United Nations Day

  • Speech, check against delivery

To our distinguished diplomats and representatives from so many different organisations and community groups, welcome here to Old Parliament House this evening.

I acknowledge my DFAT Deputy Secretaries Ewen McDonald and Gary Quinlan, and it really is a delight to be here again to mark United Nations Day as we join with people all around the world who are commemorating, indeed celebrating, the signing of the United Nations Charter on this day in 1945.

In the 12 months that have passed since I last addressed this event, many global events have reminded us of the significance of the United Nations and the important role that it plays in world affairs.

It was only 70 years ago that in the aftermath of the devastation of World War 2, the United States and other nations sought to establish a rules-based order that would "create a world out of chaos", to guide the behaviour of nations and towards each other.

The international rules-based order that evolved, this interconnected web of international treaties, and international law, alliances and institutions, has seen the most remarkable economic growth in human history – hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty.

But this international rules-based order is under strain from some nations, from some non-state actors including terrorists and transnational criminals; it is under strain.

The most egregious example of a nation-state currently challenging the international rules-based order is North Korea, which is in continued and ongoing violation of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit its illegal ballistic missile tests and its illegal nuclear weapons tests.

Yet North Korea continues to defy the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

It is encouraging to see particularly the Permanent Five members of that Council coming together to defend and uphold the authority of the Security Council.

With the unanimous resolutions of 5 August and 11 September which impose the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions regime ever against North Korea, we hope that this application of diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea will deter it from carrying out any more illegal activities in defiance of the UN Security Council resolutions and compel it back to the negotiating table, so that it doesn't threaten its neighbours, so that it is prepared to negotiate a peaceful outcome.

This is where the significance of the UN Security Council is so important for global peace and security.

Australia has been a consistent advocate for the upholding of the authority of the Security Council in the face of the threatening and provocative behaviour of North Korea.

This year at UN General Assembly Leaders Week, I had the opportunity to meet with the new UN Security General Antonio Guterres and I welcomed him to his new role and expressed our support for his stated aim of reforming the United Nations and he focussed particularly on making management systems more accountable and transparent, and Australia agrees with that course of action.

I was also pleased by his stated desire to appoint more women to senior executive positions within the United Nations, which does need more diversity, more perspectives and insights and views that women can bring to the most important issues the United Nations is forced to grapple with.

It was a moment of great pride when I learned that Australia had been elected to the UN Human Rights Council last week.

Given that we thought our 140 votes that got us elected to the UN Security Council in 2013 was a resounding success, the fact that we received 176 votes in the UN Human Rights Council vote was particularly pleasing and reflects the significant support and confidence that the vast majority of nations have in Australia taking a seat on this most important of the UN bodies.

We campaigned on five particular themes, and they really did resonate with the countries with whom I spoke about our campaign to serve on the UN Human Rights Council.

We focussed on the issue of freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and when we see so many journalists and activists and others suffer for their craft, for their belief, for their commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, this was particularly important for the Government.

We also campaigned on the issue of empowerment of women and girls, and the human rights attached to women's rights.

Matilda, you'll be pleased to know that we also spoke of indigenous rights as human rights, and that was an area of particular support amongst many nations around the world that Australia would focus on indigenous rights as part of our bid to serve on the UN Human Rights Council.

We also spoke of the need for more robust national institutions, stronger national human rights institutions, and this likewise received a great deal of support.

Australia will bring a principled and pragmatic approach to the numerous issues that the Human Rights Council must grapple with, including some of particular concerns of human rights abuses in North Korea, Syria and other nations.

The conflict prevention and peacekeeping role of the United Nations continued throughout the last 12 months.

Australia continues our support for international peacekeeping. Indeed this year we marked the 70th anniversary of Australia's first role in a peacekeeping operation – we were the first country to deploy military personnel to the then-Dutch East Indies under a United Nations consular commission way back 70 years ago.

Since that time, Australia has committed troops and police to 62 conflict prevention and security operations, in addition to 20 UN peacekeeping missions.

So our commitment is longstanding and will continue while ever there is a need for the United Nations to offer peacekeeping and build peace in nations around the world.

The United Nations is faced with so many global challenges and has responded – the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which now has I think 191 signatories as of yesterday and that is a global commitment to tackle the challenge that knows no boundaries, and the World Humanitarian Summit Grand Bargain.

All of these global challenges can only be met through global action, and under the United Nations we can build momentum to deal with them.

So I firmly believe that the United Nations remains the best hope of meeting the aspirations of millions and millions of people around the world who are seeking a more secure, a more peaceful world.

I wish you all the best for United Nations Day.

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