the respect in which Australia is held by other countries of the world for our contribution to many areas of the activities of the United Nations. I am very grateful for having had this experience.