Monthly Archives: October 2015

United Nations Update Five – “Global conflict and the impact on Australia”

22 October 2015

During my first three weeks here at the United Nations I have been present at a considerable number of meetings, forums, plenary sessions and general presentations in the General Assembly, the Security Council – and one or more of the six (6) UN Committees.

Two things have become evident to me.

The first is that our world faces serious challenges, both in volume and on scale; some that have not been seen since the Second World War.

Secondly, it is evident to me that the multilateral efforts of the countries with the power to address some of these issues are failing. Some of the failures are due to a lack of will whilst others are due to a lack of capacity.

Look at the above map to get an indication of how voluminous and widespread these conflicts are, as well as the complexity of the underlying relationships.

It is well worth visiting this site as it provides the conflict and relationship details of the groups and nations affected. Here is the link http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2014/10/30/middle-east-explained_n_6056786.html?ir=Australia

In North Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East (including the Arabian Peninsula) we have outbreaks of civil war, nations run by despots and tyrants and the emergence of well-funded and well organised terrorist movements that continue to grow and proliferate at an alarming rate. For some terrorists, the basic intention now is statehood of some sort where they can launch their terror campaigns with more impunity.

Because of the nature of modern armed conflict, there is no longer a “front” or series of fronts where one can measure the progress of an armed conflict. These skirmishes are now largely being fought in residential and suburban environs and are in effect thousands of small conflicts which organically make up one larger seamless event. Some of these conflicts are the type of thing where “whilst you are no friend of mine your enemy is my enemy.”

The question that begs is what impact does all of this this have on Australia?

Firstly, impacts of our involvement in the Middle East:

The most important impact this has on our country at the moment is that we have almost 1,700 young men and women of our armed services in the theatre of conflict, most particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq and more recently Syria.

Additionally, we have many armed services, police officers and civilian experts in peacekeeping roles in other conflicts all over the world. As an important aside, all of this requires a serious financial commitment by our nation.

Secondly, we have significant trading exposures to this region. Without detailing them one by one it would be fair to say that if all trade and financial transactions with this part of the world were to ease considerably then that would have a very negative impact on our economy.

Thirdly, there is the question of a threat to world peace (that is assuming that we assume we have world peace!).

Most of the participants in these conflicts have a nuclear capacity and many of them quite literally hate each other. In some instances, participants don’t just want to resist or repel their enemy or aggressor, they was to annihilate them all together. Additionally, there are both the human and financial costs associated with military actions, humanitarian responses and peacekeeping duties.

The approved budget for UN Peacekeeping operations alone for the fiscal year 1 July 2015-30 June 2016 is about $8.27 billion. Our nation is a financial contributor to these expenses.

By way of comparison, this is less than half of one per cent of world military expenditures which were estimated at $1,747 billion in 2013 ($1.74 trillion dollars).
Imagine what we could do with that money if it were applied to humanitarian considerations to increase the general wealth and wellbeing of mankind.

Whilst I don’t intend to spend too much time on the issues of conflicts in our own region I think I am able to say that hostilities anywhere in Asia will have a clear and present impact on our country in a significant way. Not only would an event impact on trade, tourism and multi-lateral relations; it might also cause us to have to choose between “friends” in the event that military activities ensued.

In a global society there is nothing that occurs in today’s world that does not have the potential to impact (positively or negatively) on our nation.

Whilst I have not traditionally been known for quoting poetry, I think the words of the poet Scott Cairns in which he says “…I turned and beheld seven rows of plasma screens, each bearing seven vivid scenes, each flickering, each pulsing with a light revealing distant terrors, conflagrations, sufferings – and all thereby brought so close, and all thereby kept far away…” might sometimes sum up our Australian attitude to these matters. We can see it, we can hear it, we think we know what it is; but we do not feel it.

My short month working at the UN has changed my view considerably on world affairs, and more importantly their potential to affect our way of life in Australia. It will impact on decisions I make at home in Parliament.

If we could just have made Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi the Kings and Queens of the World for a Day, the world just might be a better place!

On that idealistic note I will close this contribution.

Speech “Statement on Criminal Accountability”

20 October 2015

UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY

SIXTH COMMITTEE

Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission

Mr Chair

I have the honour today of speaking on behalf of Canada, New Zealand and my own country, Australia, together known as ‘CANZ’.

CANZ recognises the dedicated and courageous work of the tens of thousands of UN personnel in the field who every day protect civilians, deliver humanitarian assistance, assist societies to rebuild, and support development. We recognise that the UN officials and experts on mission who commit crimes in the course of their work are very small in number compared to the many who are striving to carry out the UN’s work in accordance with the highest possible standards – often at great risk to their personal safety.

We also recognise, however, that the deplorable acts of a few call the reputation, credibility, impartiality and integrity of the UN into question.

