This week the UN Association of Australia (UNAA) released its 2013 Report Card on Australia at the UN. The Report Card was edited by Human Protection Hub Director, Alex Bellamy, and features assessments by Richard Woolcott AC, Tim Costello AO, Prof. Gillian Triggs, Commissioner Mick Gooda, Julian Burnside AO, QC, Prof. Robyn Eckersley, Julie McKay and Thom Woodroffe. So, how is Australia doing?
Australia’s performance was graded on a scale of A-F, based on a methodology set out in the report and assessments done independently by the editors and individual contributors. The scores were:
- Security Council and General Assembly: Grade A
- Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid: Grade B
- Climate Change: Grade D+
- Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: Grade B
- Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: Grade B
- Human Rights: Grade B
- Indigenous Peoples: Grade C+
- Gender Equality: Grade B
- Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Grade F
In the Card’s introduction, Alex — along with UNAA President, Russell Trood and Executive Director, Elizabeth Shaw, provided this overview:
“Our last Australia and the United Nations: Report Card was published in 2007 and marked a point in time when we were highly disappointed with Australia’s engagement with the UN. Australia was not actively contributing in the General Assembly, nor working hard to advance the Millennium Development Goals. We were not rising to meet the challenge of climate change and had just staged an intervention in the Northern Territory that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples later found to be incompatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations.
The 2013 Report Card focuses on Australia’s activities following the publication of the last Report Card in 2007 up until the federal election on 7 September 2013. We are pleased that the 2013 Report Card paints a far more positive picture of Australia’s contribution to the UN. The UNAA was a strong supporter of Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council and we are proud of the work Australia is doing in the General Assembly and the Security Council to, among other things, limit the catastrophic impacts of small armed in conflict zones. Australia’s increased commitment to contributing to multilateral forums is also evidenced by our candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2018-2020 term – the first time Australia has sought membership. We were also encouraged to see the Australian Government commit to increasing our aid budget to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015, though were troubled by the continued delays to this
Our assessment of Australia’s performance is not entirely without blemish, however. We have given the Australian Government an ‘F’ on the topic of refugees and asylum seekers due to the serious questions that remain about the compatibility of government policy with our domestic and international legal obligations. The Australian Government also scores poorly on the issue of climate change given our dependence on fossil fuels and the uncertainties over our commitment to reducing emissions compared to many other developed countries. On peacekeeping and peacebuilding and in the field of human rights we judged Australia to be in a position similar to that of six years go.
We hope that the Australia and the United Nations: Report Card provides those who read it with a clear sense of the way Australia is performing in key areas of multilateral engagement. The UN was formed with the most noble of goals; however the ability of the UN to achieve its mandate can only ever be as strong as the will of member states. It is our job to ensure the Australian Government has a strong will to be a vital contributor to UN forums, a top donor to UN agencies, and a country which promotes and protects international norms and standards at home and abroad.
As the new Australian Government works to shape its foreign policy agenda, it is vital that the voices of the Australian community are heard. We encourage all Australians to take time to share their views with the Government on issues such as climate change, international aid, indigenous rights and all of the many other matters that are on the UN agenda. Generally, Australia has a strong history of making a significant practical contribution to improving the way the UN acts to improve the human condition and we look forward to this tradition continuing under the new Government.
In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, “In an era when challenges spill over borders and have global
reach, our future depends on how well we work together …”