Mr President, High Commissioner, Ministers, Excellencies, other distinguished delegates.
Australia is one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth.
We are an international and unique model for tolerance, respect inclusion and integration.
We are home to people from over 300 nationalities. We therefore speak many hundreds of languages, including indigenous languages. Indeed, 20 per cent of Australians don’t speak English at home.
Per capita, we have a very generous immigration and humanitarian programme. Over the last 70 years, we have welcomed 7.5 million migrants, including over 800,000 under our Humanitarian Programme.
Almost half of Australians were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas.
I am one of those people – the child of Italian migrants.
Australia welcomes people to our shores from across the globe: 190,000 people move to Australia every year, a significant number for a country with 24 million people.
Our annual intake of humanitarian and refugee visas has risen from 13,750 to 16,750 and almost 19,000 by 2018. In addition, we are progressing the permanent settlement of an additional 12,000 refugees from the devastating conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
Australia consistently ranks in the top three countries for permanent resettlement of refugees referred by UNHCR
This longstanding record is underpinned by the Australian core values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It is more important than ever for nations like Australia to ensure that human rights remain a fundamental pillar of our foreign policy and global outreach.
And we make this commitment:
We will continue to stand up for human rights, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because human rights are inextricably linked to economic and social development and to global security, stability and prosperity.
Australia’s candidacy for election to the Human Rights Council for the term 2018-20 reflects our commitment to advance human rights.
This is the first time Australia has sought election to the Council.
No country from the Pacific region has ever held a seat on the Council and as Minister for International Development and the Pacific I feel very strongly about this. Australia will play a crucial role in supporting and representing this vast area which has not been represented in the past.
We see holding a seat on the Council as bearing a significant responsibility.
A responsibility to: work with partners to address international human rights violations; to stand up for universal values globally and in Australia; and to hold those responsible for violations to account – especially in grave situations of human rights abuses, such as North Korea and Syria.
Today, I am pleased to announce that Australia will contribute $150,000 to support the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria – demonstrating our commitment to ensure accountability for international crimes.
Our commitment to such principles, combined with our pragmatic approach delivered concrete results during our term on the UN Security Council between 2013-14. Australia pushed policy into new areas, including on small arms trading and the important role played by police in peacekeeping and peace-building.
If elected, we will take a similar approach. We will focus on 5 themes – each represents an area that we believe requires global attention and where Australia has proven experience and can play a constructive role.
We stand for gender equality and the empowerment of women:
We are one of the few countries in the world with an Ambassador for Women and Girls, tasked with advocating internationally for women’s equal participation in political, economic and social affairs.
We support this through our $55 million Gender Equality Fund and contributions to UN Women of $7.8 million.
Australia has also set a target that 80 per cent of its aid investments, regardless of their principal objective, must effectively address gender equality in their implementation.
We also stand for:
- freedom of expression;
- good governance;
- the rights of indigenous people; and
- strong national human rights institutions.
We bring a commitment to finding long-term practical solutions – to work constructively with our nation partners – through dialogue, generous humanitarian support and development assistance.
Australia will work with you – the Council members, other nations and, importantly, civil society – to ensure the Council itself is a strong and effective institution, well placed to meet the complexity of global human rights challenges.
This is not to pretend that Australia does not itself face challenges.
In November 2015, Australia received 290 recommendations through its Universal Periodic Review.
We take them all seriously and acknowledge in particular, that we have much work to do in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
In addressing our challenges, Australia is committed to active, positive engagement with international human rights mechanisms.
We are a reliable donor to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, supporting the Office to carry out its independent mandate.
We have a standing invitation for Human Rights Council Special Procedure Mandate Holders to visit – four Special Rapporteurs have visited Australia since October last year.
Australia will ratify the Optional Protocol Against Torture this year.
We are also ensuring that all nations, no matter how small, can participate in the international human rights system. We are the largest donor to the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States Trust Fund.
Australia stands ready to serve on the Council for the first time - we are pragmatic, principled and passionate about finding solutions to complex issues and committed to work with you to enhance human rights and opportunities across the globe.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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