Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

1.1.9 International organisations, legal and environment


In support of the Government’s commitment to multilateral diplomacy, the department continued its intensive involvement in the United Nations (UN) and other international organisations.

We continued to advance Australia’s candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2013–14 term. We actively promoted Australia’s strong credentials and coordinated whole-of-government campaign efforts.

We supported a successful campaign that saw the first Indigenous Australian woman, Ms Megan Davis, elected to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in March 2010.

Diplomatic efforts were made to further the Government’s aims to improve whale conservation and end so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. We contributed to these, helping to increase international support for Australia’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) initiatives, including the Southern Ocean Research Partnership and conservation-oriented reform of the IWC.

We continued our active engagement on climate change issues, providing policy support for Australia’s participation in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. We also contributed to the development of initiatives to help developing countries address climate change, including the Commonwealth Climate Change Declaration.

We led Australia’s delegation to the first Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute. We played an influential role in forging consensus on the crime of aggression and several additional war crimes.

We oversaw the drafting of the Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010 to implement the Government’s decision to reform the way Australia imposes autonomous sanctions.

United Nations

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 4 May 2010.
Photo: Courtesy of Eskinder Debebe / UN

The United Nations has a major role in addressing important global challenges, maintaining peace and security and setting global standards on a wide range of issues. The department worked to achieve Australia’s objectives at the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). These centred on final negotiations towards a climate change outcome at the Copenhagen Conference, the impact of the global financial crisis and Australia’s role in representing small states in discussions on the reform of global financial systems by the G20.

Australia participated prominently in the High-Level Event on the UN Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), and worked to secure a statement which would build momentum towards the global goals being determined at Copenhagen.

The then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, presented Australia’s national statement to the General Assembly, focusing on the global financial crisis and its impact. He attended the Clinton Global Initiative and the Friends of Pakistan Summit. The department supported attendance at the General Assembly by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, who delivered interventions at the High-Level Event on Food Security, the High-Level Taskforce on International Innovative Financing for Health Systems and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) Article IV Conference.

During the General Assembly, Mr Smith, with support from the department, co-chaired a round table on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. The R2P principle seeks to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Australia took a leading role in developing guidelines for the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping mandates—and, in January 2010, co-hosted a workshop in New York to discuss current UN efforts on the protection of civilians.

We placed a high priority on leading efforts to secure a seat on the UNSC, supporting high-level advocacy and actively promoting Australia’s credentials. The department continued to support Australian candidacies for senior UN positions. On 28 April 2010, Ms Megan Davis became the first Australian Indigenous woman to be elected to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. We supported successful campaigns for Australia’s election to a number of other UN bodies, including the UN International Migration Organisation Council (2010–11) on 27 November 2009. Australia was re-elected to the UN Environment Programme, the UN Commission on International Trade Law, the UN Economic and Social Council and the Executive Board of the World Food Programme.

We led Australia’s engagement in the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Australian National Commission for UNESCO was reconstituted in 2009 to provide a greater strategic policy focus and to increase awareness in the community and within government of UNESCO activities. In 2009–10, the Commission awarded $82 220 in grants to support community initiatives promoting UNESCO goals.

Human rights

The promotion of universal human rights is an important foreign policy objective, which was reflected in strong Australian engagement on priority human rights issues during 2009–10.

UN human rights forums

The department coordinated the Government’s approach to human rights issues in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee (the Third Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly in 2009. Australia played an active role in the adoption of significant human rights resolutions, including those on human rights in Burma, DPRK and Iran.

Through our UN mission in Geneva, we continued to engage actively in UN Human Rights Council (HRC) discussions. We participated in a Special Session of the HRC on the earthquake in Haiti, which considered issues such as access to food, drinkable water and health care, and the situation of vulnerable groups. We continued to bring to the HRC’s attention serious human rights situations around the world.

We engaged actively in the 6th, 7th and 8th sessions of the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review, a process that involves an interactive peer review of the human rights records of all UN member states. Australia made practical recommendations on how states under review might improve their human rights situations. Australia’s Review will be held in January 2011.

