Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Ministerial statement to the United Nations on Australia’s national human rights

Location: United Nations

E & OE – Proof only

Thank you Madame Chair.

As this is the first time I take the floor on behalf of Australia I wish to congratulate you on your election and thank you for your stewardship of this committee, it’s an honour to be here.

Over the past year we have been reminded of the truly universal nature of human rights, millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East have sought to exercise their right to democratic expression; humbling images when such rights can so often be taken for granted. Significantly, these have been movements of women as much as men.

Australia too, continues our work to realise human rights at home and abroad.

Mme Chair,

The Australian Government understands that for people with disability, the inherent dignity of equality of opportunity has remained out of reach. In 2008, Australia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and has since set a course for ensuring these rights are within reach of every Australian with a disability. We have developed a National Disability Strategy to address barriers to equality for Australians with disability.

This year, the Australian Government has committed to the fundamental reform of disability care and support, and started work to lay the foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme that will ensure Australians with disability have choice and security. This will create the opportunity for people with disability and their carers in Australia to participate in life, work and community to their full potential.

Mme Chair,

Indigenous Australians hold a very special place in Australia as the first peoples of our land and as custodians of the oldest continuing cultures in human history. The Australian Government considers the level of disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians to be unacceptable, and is working to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage with new efforts to correct decades of underinvestment in housing, schools and health services.

To close the gap we must work in partnership with Indigenous Australians. In 2008, the Australian Government took an important step in according this respect with the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples and the establishment of a Healing Foundation to support initiatives to address the trauma experienced by many Indigenous Australians.

The Australian Government understands the significance of Indigenous cultures, languages and connection to the land, and the value this brings to our national culture and way of life. We are working to help maintain and revive Indigenous languages and we have supported the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, to provide a national voice in policy and program development. We have also established an Expert Panel to provide advice on the recognition of Indigenous Australians in our National Constitution.

In 2009, Australia announced its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We are working closely with member states ahead of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Mme Chair,

Australia is one of the most multicultural societies in the world. One in four Australians is born overseas. And an additional one in five have one or both parents born overseas. Australia’s cultural diversity is at the heart of our national identity, our history and character. The Australian Government promotes respect for the human rights for all people, without distinction as to race, colour, religion, or national or ethnic origin.

The Australian Government recently launched a new multicultural policy that reaffirms the Government’s unwavering support for a culturally and religiously diverse nation. We are developing a new national Anti-Racism Strategy. We are also consolidating and simplifying anti-discrimination law to make it easier for people to understand their rights and meet their obligations.

Mme Chair,

We also respect and acknowledge progress in our region and beyond. In Myanmar, we have been heartened by recent developments. But clearly much remains to be done and Australia stands ready to play its part.

In Libya we welcome the National Transition Council’s commitment to a new Libya that respects democracy, equality, justice, human rights and the rule of law.

Mme Chair,

We also are reminded on a daily basis that in some countries, peaceful assemblies are crushed and the rights of citizens violated and abused.

Australia urges Syria to immediately end the ongoing brutality against its own people.

We also urge Iran to respect freedom of association and freedom of expression, and protect the human rights of all.

In our own region, we call on the Fiji interim government to hold free and fair elections that will return Fiji to democracy. Australia stands ready to assist Fiji in this process.

Mme Chair,

Human rights are not yet enjoyed universally. But we have come a long way in a short period of time. We should be proud of that, and stand firm in our collective resolve to build a better future for all.

Thank you.