United Nations Association of Australia - National Conference Peacekeeping

  • Speech, check against delivery

Thank you Michael that was a very moving tribute, I also thank you for your very kind words and I acknowledge the work that you do as National President of UNAA.

Dr Brendan Nelson, my dear friend who's looking after me with glasses of water – the dreaded Canberra lurgy – and I want to acknowledge Gary Quinlan the Deputy Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and His Excellency Dr Marty Natalegawa the former Foreign Minister of Indonesia and a very valued counterpart of mine during his term.

Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. This morning I pay tribute to the United Nations Association of Australia for its leadership in Australia's debate on international affairs, and in connecting the very many Australians who take an active interest in the United Nations.

This year we commemorate the 70th anniversary of our engagement in UN peacekeeping.

On 14 September 1947, Australia was the first country to deploy military observers to the Dutch East Indies as part of a United Nations Consular Commission. I acknowledge the presence of a fellow West Australian Charles Eaton, the son of Charles Snr who headed that commission.

These Australian peacekeeping pioneers monitored and reported on the ceasefire between the Dutch and Indonesian nationalists.

Although hostilities resumed briefly in late 1948, the combatants eventually signed a United Nations mediated agreement on 2 November 1949, which led to Indonesia achieving de jure independence from the Netherlands on 27 December 1949.

Almost seven decades later, Indonesia has become a major United Nations peacekeeping contributor in its own right, and one of Australia's most important friends and partners in the region.

Peacekeeping is one of the approaches available to the United Nations to assist member states in transitioning away from conflict toward peace and the rebuilding of institutions that can provide security and effective governance, economic development and social progress.

In this sense, peacekeeping fulfils the core mandate of the UN Charter: to discourage aggression; settle disputes without resorting to coercion or the use of force; and to achieve enduring peace and bring an end to war.

Since 1948, the Security Council has authorised 71 peace operations to restore stability around the world. There are fifteen underway today, across four continents. In 2016, the UN Security Council adopted 77 resolutions, many directing peacekeeping operations. Thus far in 2017 it has adopted 37.

Tragically, in that time four vetoes have stymied the UNSC's efforts to respond to the terrible conflict in Syria.

Yet, the Council continues to drive peacekeeping in many places, and does it cost effectively. Last financial year, the UN's total peacekeeping budget was under eight billion US dollars – that's less than half a per cent of global military expenditure.

The United Nations has repeatedly demonstrated the value of peacekeeping missions – 54 have completed their mandate and closed.

While peacekeepers can't be expected to solve all of a country's problems – and some peacekeeping missions have had difficulties fulfilling their mandates – the world would be a far more dangerous and brutal place without them.

Peacekeepers provide a measure of stability that makes it easier for a country to return to political dialogue.

They assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants.

They train police in restoring the rule of law.

They provide logistical support that enables elections to be held.

They can also play a role in the release of child soldiers. In fact, over 115,000 child soldiers have been released from serving military and rebel leaders as a result of broader UN efforts towards this end.

Australia has played an invaluable role in peacekeeping efforts, having contributed troops and police in 62 peace and security operations, including 21 UN peacekeeping missions.

From the Middle East and Africa, to Asia and the Pacific, we have a proud history of peacekeeping and we honour all those who have served and are currently serving.

I congratulate the Australian Peacekeepers Memorial Project on such an impressive and permanent tribute that you have created in this memorial precinct. I wish I could have been there yesterday however the Chief Government Whip decided that the numbers were too close in the House at that time – but well done.

No one knows better than our military, police and civilians who have served as peacekeepers, the difficulty of UN peacekeeping operations, and the terrible human price paid when a nation's leaders and the international system falls short.

In the midst of these painful limits and frustrations, many Australian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations have shown initiative, courage and selflessness worthy of the best in Australia's tradition.

At times with little to draw on other than their wits and training, and perhaps a medical kit, they have brought order to chaos, saved lives and rekindled hope.

Australia meets our commitments to the UN peacekeeping budget in full and on time, as the 11th largest financial contributor.

It is also gratifying to see that many of those countries we have assisted are now assisting others and as I earlier acknowledged, Indonesia, which is now ranked 11th amongst troop contributors, I also acknowledge Cambodia and Timor-Leste, for their UN peacekeeping contributions.

We value our peacekeeping partnerships with our neighbours and we can't rule out the possibility that we might need to draw on them in the future.

We have had nine UN peacekeeping missions in Asia and the Pacific over the years and having just concluded the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands.

RAMSI concluded in June this year after 14 years. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is now deploying police as UN peacekeepers, and its first contingent deployed in August 2016 to Darfur, Sudan.

Australia trains around 250 international peacekeepers each year, we're currently helping Vietnam prepare for its anticipated peacekeeping mission to South Sudan in 2018.

Through our Defence Cooperation Program, Australia is providing Specialist English training to Vietnam, along with equipment valued at $400,000.

Last month, Australia offered to provide strategic airlift to assist Vietnam to deploy its military hospital to South Sudan.

In addition to funding, training, personnel and logistics, Australia provides policy leadership and development in areas where we have expertise, to make the United Nations more capable and efficient.

