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Downer too cute by half on UN Protocol against torture.

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KEVIN RUDD M.P. Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs




Foreign Minister Downer’s denial that the Government’s decision to vote against the UN Optional Protocol against Torture was driven by its anxieties over its migration detention facilities like Woomera is contradicted by the statements of Australia’s UN Representative in the formal debate on this Protocol.

In the general debate held within the Economic and Social Council of the UN earlier the same day, the entirety of the Australian Representative’s contribution dealt with people movements and migration management.

The representative said, “the interdisciplinary complexity of the global issues the UN must address required close cooperation among relevant bodies to ensure that they developed and implemented consistent and coherent strategies. That was particularly the case with the phenomenon of people movements…that phenomenon was creating significant political, economic, social and security challenges for countries around the world. People movements…increasingly required strengthened international cooperation in the area of migration movement and development.” (See ECOSOC - 6026 - page 16).

For Mr Downer to somehow claim that the Australian permanent representative was off on a frolic of his own and not representing formal instructions from Canberra is simply unbelievable.

Mr Downer is trying to conceal that Immigration Minister Ruddock and Prime Minister Howard have rolled him on how Australia must vote on the Optional Protocol against Torture. Any rational analysis of Australia’s international standing demanded that we vote in favour of the Protocol against Torture. But rather than prevail on this point, Downer has yielded to Ruddock’s super-sensitivity on the possibility of any international scrutiny being given to facilities like Woomera.

The second consequence of Mr Downer’s weakness on this matter is that we have now sided with some of the worst authoritarian regimes in the world where the international community has deep and legitimate concerns about the systematic practise of torture. That’s what this Optional Protocol to the 1984 Convention against Torture is all about.

The anxiety of Downer and Ruddock over international scrutiny is not the reflection of a mature western democracy. Neither Downer nor Ruddock tell the Australian people that UN committees of all descriptions regularly visit and report on human rights practices in a variety of western countries including Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. This has been going on for years.

Australia’s decision to vote against the Protocol against Torture is a sad day in the history of Australian international relations.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Evatt single handedly convinced the great powers in 1945 that the UN should have an Economic and Social Council to champion the humanitarian interests of the people of the world - as a proper compliment to the responsibilities of the UN Security Council.

Alexander Downer is a totally unworthy successor to Foreign Minister Evatt. Evatt would roll in his grave at what Downer has now done in the name of Australian diplomacy.

Ends 26 July 2002

For further information contact: Kevin Rudd, MP on 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan on (07) 3899 4031 or 0417 605 823