The failure, moreover, to hold those few to account for their crimes risks tarnishing relations between the UN and the local population in the host country. It risks failing those the UN is mandated to protect. And this in turn risks undermining both the success of the operation and the UN’s wider efforts to promote the rule of law, security, development and human rights.

For these reasons, CANZ is deeply concerned by both reports in the last year of criminal conduct within UN missions, particularly allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and the ongoing failure to close the impunity gap.

Mr Chair

We welcome the Secretary-General’s Report on this item and note that during the reporting period, the Office of Legal Affairs referred 22 cases to States of nationality for investigation and possible prosecution. We welcome the Secretary-General’s advice as to the UN’s readiness to cooperate with national law enforcement authorities. Separately, we commend the Secretary-General for taking a strong stance against sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

We note the efforts of Member States to establish jurisdiction for serious crimes committed by their officials and experts on mission and commend those States which have acted to ensure that their nationals can be, and when necessary are, investigated and prosecuted.

Member States clearly have the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by UN officials and experts on mission. We call on States to report to the UN on the progress and outcome of efforts undertaken to investigate and prosecute such crimes in a timely manner. And we encourage Member States to help build the capacity of domestic jurisdictions to undertake such investigations and prosecutions.

Of course, prevention is better than a cure. Training is critical to prevention. CANZ States support the training and education of soldiers and police in our respective regions so they may contribute fully and effectively to peacekeeping operations.

Going forward, we encourage the Secretary-General to ensure that referrals to States of nationality are followed up by the UN on a regular basis, and at a senior level, to ensure that the UN is doing what it can to encourage States to meet their responsibilities.

We also urge the Secretariat to draw from lessons learned in relation to the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic that surfaced this year and stress the need for full and appropriate reporting within the UN system. It was deeply regrettable that these allegations only came to light as a result of external actors. A robust reporting system of course requires the implementation in full of the Secretary-General’s Bulletin on Protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct, the importance of which we underline.

We must not forget that crimes committed by UN officials and experts on mission have victims, often the very people the UN is charged to protect. The needs of such victims must not be overlooked. Better information-sharing – on the part of both States and the UN – on actions taken to hold those responsible to account is a critical starting point.

Mr Chair

Finally, we note that, in principle, CANZ supports the proposal for a convention that requires Member States to exercise criminal jurisdiction over their nationals participating in UN operations abroad. We recognise this proposal has been dormant for some years, but it is CANZ’s hope that the re-convened Working Group in the current session will reinvigorate these discussions. We hope this year’s Working Group can have a substantive discussion about the key issues raised in the reports of Ad Hoc Committee and the Group of Legal Experts.

It would also be useful, both for this Committee and other parts of the General Assembly, to have greater clarity of the scope and scale of allegations against different types of UN personnel and what subsequent actions have been taken either by the UN or national authorities. We think a clear and comprehensive picture of the problem would be beneficial and should be pursued alongside efforts in this Committee to address the substantive legal questions.

CANZ is ready to consider afresh how we can ensure that the deplorable acts of a few do not tarnish the vital work done by the balance of UN personnel.

Thank you.

United Nations Update Four – “Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai”

15 October 2015

I have been fortunate to be present in the United Nations General Assembly Hall these past few weeks to observe a roll call of some of the most influential leaders of our time.

From Pope Francis to Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, I have been fortunate to be present when these individuals took to the UN Security Council or the General Assembly lectern and delivered statements that would fill the newspapers of the coming days and indicate the future direction of international war and diplomacy.

Despite this, I have to report that the most moving and insightful glimpse into our global future that I have heard during my time at the United Nations to date was delivered by the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner – 17 year old Malala Yousafzai.

Malala was the young fifteen year old Pakistani girl who, you might remember, was shot three times on a bus on her way home from school.

The Taliban accepted responsibility for the shooting stating it was in response to Malala’s campaigning for educational rights for young woman in her home nation.

The event captured the attention of the world, propelling this young woman to the status of the most powerful voice for education rights for young people across the globe.

Her address at the opening of the UN General Assembly was given from a lectern positioned in the upper chamber of the auditorium where Malala was flanked by 193 young men and women (including our Australian Youth Delegate to the UN Shea Spierings).

In opening, she said in a firm and powerful voice to all of the international representatives seated below “Dear sisters and brothers, world leaders, look up because the future generation is raising their voice!”

This young woman’s statement took the attention of the room.

In a truly heartfelt plea, she called on world leaders to keep their promises to world youth in providing an accessible and quality education to all – especially the millions of young people who are damaged or displaced by the events in North Africa and the Middle East.

We all can be so easily distracted in our everyday lives in Australia that we take something like our access to education for granted. The stark reality is that for so many others in the world it is an impossible dream.

