The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

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Media Release

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer
FA178 / 11 December 2001

Diplomatic Appointment: Ambassador to the UN in Geneva

I have today announced the appointment of Mr Michael Smith as Ambassador for Disarmament and Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations at Geneva.  He will succeed Mr Les Luck who has been Ambassador since March 1999.  Mr Smith is expected to take up his appointment in April 2002.

Mr Smith will be responsible for a range of UN issues in Geneva, including advancing Australia's interests in the field of human rights, in part through the pursuit of the Government's diplomatic initiative to reform the UN Treaty Bodies.  He will work actively in the Commission on Human Rights to further Australia's interests in protecting and promoting human rights and good governance internationally.

Mr Smith will also have responsibility for pursuing Australia's interests on refugee issues, in particular through engaging constructively in the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Australia is committed to working with the UNHCR in ensuring that the international protection system operates effectively and delivers fair and effective outcomes.

The 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States have highlighted the need for concerted international action to address the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including the need to prevent them falling into the hands of terrorist groups.  A key Government goal is strengthening of global regimes to prevent WMD proliferation, in which Mr Smith, in his capacity as Ambassador for Disarmament, will play an important role.  The Ambassador will work actively to ensure that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains a central pillar of the global disarmament and arms control framework, to continue international efforts to enhance the effectiveness of the Biological Weapons Convention and to realise the commencement of negotiations towards a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.  As Ambassador for Disarmament, Mr Smith will be Australia's Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament and will lead Australia's delegations to the UN General Assembly First Committee.

The Government attaches a high priority to Australia making a practical and realistic contribution to global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.  This activity serves direct Australian security interests, one of the Government's key foreign policy goals.

Mr Smith has been my Chief of Staff for more than 3 years.  He is also a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has held a number of overseas positions including Ambassador to Egypt (1995-98), Minister (Political) in the Australian Embassy in Washington (1993-95), Ambassador to Algeria (1989-91) and Counsellor, Australian Permanent Mission to the UN, Geneva (1986-89).  In Canberra he has served in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as Legal Adviser and Assistant Secretary, Refugees, Immigration and Asylum (1991-93) and as Head of the Multilateral and Humanitarian Legal Section (1984-86).  Mr Smith is a Middle East specialist who speaks Arabic and French.  He holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from Adelaide University and is married with two adult children.


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