STATEMENTS ON INDULGENCE: Australia's Seat on the United Nations Security Council

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (18:24): The United Nations Security Council, the UNSC, is the powerful body of the United Nations with the power to authorise the deployment of troops from UN member countries, mandate ceasefires during conflicts and impose economic penalties on countries. The Security Council is comprised of representatives from 15 member countries. However, only five representatives are permanent. The permanent members are the countries of the United States of America, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France.


It is therefore appropriate that the coalition welcome the vote which took place on 18 October, New York time, which saw Australia secure a two-year term during 2013-14 as a temporary member of the UN Security Council. Australia won its seat with 140 votes in a three-round contest against Finland and Luxembourg, with at least 129 votes required to secure the seat. Australia has held a position on the UN Security Council four times. We first held a seat when the UN was created post World War II, with a seat in 1946-47; again, in 1956-57; followed by 1973-74; and, most recently, in 1985-86.

I share the sentiment of the Leader of the Opposition who said, 'Australia's voice should be heard because of our values, and we should always act in accordance with our values.' The executive director and director of the global issues program at the Lowy Institute, Michael Fullilove, stated that, 'With a seat at the G20 and now on the United Nations Security Council, Australia sits at the two biggest global tables, which will allow us to increase our international leverage and reputation and be a source of prestige. However, it will also stretch our foreign policy development.'

I would like to acknowledge the former Prime Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, who worked hard to put Australia forward for a seat on the UN Security Council and who began the bidding process. Now that Australia has gained a seat on the UNSC, it is important that the government reaffirms and re-embraces Australia's longstanding principles, values and priorities. The Prime Minister has stated that Australia's key priorities on the council will include Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and North Korea and that Australia will also ensure the effectiveness of UNSC sanction regimes, including those targeting individual associations with al-Qaeda.

The government now needs to explain what it plans to achieve from those priorities and detail any commitments that were made to other nations as it campaigned for support to win the seat. If there is a change of government following the 2013 election—hopefully, that will happen; I am sure the member for Hughes will agree with me—the coalition commits to supporting Australia's officials and to ensuring that Australia serves with distinction and integrity for the remainder of our term on the UNSC.

The UNSC oversees 15 peacekeeping operations—and we all know, and we are now joined by the member for Eden-Monaro, who also knows, how great our commitment is to peacekeeping deployments around the world—as well as 13 political and peace-building missions throughout the globe, with 117,000 personnel deployed. This is the largest number of deployed troops, second only to the United States. The Security Council also manages 13 sanction regimes and eight subsidiary bodies, covering topics including weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and armed conflict.

The government paid almost $25 million to secure the seat on the United Nations Security Council, but the true cost is actually much higher. It is likely that indirect costs will run into the tens of millions of dollars but, to date, the government has, unfortunately, refused to release details of the full cost of the bid. Only this afternoon, we heard that the foreign minister is pushing for $34 million to fund our Security Council seat.

The member for Kooyong has just joined us, and I know that he contributed a very well-written op-ed in the Herald Sun on 15 October in which, admittedly, he did state that getting elected on the Security Council 'will be a good thing'. He wrote:

Australia is a significant player in the world and, as a founding member of the UN and the 12th biggest contributor to its annual budget, we should always strive to sit at the top table.

But whatever the result on Thursday, the Government has some explaining to do.

The member for Kooyong is right in that respect. He wrote further:

But perhaps one of most alarming aspects of our UN campaign has been the way our multi-billion-dollar aid budget has been redirected to get us over the line.

Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have all been the beneficiaries, as a growing share of our $5 billion annual aid budget has been dispensed to those regions.

He wrote that, as the shadow foreign affairs minister had pointed out:

… this has included funding some very odd projects—

As the member for Kooyong termed it—

including $150,000 for a statue commemorating the anti-slavery movement in Africa and the Caribbean to be located at the UN Plaza in New York.

… … …

On Australia's doorstep in the South Pacific there is real humanitarian need. For example, 12,000 children under five die in Papua New Guinea each year and a significant number of households in the Solomon Islands do not have access to quality sanitation.

This is where our aid priority should be. Yes, we have global responsibilities, but first and foremost we should look to improve the situation in our own backyard.

I know that the amount of money we are talking about—$25 million to secure the seat and $34 million now to go towards our position on the UNSC—could work wonders; it could support all sorts of projects—hospitals, water infrastructure or whatever—in regional areas.

However, I take this opportunity to say, 'Well done on securing the seat.' It is important to be at the top table, as the member for Kooyong acknowledged and, indeed, as the Leader of the Opposition acknowledged. We as a coalition supported the government in its bid to get the seat. We have now obtained the seat and we need to make the most of it. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the other nations who also won a temporary UNSC seat—South Korea, Luxembourg, Argentina, and Rwanda.

Cristy Houghton