I know it emotionally impacted all those present in the hall that evening. It was a call from the weak to the strong to keep their word about working towards equal rights for all.

United Nations Update Three – “Statement on Nuclear Disarmament”

15 October 2015

It was a real privilege to speak on behalf of Australia at the United Nations First Committee – Disarmament and International Security hearing this week.

This Committee deals with disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that affect the international community and seeks out solutions to the challenges in the international security regime.

Speaking on the important issue of nuclear disarmament, I told UN committee delegates: “If the world is to realise its collective ambition of enhancing global security and stability, we must re-commit ourselves to the painstaking work of practical nuclear disarmament and confidence-building measures that engage all states concerned….the hard practical work to bring us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons must still be done. There are no short cuts.”

Australia’s position on nuclear disarmament has been clear and consistent for decades.

We advocate a zero tolerance approach to nuclear (as well as chemical and biological) weapons.

Despite this, I cannot help but suspect that humankind will struggle to be ever free of the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, as technology advances, I suspect we will see smaller, “better” and more mobile forms of this type of capability.

Certainly this risk is ever present and increasing as some of the bigger powers populate space with both strike and response capabilities.

The United States’ contribution to the UN commended the fact that it now only has some 4,500 nuclear warheads, down from about 30,000 at the height of the Cold War in the mid-1960/s.

Despite the adoption of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, countries now have by capacity and by volume much more nuclear capability then at any time before.

It is estimated that the world has some 16,000 nuclear warheads (of which about 10% or 1,600 are “war” ready).

These missiles have a greater capacity than those used against Nagasaki and Hiroshima and can be delivered much more efficiently and remotely.

Even the conventional methods of response will incur the detonation of the primary missile in the event that one is launched.

Consider that the use of 100 of these alone would wipe out total civilization as we know it and you will start to see a part of the problem.

So, where does Australia fit?

There are the haves and the have nots with this question.

All the have nots want the haves to dispose totally of this arsenal. That will never happen.

Ninety percent of the collective capacity rests with the USA and Russia whilst many of the balance of holdings are with Nations whose geopolitical environment is unstable.

Australia has no nuclear capabilities but we have close relationships with nuclear carrying allies – US and UK in particular.

There is very little Australia can do in a meaningful way in this space except of course continue to make diplomatic contributions regarding the issue.

Take India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea as examples.

It goes without saying that Australia (like every country on Earth) would be seriously affected by a nuclear event.

When and if it began it would never end as each threatened Nation would want to use their first strike capability as a defensive mechanism.

It can be thoroughly depressing to consider the global outlook.

But, despite this, it is with a sense of pride that I was able to give voice to Australia’s policy to the UN.

A small voice in this great debate – but a voice nonetheless.

United Nations Update Two – “Leaders Week”

13 October 2015

Our first fortnight at the UN has been very hectic with numerous orientation briefings as well as opportunities to observe proceedings of “Leaders Week.”

All throughout the United Nations headquarters, there have been hundreds of high level meetings, symposiums and plenary sessions hosted between 193 participating nations, seven committees of the UN General Assembly as well as countless non-government organizations.

The UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council have also met during this time – so you can just imagine how busy the period is for our ambassador and diplomats.

The sheer volume of meetings, events and work in the General Assembly that must be attended to throughout this period is one of the primary reasons two members of parliament are sent to assist.

It can be both a surreal and very proud sensation observing first hand as Australia takes its respected position on the world stage.

Living in a secure, middle power nation, the United Nations does not figure prominently in the day to day lives of Australians.

Despite this, readers might be surprised to learn that we have figured very prominently in the history of the United Nations.

In fact, I think our long involvement with this institution to promote global peace and security should be held in higher esteem domestically.

I thought I would devote some part of this update regarding my UN delegation to share some of this history in the hope that it might put some of my later reports into ‘perspective.’

To begin with, the United Nations (UN) replaced the League of Nations on the 24 October 1945.

From its earliest origins, it has been of integral strategic importance to Australia’s foreign affairs policy.

In fact, our nation was among 54 foundation nations that comprised the organisation in the aftermath of the Second World War.

We should feel proud that, as an active participant at the founding conference in San Francisco, Australia crafted a central element of the Charter – Article 56 – which has become known as ‘the Australia Pledge.’

Under this Article, United Nations members pledged to “take action, individually and jointly, to achieve higher standards of living… solutions to international economic, social, health and related problems…and universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

To this day, the sentiments of the ‘Australia Pledge’ still reside at the heart of the ambitions of the United Nations.

The United Nations was structured to have six main organs of the United Nations: the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice and the UN Secretariat.

Whilst the UN General Assembly is open to all 193 participating Nations, the UN Security Council is limited to only 15 participant nations at any one time.

Five nations are permanent appointments to the Security Council (Russia, Great Britain, China, United States and France).