We submitted Australia’s latest periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in January 2010 and coordinated the Government’s appearance before the Committee in August 2010.

Following the issue of a standing invitation to UN Special Procedures mandate-holders in August 2008, the department welcomed visits to Australia by the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People, Mr James Anaya, and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr Anand Grover.

In conjunction with AusAID, we established an expert panel to consider applications for the Human Rights Grants Scheme. In 2009–10, the scheme provided $2.95 million to fund grassroots projects that promote and protect human rights across Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Indigenous issues

Through the UN mission in New York, the department supported a high-level Australian delegation to the ninth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2010. We facilitated Australian Government engagement with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Dialogues, consultations and representations on human rights

In September 2009 and February 2010, the department held human rights consultations with a range of Australia-based non-government organisations (NGOs). We co-hosted the inaugural NGO Forum with the Attorney-General’s Department in June 2010, which included participation by both the Attorney-General, Mr McClelland, and Mr Smith.

We led Australia’s delegation to the Australia–Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, held in Hanoi in December 2009. The dialogue provided Australia and Vietnam the opportunity for frank and constructive discussion about human rights issues, including national approaches to human rights, freedom of expression and association, freedom of religion and belief, criminal justice and the death penalty.

Through our overseas missions, we made global representations against the death penalty to all countries that carry out executions or maintain capital punishment as part of their laws.

People smuggling and trafficking

The department continued to support the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime.

We played an active role in the organisation and administration of the Bali Process Ad Hoc Group Workshop on Protection, Resettlement and Repatriation. Participants in the workshop came from all 12 Ad Hoc Group countries, and were joined by representatives from international organisations, including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Organization for Migration. This was the first time members of the Bali Process had addressed issues relating to protection, resettlement and repatriation. The workshop acknowledged that developing consistent approaches to protection, resettlement and repatriation throughout the region would act as a deterrent to irregular movement and, in particular, secondary movement.

We organised and supported the Senior Officials’ Meeting of the Bali Process Ad Hoc Group in Bali on 10–11 June 2010. The meeting agreed a forward work program aimed at further developing regional responses to situations involving the irregular movement of people in the Asia-Pacific region.

Personal Profile:

Photo - See caption below for description
Katy Lin
Photo: Courtesy of IISD Reporting Services

Katy Lin

Katy Lin has been Australia’s representative in the Second Committee of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly since January 2009. The Second Committee covers a broad range of sustainable development issues—an area of increasing importance to Australia, and one which has been a core focus of the Government’s enhanced engagement with the UN.

Working with developed and developing country partners, Katy advocates Australia’s positions on resolutions such as support for Small Island Developing States, sustainable development in the context of poverty eradication, and international trade. She worked on the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in the 64th session of the General Assembly, and, in 2009, she was elected as Vice-President to the States Parties to the Law of the Sea. She brings to this role a background in international law, climate change and trade.

“It is a privilege to represent Australia at the United Nations. Negotiating with 191 other countries to reach consensus on international issues of key concern is no small task. It requires building strong, cooperative and effective relationships with people from all cultures—and an optimistic outlook on the ‘bigger picture’. Australia at the UN is where our middle power diplomacy is at work.”

The department contributed to whole-of-government coordination to combat people smuggling and to mitigate the flow of irregular migration to Australia, including by creating three full-time Canberra-based positions to support the Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues. The 2009–10 Budget also provided for a number of new overseas people smuggling-related positions across a range of Australian Government agencies, including DFAT.

At regional posts, the department led inter-agency people smuggling task forces to coordinate Australian bilateral engagement on people smuggling issues with host countries. We supported regional partners, including Indonesia and Malaysia, in their efforts to introduce legislation criminalising people smuggling and human trafficking.

We remained engaged in whole-of-government coordination to combat human trafficking, including by continuing to encourage countries that had not yet done so, to ratify the primary instruments in the fight against people trafficking, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its supplementary Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.


