House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


International Organisations (Privileges and Immunities) Amendment Bill 2023; Second Reading

12:31 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise and speak on the International Organisations (Privileges and Immunities) Amendment Bill 2023. I do so after the member for Wannon and note the bipartisan offering of those opposite and note the fact that this has been a regime that has had the support of both sides of the House for some time.

Context is important, and the context of supporting multilateral organisations through Australia's foreign policy is one where over the past few years we saw the former Prime Minister come into this place and parrot some of the tropes that we've seen many in the Republican Party in the United States use, about a more isolationist approach to foreign policy. It was a concerning moment in Australian foreign policy to have the Prime Minister of Australia looking more inwards as opposed to looking at what Australia's role is in the region. I'm pleased that since then those opposite have had more sense than that instinct that was expressed by the former Prime Minister and that we are now back to a place where foreign policy and commitment to multilateral organisations is something both sides of politics, both major parties, are focused on, are committed to and are working collaboratively on.

Upon coming into government, the foreign minister made it her priority to re-establish Australia's place in not only our region but also the world. In order to do so, we need to work collaboratively with other international parties and players. We need to do so, also, through international and multilateral organisations. This bill is an enabler of that. This bill is to enable us to speak and connect with and work alongside many of the international organisations that we are a member of and also some that we are not a member of, as we look to increase and expand our scope. This bill is not just about legalities. It's about advancing Australia's national strategic interests, bolstering our defence, science and strategic relationships, and reaffirming our commitment to multilateralism.

Since the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, international organisations have become an integral part of the multilateral system. International organisations carry out critical work in humanitarian, scientific and other fields, and they promote international cooperation and collaboration. I have witnessed this firsthand in our region. I am, too, deeply committed to their work.

Just as diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities protect the mission of embassies and their officials, these provisions are designed to shield international organisations, their missions and their personnel from undue interference on a global scale. Australia has a longstanding history of engagement with international organisations. In 1963, as the previous member said, we passed the International Organisations (Privileges and Immunities) Act, which laid the foundation for our approach to granting privileges and immunities. However, as the world has evolved, so too must our legislation to keep pace with the changing dynamics of international systems.

The three key parts of this bill are as follows. Firstly, these amendments will empower Australia to declare an organisation as an international organisation under the act, even if we are not a member of that organisation. This is all about expanding our scope of cooperation. It's about encouraging visits and facilitating the exchange of information, knowledge and ideas, and it will foster deeper partnerships with a broader array of international organisations. It will also help us uphold the privileges and immunities agreed to under treaties, further strengthening our international commitments. Secondly the amendments in this bill enable us to extend the existing range of privileges and immunities to categories of officials not explicitly prescribed in the act, provided such extensions are required by international organisations and they have been agreed upon by Australia. This flexibility is important in tailoring our support to the specific needs of international organisations and demonstrates Australia's willingness to work collaboratively with our international engagements. Finally, the bill includes technical edits to the schedules to the act to align them more closely with relevant treaty obligations.

These adjustments are minor in nature and do not represent any significant policy shift or change in the operation of the act. Rather, they are all about ensuring that our domestic legislation reflects our international commitments accurately. This bill is a reflection of the Albanese Labor government's commitment to multilateralism, international law and promoting global cooperation. Through the passage of this bill, we reinforce our dedication to actively and constructively participate in the multilateral system, so upholding the institutions that serve as pillars for international cooperation. We do not take steps forward by taking steps back.

In Australia our commitment to our region and the global rules based order has been on display since we came into government. We on this side of the House want to see a continuing leadership role for Australia as a middle power taking its rightful place in international arenas. But we do so knowing that as a responsible international player we need to engage constructively, to look outwards, to invest in our region, to invest in the people in our region and to ensure that the security of our region outlasts any of our careers in this place. We seek to do so constructively. We seek to engage with our friends and our partners and we seek to engage with those with whom we don't currently have some of the more formalised relationships because that is what good international citizens do. We do so in a way that seeks to deepen defence cooperation, science and strategic partnerships. We do so with the acknowledgement that it is best done on a bipartisan basis. I hope the commitment to multilateralism and to the international rules based order remains exactly that, and I commend the bill to the House.


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