Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Human Rights Council - Periodic Review of Australia

Opening Statement and Closing Remarks

By Senator the Hon. Kate Lundy

Opening statement

Thank you, Mr President.

At the outset, I would like to express Australia’s thanks to the international community for the expressions of support received in relation to the floods Australia is currently experiencing.
The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, had hoped to lead the Australian delegation, but due to his responsibilities for emergency management and the unprecedented floods across Australia at present, he sends his apologies.

The Australian Government is committed to a fairer and more inclusive Australia. It believes that everyone is entitled to respect and should be able to participate fully in the life of our nation.

All Australians are responsible for respecting and protecting human rights and ensuring that our commitment becomes a reality for all Australians. A community that respects the rights of all citizens is stronger, safer and more resilient to challenges.

The Australian Government views the UPR as an opportunity to engage in an open and frank dialogue with the international community about the state of human rights in Australia. We hope that our responses to your questions today and our ongoing action in follow-up will demonstrate that we take our human rights obligations very seriously.

It is my pleasure to introduce our delegation, which is comprised of senior officials from a range of Federal departments and agencies. While they have been selected to speak today, Australia’s preparation for this appearance has involved many others, including consultations with officials based in a broad range of Departments and in State and Territory Governments, representatives of the Australian Human Rights Commission and many non-government organisations.
I would like to acknowledge representatives of the Australian Human Rights Commission and NGOs who have travelled to Geneva for our UPR.

Australia is a vast land, stretching about 3700 kilometres from north to south and 4000 kilometres from east to west. It has a population of approximately 22.5 million people. Australia is a democratic and multicultural society firmly based on justice and the rule of law.

Almost one in four Australians was born overseas and Australia has benefitted profoundly from the 6.9 million migrants from around the world who have made Australia home since 1945. And Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the first Australians, are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

Australia’s National Report identifies a broad range of laws, policies and programs that Australia has in place to promote, protect and respect human rights for all within Australia. It also openly notes human rights challenges in particular areas, including closing the gap in opportunities and life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Challenges also arise in achieving gender equality and reducing violence against women and realising the rights of persons with disabilities. We welcome today’s UPR as an opportunity to enter into dialogue at the international level and so contribute to the promotion of human rights in Australia.

I would like to thank the many delegations that have provided us with questions in advance. We shall endeavour to respond to these questions during the course of the interactive dialogue that follows.

Australia has a federal system in which legislative, executive and judicial powers are distributed between federal institutions, six States and three self-governing Territories. Australia has a robust domestic legal and policy framework which recognises and protects many basic rights and freedoms.

Under Australia’s legal system, many basic rights and freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution, specifically enacted in legislation, and protected under the common law. The dedicated work of the Australian Human Rights Commission and a large number of non-government organisations constitutes an important contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights in Australia.

Australia has a strong tradition of engagement with the international community in the context of human rights. In recent years, Australia’s commitment to engaging positively with the international community on human rights issues has been demonstrated through ratification of further key instruments and protocols.
We are pleased to be up to date in our reporting obligations to UN treaty bodies, and take those obligations seriously. Australia supports accountability for human rights violations domestically through impartial application of the rule of law, and internationally through appropriate mechanisms.

The Australian Government is fully committed to implementing the Millennium Development Goals, and is working with the governments and people of developing countries to deliver aid where it is most needed and most effective. The aid program has doubled in size over the last five years and, on current economic projections, will double again to over $8 billion by 2015-16.

Australia has taken significant steps domestically to strengthen the protection of human rights. In 2009, we held a nation-wide human rights consultation, conducting over 65 community roundtables and public hearings in more than 50 urban, regional and remote locations.

The Consultation Committee received 35 000 submissions, making this the largest consultation of its kind in Australia. The Consultation generated an important national discussion and debate about human rights and has informed and shaped the creation of an Australian Human Rights Framework, announced in April 2010, the details of which we are happy to provide in this interactive dialogue.

