Human Rights Council Campaign Launch

  • Speech, check against delivery
18 May 2017

Excellencies, I am deeply appreciative of the fact that Permanent Representatives, representatives from UN Missions, from NGOs and from UN agencies are here tonight.

And we deeply appreciate your presence here. It's important to us, for tonight I am proud to formally launch Australia's campaign to serve, for the first time, on the United Nations Human Rights Council for the term 2018-2020.

The question is why should Australia receive your support for the Human Rights Council, given that like many nations, we can claim a proud and long history of promoting and protecting human rights at home and abroad.

Well my answer to you is that Australia is a stand-out because we are arguably the most successful, the most diverse, multi-cultural society on earth.

Indeed in many respects, Australia is the ultimate melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, languages, religions.

Australia welcomes to its shores people from every nation and we have successfully integrated them into a richly diverse and free, tolerant society.

In fact, it's our inclusiveness that makes Australia such an appealing choice for so many people, so many migrants, who know that they will be part of a nation that offers freedom, a high standard of living, opportunities for education and employment in a strong and resilient economy.

Australia has welcomed more than 7 million migrants, including 800,000 refugees that came in waves since the Second World War – in a population today of 24 million people.

We have long embraced those fleeing conflict and persecution, and those in need of humanitarian support.

We have actively sought out those who have the skills and knowledge that can build and sustain our nation.

At any given time, more than one in four Australians was born overseas – and another one in four have at least one migrant parent.

Mandarin is the second most-spoken language at home. Punjabi is the fastest-growing language in Australia.

Ten per cent of our population was born in Asia.

And our recent national Census revealed that in one local government area in Western Sydney - in one local government area alone - over 150 nationalities were among its residents.

Australia is also proud to be the home of the world's oldest continuous culture, and our Indigenous people are represented in every aspect of public life – in parliament, in government, in sports and the arts.

Traditional land rights have been recognised in law in every state of Australia.

Of course, many challenges remain, particularly for our Aboriginal people in remote communities, as they continue their journey of reconciliation of an ancient tribal culture into the 21st century.

But importantly, these communities have the enduring support of the Australian government and the broader community.

Australia is also known as a pioneer of women's rights – in fact, we were the first country on earth to simultaneously give women the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament.

Gender equality is enshrined in our laws.

Discrimination based on gender, or ethnicity, or disability, age, religion has long been illegal in Australia.

We have also been active and prominent in advocating for better human rights outcomes around the world.

In our international representations we are principled and pragmatic, focusing on outcomes, while recognising that every country has a different economic, social, political circumstance.

We regard human rights, and human rights standards, as a global project – it is the responsibility of all human kind.

And we believe that the vast majority of people aspire to a life of peace and security, seeking high standards of living for their families, while ensuring that it's underpinned by indivisible, universal human rights.

The world is facing many challenges on the human rights front, and that's why we believe it is more important than ever for principled voices to be raised and to be heard.

As I hope many of you will recall from our term on the UN Security Council, from 2013 to 2014, we will continue to bring a principled yet passionate, practical, pragmatic approach to promoting and protecting human rights.

Now while the Human Rights Council has enjoyed the participation of a very wide range of members since its inception in 2006, there has been one glaring omission.

No country from the Pacific has ever served on the Council.

Australia is a Pacific nation – and our great ethnic and cultural diversity gives us the capacity to understand global human rights issues, including from an Indian Ocean, Asia-Pacific perspective.

Should we be elected, we commit to playing a constructive role across the Council's work – particularly in five key areas where we believe that Australia has a valuable contribution, particular expertise, a unique experience to offer to the world:

  • the rights of indigenous people is the first pillar
  • strong national human rights institutions
  • good governance
  • freedom of expression
  • gender equality and gender empowerment

These are just five areas where Australia will support human rights in practical and sensible ways.

We commit to supporting developing countries' participation in the Human Rights Council – and we've demonstrated that by being the largest contributor to the UN Trust Fund for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to participate in the Human Rights Council.

If elected to serve on the Council, Australia intends to work collaboratively with all of our international partners towards fulfilling the goals set out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights – we will listen to your concerns. We will work with you.

Excellencies, I am confident that Australia will make a strong contribution if we are elected to the Human Rights Council.

I respectfully request your support for our candidacy.

In partnership together, we can work for the advancement of human rights for the benefit of communities throughout the world.

I believe, passionately, that it is the responsibility of the current generation of leaders to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to reach their full potential – and the only way that will happen is if their fundamental human rights are protected.

Excellencies, Australia commits fully to that responsibility.

Thank you so much for your attendance here this evening, and please, take one of our kangaroos home to remind you that in October Australia will seek your support.

- Ends -

Media enquiries