Friday, 24 February 2017

Address to the 135th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly Geneva, Switzerland - 25 October 2016

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Mr Secretary-General, honoured colleagues.

As the leader of the Australian delegation to the 135th Assembly of the Inter­-Parliamentary Union, it is a great honour to address my esteemed colleagues on this important topic in the general debate.

I come from Australia, which is also considered to be one of the younger nation states. A key component of human rights that we as parliamentarians understand is the electoral process. As we know, citizens use this important democratic tool to send us as their representatives to our respective parliaments.

In 1902, Australia's first electoral act gave women the right to vote and to stand for parliament. This practical demonstration of human rights is a good example with which to start in this important debate.

More than a century later, I believe Australia continues to have a good story to tell as my country undertakes its candidature for the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018.

Australia was a founding member of the United Nations, and has been an advocate ever since for the purposes and principles of the UN Charter which supports human rights.

While no country is perfect, I believe that Australia has a proud history of promoting and protecting human rights. This has involved extending the democratic franchise, improving educational and employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians, and working in our region to promote good governance and a strong civil society. Australia is home to one of the oldest continuous civilisations, and we are proud of the culture and heritage of Australia's First Peoples.

Another perspective that Australia brings to this important debate is in the area of gender equality to realise the full potential of women, men, girls and boys. My country is strongly committed to working with the international community to advance the rights of women and girls across the world.

Since 2011, Australia has had an Ambassador for Women and Girls who works to ensure that the empowerment ofwomen and girls is a central focus of Australia's diplomatic, development and defense concerns.

Colleagues, as parliamentarians we know that good governance, the rule of law, and strong public institutions are essential for promoting and protecting human rights. Australia supports partner governments in our region and further afield in capacity building and other forms of practical support to foster these important components of human rights.

As I speak to you in this debate, I reflect on the importance of promoting and protecting freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of a vibrant democracy and culture of accountability. Protecting the core human right to freedom of expression is not just an aspirational goal; but something Australia promotes through practical assistance and advocacy. For example, Australia has long argued for the universal abolition of slavery and the death penalty. My country is committed to supporting the rights of people with a disability, combatting homophobia and addressing violence against women and girls.

This is not just a series of aspirational targets, but deeply held beliefs of the Australian community that are demonstrated through our overseas aid program, the work of our parliament, and the acts of individual citizens engaged in both professional and volunteer services at home and abroad.

Another important way that Australia demonstrates its commitment to the universal principles of human rights is through the scrutiny of legislation by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. This committee ensures that all legislation that is put before the parliament is assessed for compatibility with international human rights standards. In this way, our domestic legislation must pass the tests established by these human rights standards.

Human rights are fundamental to our shared existence. They reflect the idea that each person has inherent value simply by virtue of existing.

Respect for these rights is essential to peace. Where human rights are neglected, those connections which bind us together begin to break down. We know that despite our efforts to give human rights primacy, and to avoid armed conflict wherever possible, the challenges still exist.

One of the greatest benefits of attending the IPU is to learn from others both formally and informally in debates such as this. Since 1889 parliamentarians like us have gathered together to exchange views, to learn from one another, and for formal and informal professional development. It is a great privilege to continue this debate, here at the 135th Assembly.

Thank you

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