Might I draw particular attention to the Australian Government’s commitment to reconciliation – helping all Australians move forward with a better understanding of the past and how the past affects the lives of Indigenous people today. In 2008, the Australian Government made an historic formal Apology to Indigenous Peoples and in particular the Stolen Generations, who were in the past removed from their families.

The Australian Government has supported the establishment of a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples called the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. In addition, the Australian Government is committed to pursuing constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. The Australian Government is equally committed to closing the gap in opportunities and life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

In preparing for our first UPR, we have engaged extensively with the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations. We view the participation of our National Human Rights Institution and civil society as an important aspect of the UPR process.

Consultation has taken place over the past year, and included an opportunity for organisations to propose content for the National Report, a public consultation on the draft Report, as well as numerous meetings and workshops held with the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations during the course of the year. We are grateful for their participation in preparing for Australia’s UPR, and look forward to further consultation over coming months.

While we consider Australia to have a strong record on human rights, the UPR is an occasion to reflect on our human rights challenges, and renew our commitment to continue work to strengthen our human rights protections.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce a number of new commitments from the Australian Government in the area of human rights:

  • First, the Australian Government is pleased to announce the establishment of a full-time Race Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission, in addition to funding recently committed to a full-time Age Discrimination Commissioner. This will significantly augment the Commission, providing six full time Commissioners in total.
  • Second, from 2011, the Australian Government will table in Parliament concluding observations made by UN treaty bodies to Australia, as well as recommendations made to Australia in the UPR.
  • Third, while Australia has recognised the importance of regularly reviewing its reservations, the Australian Government will establish a systematic process for the regular review of Australia’s reservations to international human rights treaties.
  • Finally, through AusAID’s Human Rights Fund, Australia will provide a contribution of $2.35 million to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2011 to help promote and protect human rights, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, in 2010-11, $650,000 will be provided to the Asia Pacific Forum which supports the establishment and strengthening of national human rights institutions in the Asia-Pacific region.

We hope that the interactive dialogue to follow will demonstrate our ongoing commitment to engaging with the international community to promote and protect fundamental human rights at home, in our region and in the rest of the world.

In responding to your questions, in order to address as many questions and recommendations as we can, we intend to adopt a thematic approach.

Thank you, Mr President.

Closing remarks

In closing, I would like to thank all of the delegations that have asked questions of or made recommendations to Australia during this interactive session.

I also thank States for their comments regarding Australia’s role in regional initiatives, such as the Bali Process, and Thailand’s comments about regional efforts to combat trafficking and people smuggling, and Nepal for recognising Australia’s role in supporting their peace process.

The UPR is an important opportunity to reflect on the human rights situation in Australia and to renew our determination that in the fields of human rights, equality and opportunity, we can always achieve more. We are proud of the progress made, however we also see this process as an opportunity to improve.

Preparing for our first UPR has given us an opportunity to reflect upon how best to protect and promote human rights in Australia. In particular, it has highlighted the position of those who are most marginalised and vulnerable in Australian society.

In addition to the four initiatives I mentioned in my Opening Remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to announce a number of commitments regarding how the Australian Government intends to follow-up its UPR appearance back home in Australia.

First, the Australian Government intends to consult extensively with the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations, reflecting on the UPR process and considering how recommendations can best be addressed.

Secondly, the Australian Government intends to establish a publicly accessible, online database of recommendations from the UN human rights system, including recommendations made by UN human rights treaty bodies to Australia as well as recommendations made to Australia in the UPR.

Ensuring that recommendations are easily accessible to various levels of Government and to civil society will enhance awareness and understanding of the international human rights processes in which Australia participates, and will lead to more effective engagement with international human rights mechanisms.

Thirdly, the Australian Government will use the recommendations made during the UPR and accepted by Australia to inform the development of Australia’s new National Human Rights Action Plan.

I would like to conclude by thanking all delegations present who have participated in Australia’s first UPR. We hope that our responses today demonstrate Australia’s ongoing commitment to multilateral engagement, human rights and the rule of law.

And finally I sincerely thank all those who have conveyed their sympathy for Australia in light of recent floods. I too would like to offer my sympathies to those countries that have recently experienced similar natural disasters.

Thank you Mr President.