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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12708


Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (19:34): It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am absolutely thrilled about Australia's election to a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council and I thank everyone involved in achieving this wonderful result. In my capacity as the Chair of the UN Parliamentary Group, the UNICEF Parliamentary Association and Parliamentarians for Global Action's Australia branch, as well as being a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and having been a staff member of the UN for eight years, I have had the opportunity to see, both at close range and from the vantage point of this place, the workings of the UN and its importance in so many ways to the world. I have also witnessed the extent of the impact of Australia's interaction and involvement with the UN, how we value-add to that body and to the international community.

Of course, peacekeeping by the blue helmets is a key part of the work of the UN Security Council and is probably the aspect most well recognised by people throughout the world. Australia has a proud history of being involved with UN peacekeeping from the very first days of the UN, and Australians have served with distinction in both military and civilian roles. I am proud to have been one of those civilian peacekeepers during my time with the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo from 1999 to 2002.

Australia's peacekeeping and peace-building efforts can only be enhanced if the government responds positively to this week's report from the foreign affairs committee inquiry into Australia's overseas representation, in which the committee recommended that a mediation unit be established within AusAID to prevent conflict and thereby avoid the much greater costs—in human and economic terms—of humanitarian emergency aid and post-conflict reconstruction and development.

Australia's seat on the UN Security Council also ties in well with our forthcoming hosting of the G20 and membership of the G20 troika, where issues of food security and eliminating global poverty must be central to addressing the root causes of conflict and terrorism. Also important to that effort will be the UN arms trade treaty which aims to control the global trade in the small arms and light weapons that do so much damage to already fragile nations. It has been said that AK47s are the real weapons of mass destruction in the world today. Australia has played a key role in the negotiation of this treaty and will be able to use its influence on the UN Security Council to encourage members of the UN General Assembly to return to negotiations on the arms trade treaty. This is a matter that Parliamentarians for Global Action has taken up as one of its key campaigns including collecting more than 50 signatures from Australian federal MPs and senators in support of the arms trade treaty. Of course, most of the victims of the conflicts powered by small arms are women and children. Australia being on the UNSC will enable us to directly focus on UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women in armed conflict.

A further area where Australia's leadership would be pivotal is in relation to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Of course, Australia is already a co-chair, along with Japan, of the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament initiative and the UN Security Council position will enable further promotion of the comprehensive test ban treaty and the fissile material cut-off treaty as well as the expansion of nuclear-weapons-free zones, but Australia can also take the opportunity presented by the UN Security Council position to move the international community towards abolition of nuclear weapons through a nuclear weapons convention.

It is also important in my view that Australia use its position on the Security Council to be a firm and constant advocate of human rights. The preamble to the UN Charter states:

We the peoples of the United Nations determined

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, …

The United Nations Association of Australia has recommended that a primary focus for Australia on the UN Security Council should be to strengthen the responsibility to protect doctrine. In a submission to government, the United Nations Association of Australia quotes Professor Ramesh Thakur as follows:

There is a striking depth of consensus in support of R2P principles among state representatives, UN officials and other policy and civil society actors …Yet there is also deep disquiet among many, verging on outright distrust in some key countries like Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russia, about how far UN authorisation for the Libyan operation was stretched. As a result, over the next two-three years, a priority UN agenda will be to formulate an agreed set of criteria or guidelines to help the Security Council in the debate before an R2P military intervention is authorised, and a monitoring or review mechanism to ensure that the Council has an oversight role and exercises supervisory control over the operation during implementation.

The UN Association of Australia also quotes Andrew Hewett, the Executive Director of Oxfam Australia, in relation to the need to clarify the scope and application of protection of civilians. Hewett noted:

As played out in Libya we have also seen that what the Council means by ‘protection of civilians’ can have extremely wide interpretations. There has been a conflation of the protection of civilians obligations under customary and International Humanitarian Law and with the Responsibility to Protect—the latter being a political agreement among member states that has an unclear normative status. This led to considerable confusion in Libya about what actions were appropriate and allowable for NATO to take in fulfilling its mandate—and the political fallout from this experience is largely responsible for the Council’s slow response to crises along the Sudan/South Sudan border and in Syria.

The UN Association of Australia notes that, having advanced so far, there is a risk that unless the momentum is maintained these doctrines could become discredited. The UN Association argues, and I agree, that few countries are better placed than Australia to lead on these issues.

Finally, I would like to note as apposite the words of one of my predecessors as the federal member for Fremantle, the great Labor Prime Minister John Curtin. John Curtin made his last major parliamentary speech on 28 February 1945 in which he championed the new international peacekeeping organisation that would become the United Nations after the war. In that speech Curtin said:

If we are to concert with other peoples of goodwill in order to have a better world, there must be some pooling of sovereignty, some association of this country with other countries, and some agreement which, when made, should be kept. For this purpose, there must be some realization that countries cannot always have their own way, if they really wish to live in amity. There must be some give and take. That is the real test, and in wartime the test is not in the taking but in the giving. There is a price that the world must pay for peace; there is a price that it must pay for collective security. I shall not attempt to specify the price, but it does mean less nationalism, less selfishness, less race ambition. Does it not mean also, some consideration for others and a willingness to share with them a world which is, after all, good enough to give to each of us a place in it, if only all of us will observe reason and goodwill toward one another?

Those are wonderful, timeless words spoken at a time of war. They highlight an aspect of John Curtin's leadership which is perhaps not widely appreciated in this country—a commitment to the international community and to the role that Australia can play as a leading global citizen.

Recently we celebrated United Nations Day on 24 October. As the UN Secretary-General said:

Never has the United Nations been so needed. In our increasingly interconnected world, we all have something to give and something to gain by working together. Let us unite, seven billion strong, in the name of the global common good.

I welcome Australia securing a seat on the UN Security Council. We have much to contribute.