The remaining 10 places on the council are selected by the General Assembly for two year terms.

Nations that are not members of the Security Council (or indeed the General Assembly) but subject to deliberations by the council can participate in the council’s functions; however, they do not have the right to vote on any resolutions.

As some of you might remember, Australia served on the Security Council during 2013/2014. I was among the audience recently that heard Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announce that Australia has made a new application to return to the Security Council in 2029/2030.

Australian, both internally and externally, has been accused of being resistant to globalization and the multiculturalism that it brings.

However, I think the facts soundly beg to differ.

Since the UN Charter was adopted 70 years ago, seven million immigrants have entered our shores from foreign nations.

Today, one out of every four Australians has been born overseas. Our current net migration number is now over 200,000 people per year.

Consider the literally billions of communications coming into our country each and every day; the five million people from every corner of the globe who cross our borders every year; the trade exposure that is shaped by events in far-away lands; the billions of dollars tied up in cross investment between Australia and the rest of the world.

In the past two years, we have entered into Free Trade Agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.

Just this week Australia finalised negotiations in the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will liberalize about a quarter of world trade, representing around 40 per cent of the global economy, across 12 nations including the US, Canada, Singapore and Mexico.

It is pleasing to report that through the meetings I have participated in and observed since I started here two weeks ago I have realized Australia is both respected and appreciated in the international community for our contributions to the stability and security of international affairs.

We are responsible global citizens.

We are active members of the United Nations and our mission here makes a significant contribution to the decision making process.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once reflected: “it has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”

I am inclined to agree.

Having spent the past fortnight watching the happenings at the United Nations headquarters, it is never clearer to me that what happens within our region (or indeed on the any part of the globe) now has the potential to impact on our nation in real time.

It affirms my belief that our world is now such an upwardly mobile and rapidly changing place that it would be difficult to operate without a construct like the United Nations.

United Nations Update One – “Welcome”

9 October 2015

As some of you might be aware, I am currently in New York as part of an Australian federal delegation to the United Nations (UN).

This annual delegation has operated for decades and typically runs from September to December.

It is also a bi-partisan affair, with one federal politician from the government and another from the opposition selected to participate.

This year, myself and Wayne Swan have been selected.

These delegations provide an important opportunity for serving federal members of parliament to participate in the operations and affairs of the United Nations General Assembly and the six international committees that direct the Assembly and the UN Security Council.

It is my intention to publish a series of short reports on the affairs of the UN while I am in New York.

These reports will focus on the impact that UN decisions (or failures to make decisions) might have on Australia.

I look forward to sharing these with you over the coming weeks and months.

My arrival at the UN has coincided with what is known as “Leaders Week.”

It is a time when dozens of heads of state from the 193 participating nations of the UN converge on New York for the opening of the annual sessions of both the General Assembly and the Security Council.

As you can imagine, each of these leaders bring their own throng of advisers, journalists and photographers which makes for a hectic and crowded week.

I know the efforts of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the UN have received significant media attention in Australia this week.

Whilst both the Assembly and the Security Council convene frequently throughout the year, “Leaders Week” is regarded as the “high” level period where leaders can adopt, amend and or ratify decisions that have been made by the various UN bodies and committees throughout the year.

It will come as no surprise to many that my strong policy focus during my time at the UN will surround matters of agriculture and, more broadly, trade, as well as decisions that could impact on our national security or might require Australia to send troops or peacekeepers into conflict zones.

I have also made a personal commitment to contribute to any debates about reducing violence against women and children across the globe.

Parliamentary delegates have been given unfettered access to the operations of the Assembly, the Security Council and the Committees and it is my intention to make good use of that gift.

We are able to make contributions to the various debates and I will be given occasions in the coming weeks to make speaking contributions to the various organs of the UN.

Parliamentarians are expected to make contributions to debates and decisions that shape the future of our nation.

These can be policies that will impact on the opportunities of future generations, such as when we create laws that govern how we will utilize our precious natural resources over the coming decades.

These can also be arduous decisions that impact countless individuals and families seemingly overnight. For example, I am thinking of any proposal that commits our troops and personnel to theatres of conflict many thousands of kilometres from Australia.

The question is often asked – “Why should we get involved?”

Long before I entered the political arena, it has been a question I have frequently asked myself.

Having now spent dozens of hours in the General Assembly and the Security Council, I can understand just how complex and complicated is the answer.

Whether international security, humanitarian considerations, defence and trade relationships or simply the impacts of globalization on our everyday life, watching the debates and discussions in the United Nations building during my first days in New York has already left me with the distinct impressions that the geo-political affairs in other parts of the world have a real, direct and present impact on Australia.

I hope to share more of my reflections on why we should be paying attention to what takes places at the UN in these forthcoming updates.