Is this what Australia has become?

Dec 12, 2023
Human rights text from wooden blocks on desk.

On the eve of International Human Rights Day when invited to support the existing international rules-based order the United States’ leadership failed. Not only did their veto prevent a cease-fire in Gaza, but this powerful nation could not even offer an alternative path to protect humanity. Does the United Nations matter to the Australian Government? Will Prime Minister Albanese have the courage to confront Australia’s friend and ally about its diplomatic intransigence?

Sunday 10th December 2023 was the 75th Anniversary of United Nations Human Rights Day marking the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights finalised in Paris in 1948, one of the most important initiatives of the newly formed United Nations.

Australian governments must be proud of the significant role our nation played in founding the global institution to bring humanity and security to all nations after the devastating consequences of World War 2. Australia was one of 51 nations that ratified the UN Charter in 1945 and it was Jessie Street who lobbied for equal rights for women to be recognised in the United Nations Charter and for the establishment of the Human Rights Commission.

Minister for External Affairs in both the Curtin and Chifley governments, Dr H.V. Evatt was responsible for ensuring that smaller nations took their place in the United Nations General Assembly, and he was elected its president from 1948-1949.

Many eminent Australians have served the United Nations over seven decades and our Australian Peacekeepers have contributed to 62 missions over this period. Currently James Elder, Chief of Communications for the United Nations Childrens Fund is a lone Australian speaking up for an urgent Gaza ceasefire. “No ceasefire? No compassion” His example shames the Albanese Government which has failed to challenge breaches of international law.

There are disturbing indications that neither the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese nor Foreign Minister Penny Wong value our relationship with the United Nations as fundamental to Australia’s foreign policy and a significant indicator of our role as a reliable global partner.

In May 2023 Mr Albanese met with the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres and was reported as recognising
“A strong effective United Nations is the key to addressing global challenges .“

Of course, that is correct, but the United Nations can only be effective if its nation states work together within agreed processes to ensure that international law is central to government decision making about those global challenges.

However, there is such hypocrisy about how these challenges are interpreted. When Russia invaded Ukraine there was outraged condemnation, yet when Israel invades Gaza, our political leaders declare that of course “Israel has a right to defend itself”? Where is that right detailed within international law? What are the consequences for global security if any nation asserts such a right?

The Australian Government, Ignoring the long and complex history of both regions, immediately knows how to solve conflict, so we send military support to Ukraine and to Israel. The government also sends humanitarian aid because no one likes to admit that Australia is compliant in continuing warfare.

Is this what Australia has become? Can we only see ourselves as loyal foot soldiers of allies who have lost any understanding or commitment to the principles which saw the creation of the United Nations? As an independent middle power with a strong record of United Nations peacekeeping, Australia could be leading debate about the urgency of conflict resolution, negotiation and problem solving. Yet our official voices are silent as we meekly accept that war is inevitable, and Australia just needs to be on the winning side.

This acceptance of extremism was not the vision of Jessie Street or Dr. Evatt when they were part of a global movement to prevent gross breaches of human rights through the horrors of war and the Holocaust. The current Federal Government ignores the significant peacebuilding leadership of Foreign Minister Gareth Evans in Cambodia in 1991 and Prime Minister John Howard in East Timor in 1999. In 2023 the Australian Government is weak and compliant in its response to grave threats to the United Nations system which is being ignored and therefore its future role is being undermined.

Just one state of the 15-member Security Council, the United States used its veto power to prevent a ceasefire and already President Biden is heading to Congress to increase its defence budget to offer the Netanyahu regime more devastating weaponry.

The global community is shocked by the extremism of the Netanyahu government, and complicity of the Biden administration, which could be offering mediation and negotiation rather than increased military support to continue death and destruction.

The United States administration is always ready to promote its national view of an “international rules-based order”, but it pays little respect to the work of United Nations staff, international lawyers and government representatives who have patiently worked over many years drafting, debating and negotiating standards so that nations can cooperate in the interest of global peace.

On the eve of International Human Rights Day when invited to support the existing international rules-based order the United States’ leadership failed. Not only did their veto prevent a cease-fire, but this powerful nation could not even offer an alternative path to protect humanity.

Will Prime Minister Albanese have the courage to confront its friend and ally about its diplomatic intransigence?

The Australian Government must decide whether the United Nations matters or whether our nation is already so locked into the foreign policy priorities of the United States than we must remain timid bystanders, unable to champion or uphold international law. Many of those of us who value the historic record of Australia’s practical and principled commitment to the United Nations are disgusted that not only has our government traded our sovereignty, but it has also lost its moral compass and shows little sign of retrieving it.

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