Can I start by acknowledging the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson – thank you so much for joining us at this very, very busy time; to you, Ambassador Gillian Bird; to the artist Syd Bruce Shortjoe and artist Brian Robinson; the curators, Stephane Jacob and Suzanne O'Connell.

It gives me great pleasure to open the "Defending the Oceans" exhibition, an installation of objects, known as "Ghost Nets", which you see above and around you on display.

These sculptures were created by Australia's Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities, made out of discarded fishing nets, wires and debris that litter Australia's coastline, float into the ocean and wash up on the beaches.

The raw materials, or "Ghost Nets" as they are referred to, were collected by Indigenous artists who work in the Pormpuraaw Art and Cultural Centre, to turn them into these quite subtle, but compelling, works of art.

These works have impressed all over the world, in particular during a very highly successful exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, and I was pleased yesterday when his Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco joined us to visit the exhibition.

Artist, Syd Shortjoe, will speak to us shortly about the exhibition so I do not want to steal his thunder!

But I will remark that the debris that goes to make these "Ghost Nets" is a pervasive global threat – not just to the sea mammals, the birds, and the marine life that they enmesh, but also to the communities that depend on the living ocean for their existence and to continue their traditional practices.

Indigenous people around the world, many of whom depend on oceans for their livelihood, will be particularly affected by the scourge of global oceanic pollution.

Around the world, Indigenous peoples make up around five per cent of the global population.

But according to the United Nations, they constitute 15 per cent of the global poor and about a third of the world's 900 million extremely poor rural people.

For many years, Australia has been committed to helping to try to overcome Indigenous disadvantage, both at home and across the Indo-Pacific.

That commitment has included a long importance that we have placed on hearing Indigenous voices within the UN system, which is why we are the fifth largest contributor to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Indigenous Populations.

As part of that commitment, Indigenous rights are also very important to the Australian Government.

Our support for Indigenous rights is part of our motivation for seeking a seat on the Human Rights Council – along with our support for gender equality, freedom of expression, strong national human rights institutions, and good governance.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Australian Government is pleased to support this exhibition. 

Not only does it draw our attention to the very serious issues for all our oceans, it is a powerful piece of storytelling by Indigenous Australians. 

So let me invite you all to reflect on what we, as nations and as individuals, can do to ensure that Indigenous cultures are recognised and celebrated.

Thank you for your kind attention and I hope that you enjoy the exhibition.

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