Senate debates

Monday, 20 June 2011

Delegation Reports

Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly; Report

4:56 pm

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I present a report that is not quite a delegation report, but it is the report of the delegates who attended the United Nations General Assembly between September and December 2010 as parliamentary advisers to the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN.

Australia has been sending two members of the federal parliament to the United Nations General Assembly to serve as parliamentary advisers to our permanent mission there for 54 years—a very long time. Australia, of course, is one of the founding members of the United Nations, and was one of the most consistent contributors to its finances. So Australia is seen as a very strong supporter of the UN and its agencies, and of the United Nations General Assembly process.

The General Assembly actually runs from mid-September to mid-December and is held, of course, in New York, heralded by the ringing of the Peace Bell by the Secretary-General in the rose garden of the United Nations headquarters. In the first couple of weeks of the General Assembly there was a forum on the Millennium Development Goals, which were set 10 years ago by the United Nations.

The Millennium Development Goals were set with the ultimate aim of eradicating poverty and hunger, improving education, providing gender equality and empowering women around the world. In many countries of the world women are really severely discriminated against, not only in terms of their human rights in marriage and so on; they are also prevented from having education, holding jobs and so on. In many parts of the world there are very high infant mortality rates and the Millennium Development Goals aim to reduce those mortality rates.

Improving maternal health was another Millennium Development Goal and combating HIV AIDS, malaria and other communicable diseases is the sixth goal. Ensuring environmental sustainability was the seventh goal and developing a global partnership for development was the last millennium goal. We are not doing as well as we should be towards achieving those goals but certainly progress is being recorded, which is a very good thing. I found the period that I was at the UN a great experience and it gave a great overview of the way the United Nations and its agencies worked. I think there is a need for reform of the United Nations, especially in its decision-making process, which is a process of consensus whereby if one country does not agree to a course of action then that action does not occur. Quite useful programs and decisions can sometimes be held up for a very long time. We were given an example where one country has held up a decision for some 10 years because of this consensus approach to decision making. That certainly needs reforming.

The structure or membership of the Security Council also needs reforming. Its membership represents the power blocs of the world at the end of the Second World War and it is time we recognised that the Second World War ended more than 60 years ago. The permanent membership of the Security Council should be revised to reflect the modern power structures of the world.

The two parliamentary advisers had to choose two United Nations General Assembly committees to belong to. I chose to be on the second committee, which was economics and finance, and the third committee, which dealt with human rights issues and medical issues. It was very interesting and educational to see over two months how the Australian diplomats and other diplomats worked together to come to an agreement on the hundreds of resolutions which were put to those committees. Most of the hearings were held in camera. The diplomats showed a great deal of skill and intelligence in debating the small variations in words which were put up by different delegations and in achieving outcomes.

There were other countries that had MPs at the United Nations. We had a meeting with the Malaysian group, who were there for about three or four weeks. In fact, Australia was quite unusual in having delegates there for the entire General Assembly process. At the end of our time there a further meeting was held of the International Parliamentary Union, which was attended by about 70 MPs. They all made it plain that they saw the UN as having a major and good role in the world, for all its faults. In my view, the United Nations has been a force for good in the world through its agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and UNESCO. In its peace­keeping roles, the United Nations has succeeded in keeping the world a more peaceful place.

There is a quote from Dag Hammarskjold displayed around the United Nations building that the UN was not designed to take humanity to heaven but rather to prevent it from descending into hell. It is my view that the UN has succeeded in that objective. In the years since World War II, the world has not descended into the hell of a nuclear war, even though there were lots of minor skirmishes around the world. The UN managed to maintain a higher level of peace than might otherwise have been the case in the years since World War II ended.

Overall, it was a great privilege to go to the United Nations. I enjoyed the experience and learnt a great deal about the respect in which Australia is held by other countries of the world for our contribution to many areas of the activities of the United Nations. I am very grateful for having had this experience.

5:04 pm

Photo of Kerry O'BrienKerry O'Brien (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I concur with the remarks Senator Eggleston made on the report of the delegates who attended the United Nations General Assembly between September and December 2010 as parliamentary advisers to the Australian permanent mission to the United Nations and thank him and his staff for the work they have done in pulling the report together. Firstly, I thank some of the staff of our mission: Ambassador Gary Quinlan and Deputy Permanent Representative Andrew Goledzinowski; councillors now having left their posts, David Windsor and Andrew Rose; particularly First Secretary Sarah de Zoeten and Shannon White, who were very helpful to me in my role on this occasion at the assembly; AusAID representative, Fleur Davies, who was tireless in her work but quite prepared to involve both Senator Eggleston and me in the role of AusAID working through the United Nations in New York; and advisers Peter Stone and Sally Weston, who were involved in a number of issues, particularly the balloting process and Australia's negotiations in those processes for the election of representatives for various committees and, indeed, from time to time each year the selection of our choices in the ballot for membership of the Security Council that I know they were involved in.