The department supported Mr Rudd and Mr Smith at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in November 2009. The meeting progressed Australia’s interests on climate change and our engagement with the Caribbean. Australia was confirmed as the host of CHOGM 2011 and appointed to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for 2009–2011. The department supported the appointment of retired judge of the High Court of Australia, Justice Michael Kirby, to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group, to examine and modernise the way Commonwealth business is conducted.



The department sought to further the Government’s aims to improve whale conservation and end so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. These efforts resulted in increased international support for Australia’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) conservation initiatives, including the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. The department provided support to Mr Sandy Hollway, Special Envoy for Whale Conservation, during discussions with Japan and pro-conservation countries. We contributed to advice to the Government on international legal action in the International Court of Justice against Japanese whaling, which was initiated on 31 May 2010.

Climate change

We worked closely with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) on strategies for international climate change negotiations after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. We promoted Australia’s climate change policies internationally. We contributed to initiatives to support developing countries in addressing climate change, including the Commonwealth Climate Change Declaration. Agreed by leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November 2009, the Declaration aimed to enhance confidence in the international climate change negotiations, and build the capacity of developing countries and small island developing states. We participated in negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Australia’s delegation was a key player in negotiating the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement developed by leaders that included emissions reduction commitments and actions, commitments by developed countries to provide financial support for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and the establishment of a mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD).

Negotiations on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources

In November 2009 and March 2010, we led Australia’s participation at meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) which is negotiating an international regime to facilitate access to, and benefit-sharing from, genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

Regional marine conservation initiatives

We worked with the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) in regional marine conservation initiatives, including planning for the establishment of a Permanent Secretariat for the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security. We also helped achieve the signing on 10 March 2010 of the Declaration of Intentions between France-New Caledonia and Australia for the Sustainable Management of the Coral Sea. This was the ‘flagship’ initiative of a multi-level delegation visit from New Caledonia that included the French Government’s senior representative in New Caledonia and New Caledonia’s political leadership. We coordinated discussions between France and Australia in the lead-up to the visit, including negotiations on the text of the declaration.

Sea law, environment law and Antarctic policy

We provided legal and policy advice as part of the Government’s efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing multilaterally, in regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and bilaterally, particularly with Indonesia. In November 2009, we played a significant role in achieving agreement on a new RFMO in our region, by adopting the Convention on the Conservation and Management of the High Seas Fishery Resources of the South Pacific Ocean. We also contributed to the negotiation and adoption in November 2009 of the Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

We advocated Australia’s interests in sustainable fisheries management and effective implementation of international law of the sea at UN meetings on oceans, the law of the sea and fisheries. We ensured Australia’s voice was heard in global meetings on marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction and on straddling and highly migratory fish stocks.Timor Sea resources were another continuing area of focus. We engaged with East Timor, through bilateral discussions and meetings of the Sunrise Commission, to promote the development of petroleum resources in the Greater Sunrise gas field. We also provided legal advice on Australia’s rights and obligations under the Timor Sea Treaty arrangements.

We continued to provide legal and policy advice on Australia’s substantial involvement in Antarctica, including the 5.8 million square kilometre Australian Antarctic Territory. We led Australia’s delegation to the 33rd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) held in Uruguay in May 2010. Our Senior Legal Adviser was elected Chair of the ATCM’s Legal and Institutional Working Group. We continued work on preparations for ATCM35, which will be held in Hobart in 2012.

Sanctions and transnational crime

The department coordinated whole-of-government implementation of UNSC and Australian autonomous sanctions regimes. These included monitoring Australian trade with countries subject to UNSC and Australian autonomous sanctions to ensure compliance with Australia’s sanction laws.

Photo - See caption below for description
Senior Legal Adviser, Mr Richard Rowe (far left), liaising with Dutch, Swedish and Swiss counterparts and the Chair of the Working Group on the Crime of Aggression, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid of Jordan (far right).
Photo: Courtesy of the ICC-CPI Secretariat of the Assembly of State Parties

During this reporting year, we oversaw the implementation of significant new measures imposed by the UNSC against Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear and missile programs (Resolution 1929 of 9 June 2010). We also oversaw a new UNSC sanctions regime against Eritrea (Resolution 1907 of 23 December 2009), as well as amendments to UNSC sanctions regimes relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Liberia and Somalia.

