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.