We have gained valuable operational experience in our region during our missions in Timor-Leste, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and Solomon Islands.

We have worked hard to apply the lessons we have learned through United Nations resolutions, and we've helped drive three important reforms now being integrated into United Nations practice.

The first of these changes was to focus United Nations efforts, from conflict prevention through to recovery and beyond, on sustaining peace.

As we learned in our 14-year, $2.8 billion commitment leading RAMSI, building peace, and preventing conflict, requires sustained effort.

Ninety per cent of civil wars in the years of the 2000s occurred in countries that had already experienced civil war in the previous 30 years.

The number of civil conflicts taking place around the world tripled between 2007 and 2014.

We must get better at making peace last.

In April last year, with Angola, we co-chaired negotiations on a resolution adopted by both the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly, in which the United Nations committed to integrating its efforts around the objective of sustaining peace.

We support the UN's efforts to help countries emerging from conflict, including in our region, through the UN Peacebuilding Fund and the UN Department of Political Affairs.

Now the second lesson we took to the United Nations concerned the particular contribution that police can bring to peacebuilding.

The Australian Defence Force was an important presence in the first phase of RAMSI's deployment, although RAMSI was a civilian-led, integrated security and development mission.

Its longest-running component was in fact operational and capacity building support to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

For the last four years of its existence - from 2013 onwards - RAMSI was solely a policing mission.

When police keep the peace, they can help build the rule of law from day one.
Rule of law is crucial to establishing a sustainable peace.

This principle was one of the reasons Australia championed a UN Security Council Resolution on policing during our term on the Security Council from 2013 and 2014.

We will continue to play a leading role in international police training, and in promoting the further development of policing within the UN's peacekeeping policies.

In doing so, we draw on considerable experience within the UN system, including 53 years of continuous policing service in Cyprus, which concluded in June this year.

Third, Australia has helped drive the UN's agenda on women, peace and security. This is a particular interest and passion of mine having been witness to the contribution women can make, particularly in the Solomon Islands.

Australia helped bring an unprecedented level of attention to this issue during our Security Council term, culminating in resolutions to improve women's participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding – and our approach to maintaining security and stability – have evolved over the last 70 years, and will continue to adapt.

In fact, next week I will lead Australia's delegation to the UN General Assembly Leaders' Week where I will participate in the UN Security Council High Level Debate on UN peacekeeping. The focus is on reform where I will be highlighting our perspectives, and given our experience, particularly that peacekeeping must be deployed as part of a broader political strategy where the work of peacekeepers is supported by other tools like mediation, humanitarian support and longer-term development planning.

Today, our region faces a range of new challenges, including another watershed: the international community must find a way to walk North Korea back from the brink of its reckless provocations and illegal missiles and nuclear program. Again, this morning, another missile test over Japan, which was probably intermediate in its range, travelled further than any other of its previous 88 illegal missile tests.

As these walls remind us, 340 Australians lost their lives in military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

The current situation is difficult and dangerous and threatens the stability of our region. Successive Security Council resolutions have focused the world's attention on the issue.

The Security Council has resolved repeatedly that North Korea's nuclear program is illegal, and the members are united in condemning and sanctioning the regime's nuclear and missile tests.

The sanctions agreed last Monday, together with the sanctions agreed on 5 August, are the toughest and most comprehensive package of sanctions imposed on North Korea to date - but they must be universally implemented in order to put sufficient pressure on North Korea for it to change its behaviour and to recalculate its risk.

North Korea is in direct and continued defiance of the UN Security Council. All members of the Security Council, particularly the permanent five who have a privileged position as permanent members must uphold the authority of the Security Council and enforce fully its resolutions.

Australia of course will continue to strictly enforce these sanctions and reinforce them with autonomous measures that we have also put in place.

I have repeatedly called on North Korea to cease its illegal programs, together with other counterpart foreign ministers and leaders, and to focus its efforts and energy and resources to the wellbeing of its impoverished people.

Justice Michael Kirby, the Australian chief of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, exposed the regime's abuses in his official report to the UN that concluded North Korea is – and I quote - "a state that does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspects of its citizens' lives and terrorises them from within".

There is little disagreement around the world about how this situation should end. One way or another, North Korea must abandon its illegal missile and weapon programs. The United Nations will continue to be the important forum for achieving this.

One of the key messages of the Australian Government's Foreign Policy White Paper that will be published in coming months is that, in an increasingly contested world, the rules-based international order is vital for the pursuit of every nation's legitimate international interests.

The United Nations, with all its successes, and all its imperfections, sits at the heart of this international order.

I believe Australia is a principled and pragmatic member of the United Nations, making concerted contributions which we think will yield the best results.

I'm delighted that we have an opportunity, should all those who have promised us support vote in our favour, to serve on the UN Human Rights Council from October this year.

We will continue to support the institution of the UN to strengthen the rules-based order, project our values and interests, and solve problems that require the UN's unique legitimacy.

Peacekeeping is a tangible expression of the international rules-based order. I salute all Australians and others around the world who are – and have been - dedicated peacekeepers to achieve that noble end. Thank you.

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