Following the Government’s decision to reform the way Australia imposes autonomous sanctions, we oversaw the drafting of the Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010, which Mr Smith introduced into Parliament on 26 May 2010. This Bill is intended to provide the Government with greater flexibility in the range of measures Australia can implement as autonomous sanctions.

We also worked hard on reforming Australia’s terrorist asset freezing scheme (under UNSC Resolution 1373 of 21 September 2001) through amendments to the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 (which were included in the omnibus National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010).

We contributed to meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), providing international legal and sanctions expertise in the development of FATF’s status report on combating proliferation financing. We also participated in a range of other international meetings on transnational crime, including the third Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (Doha, Qatar, 9–13 November 2009), the 53rd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (Vienna, Austria, 8–12 March 2009) and the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (Salvador, Brazil, 12–19 April 2010).

Covering all Australian state and territory capital cities, we conducted seminars for industry and state and territory governments on trading with integrity (dealing with Australian laws with extraterritorial effect, such as offences relating to bribery of foreign public officials), as well as on the Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010. At overseas posts in South-East Asia, North Asia and Latin America, we provided training for staff on their responsibilities relating to sanctions, criminal justice cooperation, and reporting credible allegations of serious criminal misconduct by Australians overseas.

International law

The department supported the deployment of Australian personnel, including to Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Haiti, by providing advice on international law issues.

We supported Australia’s ratification, on 15 July 2009, of the Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III) of 8 December 2005. The Protocol recognises the red crystal emblem, in addition to the red cross and red crescent, to identify humanitarian workers and facilities providing aid in times of armed conflict.

We continued to work towards Australia’s ratification of the Cluster Munitions Convention, by helping to draft implementing legislation.

We led Australia’s delegation to the first Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute, held from 31 May to 11 June 2010 in Kampala, Uganda. Australia was influential in forging consensus on several key outcomes that should help combat impunity and advance Australia’s long-term interests. The Review Conference finalised longstanding negotiations to define the crime of aggression as well as conditions for the exercise of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime. We also contributed to reaching agreement on three new war crimes that extend the ICC’s jurisdiction over the use of certain weapons in non-international armed conflict.

We continued to support other international criminal courts and tribunals, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, in their efforts to enhance the rule of law.

The department worked to advance Australia’s interest in enhanced adherence to international human rights law, including through Australia’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 21 August 2009.

We helped to liberalise air services between Australia and aviation partners by working towards the signature of a range of air services agreements, including with Mexico and Brazil.

We also contributed to extending a space tracking agreement with the United States for a further two years—and to negotiating, also with the United States, an agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

We also helped to finalise treaties to improve cooperation on taxation, including with New Zealand, Jersey, and Antigua and Barbuda. We also supported the conclusion of social security treaties (including with Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia) to improve Australians’ access to services here and overseas.

Treaties and outreach

The department continued to support the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), including in its review of twenty-five new major treaties, and by providing both JSCOT and Parliament with briefings and advice on treaty processes.

We facilitated the signing of numerous treaties and some 200 memorandums of understanding. We also supported consultation with the Australian states and territories on treaties currently under negotiation. We provided extensive advice on treaty matters to other government agencies, including running seminars for numerous Australian federal and state government agencies.


The department will continue to focus on active engagement in the multilateral system as a means to advance Australia’s interests in international security, human rights, climate change and global economic and development issues.

We will continue to advance Australia’s UNSC candidacy, including by supporting high-level advocacy and clearly outlining Australia’s credentials.

We will continue to focus on strengthening and improving the UN’s human rights machinery and processes, including the UN Human Rights Council, by taking part in the review of the Council, to be concluded in 2011.

Through high-level advocacy and representations, we will maintain broad regional engagement and participation in the activities of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. We will also continue to pursue effective return arrangements with key source countries.

We will continue to support Australia’s International Court of Justice case on Japanese whaling. We will advance reform of Australia’s autonomous sanctions regime. We will engage actively in preparations for the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting to be held in Hobart in 2012.

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