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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12711

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (19:46): I rise to add my words in celebration of Australia being elected to the Security Council. What I would like to say tonight is that I am appalled that this debate in the chamber, from both sides, has degenerated into tit for tat on a level that is unworthy of us. This is not a time to try to embarrass one party or the other because of a stance they have taken at one time or another at the UN. As the parliamentary secretary, the member for Corio, quite adequately pointed out, a lot of our campaigns as Australians at the UN have crossed the political divide several times: one government has initiated a move and another one has had to carry it out. So, if we have cause to be joyful, it is because we played our part in that. If we have cause to be ashamed, we should be ashamed on both sides.

The UN is a strange invention; there is no question about that. But when Australia goes on the international stage, as it did for this seat on the Security Council, we should be looking to act as one. It was a great matter of international pride. The other reason we should be mindful of it is that 65,000 Australians—note that: 65,000 Australians—have served with the UN in either peacekeeping or security actions. They have been on UN-mandated missions, and some of them—both military and civilian—have given their lives for the UN and for Australia. To turn this debate into a tit-for-tat session is to dishonour their memory and to dishonour the role that those people played in making the world the better place that it is today.

Sure, it could be better. We all know that, and we all know the UN is wasteful and sometimes indulgent. We all know that it can be excessively bureaucratic in its procedures. We know its administration is also bureaucratic. We know that some nations do not pull their weight, either financially or by way of giving assistance to military and peacekeeping operations.

But let me put this to you, colleagues: what would be there if there wasn't a UN? Who would deliver the aid? Who would go into the drought ravaged areas and provide the relief? Who would fight the disease? Who would provide the water and the agricultural programs? Who would eliminate malaria, polio and the like? As we have known on our own doorstep, we have tuberculosis problem in the Torres Strait. One has to ask whether AusAID should be not more focused on getting that under some sort of mandate. If the state and federal governments cannot agree on it then, for heaven sake, let us bring in some outside body.

It was my privilege between September and December 2009 to go to the UN. Indeed, my colleague here at the table was at the UN the year before me in 2008. I took my role at the UN very seriously, as did my co-delegate, Annette Ellis, the former member for Canberra. We attended to our duties every day at the Australian Embassy and we went to the UN. We were each members of three committees of the UN. We debated issues on committees. We gave speeches. We represented the ambassador at functions. We participated in the argy-bargy that goes on at the UN—we were trying to put Australia's case. We took it seriously, as well we might. It was a great insight into what the UN can achieve. What I found very impressive while I was there was the quality of our young diplomats. The quality was just superb. When I hear this debate today get down to this tit-for-tat level, I think we diminish their work as well.

If we go back over the formation of the UN—back to 1946—Australia was a foundation member. The first president of the UN was an Australian, Dr Evatt. We will have been on the Security Council—with this recent appointment—five times. People who want to say, 'Why are we worried about the Security Council?' There are 193 nations in the UN and only 15 of them actually get on to the Security Council. There are five permanent members and 10 others in two rotations. We are there as one of those. If you take the five permanent ones off 193 and you get 188. We are one nation in 18 that have a seat there. That was quite exceptional. When you think about it, we are in a very awkward position in being clustered with the Europeans, because the natural instinct in Europe would be vote for a European country. For Australia to score the largest number of votes—140 votes—when you need about two-thirds of the votes to get a seat, is quite exceptional. That did not come about by just buying our way there.

Let us go back to the World Cup—not that the World Cup of soccer is on the same level as the UN. But there we spent a lot of money and got done like a dinner. This was much more than that. Yes, it is estimated that somewhere between $25 million and $45 million was spent one way and another in securing a seat. But to characterise that as bribes is silly. Much of it was additional aid money—discretionary aid money, if you like—that went to good purpose.

When you come back to those 193 countries, we in this place aspire to get to cabinet or at least be a parliamentary secretary or cabinet minister. When you get there you are one of a select few. The Security Council is, in one way, like the cabinet of the UN. So if you get there or your country gets there, it is where the business is done. That is where you do start to exercise some real influence.

