JULIE BISHOP: May I acknowledge the Members and Senators here this evening -  my Ministerial colleague Luke Hartsuyker, Claire Moore representing the Opposition, the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson and my co-host the Ambassador, Ambassador Zorko, of Slovenia who of course will be hosting the Presidency of the Council for this year, the new United Nations Human Rights Council. Ambassador Zorko, thank you for being here. As well, I also want to acknowledge the representatives of the other member nations who will join us on the Human Rights Council this year.

I am delighted to speak at this reception to mark the commencement of our first ever term on the UN Human Rights Council. It was a fierce competition there for a while and as Australia is in the Western Europe and others grouping, we were particularly pleased to be able to promote our geographic location as being a voice for the Indo-Pacific. I hope that we will be able to live up to the expectations of our neighbours and our region as we advocate on their behalf and represent their interests while taking a very pragmatic and principled role as a member of the Human Rights Council.

I see George Mina here tonight who was one of our secret weapons on our campaign with Lachlan Strahan who is currently our Acting-Head of Mission in Geneva but I do want to say that our secret, secret weapon is right here – the ‘kanga in a hoodie’ and I left him with every representative whose vote I was seeking and I knew we were doing well when I saw on Instagram pictures of the UN representatives from many countries with this kangaroo in their top pocket. So I thought we were doing well.

Our time on the Human Rights Council comes when there has been a decrease in political rights and civil liberties around the world, when Freedom House claims that freedom generally around the world has deteriorated for the 12th consecutive year, so there are going to be many challenges for us. We campaigned on a focus on about five pillars – on gender equality, gender empowerment; on freedom of expression; and on Indigenous rights as human rights; we focused on the rule of law and democratic institutions; and also building robust human rights institutions within nations that are members of the United Nations. I am pleased that our campaign reflected so well in the vote that we ultimately received. We now dedicate ourselves to implementing the principles behind our campaign and working closely with nations to understand their challenges, listen to their concerns and advocate for stronger and better human rights implementation around the world.

We see civil society organisations as an inherent part of the human rights global framework and tomorrow I will be addressing the NGO forum on Human Rights. I look forward to seeing a number of you there as we discuss how NGO’s can do more and be assisted and supported more in the pursuit of human rights. There are many challenges in our region, there are many nations falling short and Australia wants to use our experience, our voice, our understanding to work with nations so that we can pursue human rights and the international rules based order that enables us to pursue greater security, greater prosperity and greater stability in our region and around the world.

I could not be more delighted that Australia will be serving on the Human Rights Council for three years, commencing in 2018 and I look forward to working with you, with your nations, with our Parliamentarians. And I see Anne Aly here as well, it is a bipartisan support for our candidature on the Human Rights Council. I look forward to working with you all as we make this world a better place for all.

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