I also give thanks to Minoli Perera, who left the mission at the end of last year and I believe is now posted in Papua New Guinea, and Rebecca Smith, who provided important assistance to us both; Kelvin Birrell, who has been at the post for many years and visited my family and me in Launceston recently on his visit to Tasmania, where he intends to relocate with his partner; and, last but not least, Joy Duncan, the personal assistant to Andrew Goledzinowski, who day by day and week by week provided us with information and assistance about the variety of things that were occurring which we perhaps did not know about and may have taken an interest in. I would also like to thank Ambassador Beazley, from our embassy in Washington, which we visited for three days during our time in the United States. I would particularly like to thank Congressional Liaison Officer Elizabeth Willis and Counsellor Jan Hutton from our mission, both of whom assisted us in accessing various appointments and gave us briefings about what was going on and some of the difficulties in the bureaucracy in Washington. They assisted us in dealing with the congress, particularly the Senate, and with some of the intricacies that our embassy encountered there.

There was an illuminating by-line in the whole process. People might think the competition between members of the Senate and members of the House of Representative here is fierce. In the United States, that contest has been won by the senators. Even the size and luxurious nature of their offices demonstrates their power over the members of the house in the United States.—in size and grandeur they were not comparable. That was a lesson in itself. It is not that I am espousing that for Australia, I am just indicating that perhaps Australian senators should not be envied compared to our United States counterparts.

I also thank Fiona Way and Lyn Witheridge from the International and Community Relations Office, who were of great assistance in organising the trip from Australia for my wife and me. I am sure Alan had similar positive experiences with the office in making the arrangements. HRG, Rebekah Campbell in particular, was also of great assistance in making arrangements for my wife and me. I wish to place on record my thanks to Rebekah.

This was my second opportunity to be part of the Australian mission to the United Nations for an extended period. I attended in 2008 with Jo Gash, the member for Gilmore, and on this occasion with Senator Eggleston, from Western Australia. On both occasions my colleagues and I got along very well. While our interests were different, I think we meshed pretty well and performed as a team representing the Australian parliament.

I understand that only three members of the Australian parliament have been to the United Nations twice. Labor's Robert Ray and, I believe, former Senator Michael Baume are the other members of parliament who have been on two occasions. I suppose I am able to say I have joined that illustrious group, having had that opportunity on two occasions.

I will not go over the circumstances which led to my visit, but Ambassador Beazley suggested at a lunch that both Senator Eggleston and I attended that to have come twice must have meant that I had drawn blood on a number of occasions in the Labor caucus. He could not have been further from the truth. I was actually not expecting to come but, because of the circumstances surrounding the last election, I received a fateful phone call asking me if I was available. Funnily enough, I said yes!

The second occasion was an opportunity, having experienced the workings of the United Nations and the committee system, to point myself at a committee that I was very interested in but did not have the opportunity to fully experience on the previous occasion. That was the Fifth Committee, Adminis­trative and Budgetary, of the United Nations, which functions somewhat like a house of review on the finances of the United Nations. I am extremely thankful to Shannon White from the mission, who involved me at every stage in the process of meeting with our Canadian and New Zealand allies, with whom we have a formalised alliance at the United Nations, the CANZ Group. In those meetings, I had the pleasure of working with Veronique Pepin-Halle, Philippe Lafortune and Karen Hung, from Canada, and Paul Ballantyne, from New Zealand. They were all very welcoming and they shared their knowledge and expertise, making my role that much more pleasurable. I am extremely grateful. I was also involved with representatives from South Korea, United States, Japan and the European Union countries. They were also welcoming and very interested in the fact that Australia sent members of its parliament to participate at an integral level in the operations of our nation and the committees of the United Nations.

I need to remark on some of the young people we met at our mission. Every year, our mission and our consulate in New York engage people they describe as 'interns'. They are unpaid; they do it for the experience to work with our missions. On the last occasion, the interns were Alan Wu, Tamer Morris, Jenna Donsky, Anna Charles and Jonathan Stambolis—all excellent young Australians, very well-qualified, who performed at an extraordinarily high level. Again, they did this without pay. They were there at their own expense, and paid their own rent and travel costs. They did that, no doubt, for a CV notation but also to provide an important service to our mission in New York. I congratulate them for the work that they performed. Just as I experienced very well-credentialed Australians on my first visit, this group of five were right up to the mark. We also saw youth representative Samah Hadid, who represented Australian youth at the mission. She was there for a shorter period than the interns but acquitted herself admirably.

The United Nations, as Alan said, is far from a perfect organisation. I have been privileged in having the opportunity to experience Australia's role in the workings of the organisation and some of its successes. It is an experience that I can recommend to anyone in this place. The experience has cemented in my mind the importance of our being part of the United Nations, the importance of the UN's existence and the importance of Australia seeking a role on the Security Council.

Question agreed to.