For those who denigrate the UN and criticise its indulgence and wastefulness, its bureaucracy and criticise that some nations do not pull their weight financially and so on, let me ask you: what would happen if there was not the UN? Let me ask you: what might have happened in the Korean War if there had not been a UN, because that was its first action? What about the mandatory arms embargo against South Africa, peacekeeping in Cyprus when that country became totally ungovernable, the authorising of forces to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait where Australians served? Remember all that? Remember setting up war crimes tribunals at The Hague, authorising the East Timor peacekeeping force, INTERFET? You could go on about all sorts of things such as sanctions against North Korea on two occasions because of nuclear testing. There are whole range of these things that have gone on to say nothing of the countless peacekeeping and military actions that we, as Australia, have taken on—South West Africa, the Horn of Africa, in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands, in our own region, and so on. These have all been critical to Australia. As I said before, 65,000 personnel had served over that time since 1946 when Dr Evatt took up the first presidency of the UN.

We might also be interested to know that Australia is the 12th largest contributor to regular and peacekeeping funds, and we are in the top 10 for the World Health Organization, the world food fund, the UN Children's Fund and the High Commissioner for Refugees. So in other words, we are seen as being a capable and dependable international citizen. That, again, annoys me that we let this debate slip into a tit for tat exercise.

I remember one night I went to a cocktail party opened by Ban Ki-moon in the foyer of the UN building, and it was about the women of West Africa. It was very confronting with photos and paintings. I remember one particular photo that has stayed in my mind ever since. It was of a woman with a little baby in her arms, but her hand had been hacked off and it was bandage. Here was a poor woman in desperate poverty, who had probably lost her hand to some rebel group, and she was trying to suckle this little kid. It just touched my inner being. Ask yourself if you are a critic of the UN: what organisation would you put in place to look after those people? Who is going to speak for them? Who is going to go to West Africa and speak for people like that?

We played a very significant role in the funding and the organisation of the UN, and we have been there since day one. We were a foundation member. We held the first presidency. Winning a seat on the UN has been going on for the best part of four years, if not longer. It is a great tribute to Gary Quinlan, the Australian Ambassador to the UN, that he pulled this off.

It was when I was at the UN that we were starting to crank up the campaign. All the young diplomats played a part in that. I used to see them at work. I remember one day they were enormously proud. In all the years of the UN, on this particular issue—even though it was not a big issue—the five permanent members of the Security Council had never voted together. Australia was sponsoring this resolution and these young diplomats went out and, for the first time, got the five permanent members to vote for it. I remember one of the ambassadors came back and abused them. I was sitting next to the Australian Ambassador to Geneva, and I said, 'What's all that about?' 'Ah,' she said, 'a loss of face'.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Proceedings suspended from 20:01 to 20 : 43

Mr NEVILLE: I was congratulating the Australian Ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, and his staff for their outstanding work. As I said earlier in my presentation, I think the standard of our junior diplomats at the UN is quite exceptional. They, I am sure, played extraordinary part in getting this vote of 140. I also congratulate former ambassadors like Robert Hill and ambassadors in other countries, such as the New Zealand High Commissioner, who stitched up countries to vote for us. It was really a teamwork effort right across the world, and I can understand why Australia should take great pride in it.

I would like to return to my theme that I thought it was unfortunate tonight that we let this debate degenerate into a bit of a slanging match rather than celebrating what is a marvellous victory—a victory that puts Australia at the centre of decision making for the UN and where we can exercise our influence, and, hopefully, see some reforms in the UN. We have had a long drought, waiting 27 years for this position. I think we have got to ask ourselves: after two years is up, what strategy have we got for staying in the Security Council from time to time? To finish my presentation tonight, what I would like to say is: I think we could be much more strategic. It is known that as part of the reforms of the UN, the European Community wants a seat at the UN in its own right.

Some people might think it is unwise to take it away from individual countries and have a corporate group, but I suppose that Europeans now have become semi-national is not national in their outlook. But I would support that if the countries that have been clustered with the Europeans, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the like, were given our own place—call it, if you like, the Pacific basin position—on the Security Council. That would mean that Australia would get two years in every eight or perhaps every 10.

Rather than saying what was wrong with the Labor Party or the coalition in their attitudes to the current win on the Security Council, why don't we work together to get a new strategy to make sure that we do not have another 27-year drought in two years time? Why don't we do some really strategic planning on what would suit Australia's interests? Why should Australia be clustered with Europeans to find our place in the world? We are in the Pacific. We are the lead nation in the Pacific. Canada is not clustered with the US or with Latin America. These countries work together in the UN. They call themselves CANZ—Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It would make a very fine combination. It would provide a leadership roles for many of those smaller Pacific nations, and it would mean that Australia, more frequently than ever before, had a place at the table where the decisions are made.