Q&A with Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific: Part 2

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Australian minister for international development and the Pacific. Photo by: Elma Okic / United Nations / CC BY-NC-ND

In part one of our interview with Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Australian minister for international development and the Pacific, she discussed reframing Australia’s aid program, private sector engagement, the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump and value of innovation competitions.

In part two of our interview, which took place after the minister spoke at the inaugural aid supplier conference of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Fierravanti-Wells talked to Devex about Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. This week she will be travelling to Geneva to deliver a high-level national statement to the council. Here are highlights from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Australia is contesting for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council for 2018 to 2020. How is that going?

Australia has a very good story to tell in relation to human rights. We are putting forward our candidate for our 2018-2020 term on the Human Rights Council. This is the first time that a country from the Pacific has put forward a candidate and we think it would be very important to have a voice from the Pacific.

Q&A with Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific: Part 1

At the inaugural aid supplier conference of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, sat down with Devex to discuss a range of topics impacting overseas development in Australia and internationally. In part one of the interview, the minister discusses reframing the aid program, private sector engagement, the impact of Trump and value of innovation competitions.

There are two positions available for three countries — the other two countries, France and Spain, are both from Europe. We believe that France and Spain probably would bring a very similar perspective to the candidature whereas, Australia is a country with a good story. We are a multicultural nation and we are a nation that has a strong record of human rights.

During our time on the United Nations Security Council, we demonstrated practicality — a principles approach and a pragmatic approach, which we would bring to our candidature on the Human Rights Council.

As part of our pitch, we have focused on key areas, including governance and greater governance in human rights institutions around the world, gender and gender equality, but also equality issues — we have supported small states. Australia contributes to a presence at the United Nations to enable small states to have a voice there.

What has been the response from the region in regard to Australia’s bid?

Australia has received good support. There will be a vote at the United Nations in October, so the foreign minister [Julie Bishop] and I are very focused on this bid. We also have our ambassadors, special envoys and our whole network across the world, working hard to ensure that we attain one of those two spots.

So our pitch is basically: Pacific; Australia; from this neck of the woods. And of course there are two European countries and we wish them well but, from Australia’s perspective, we’d like to be elected. You’ve got to have a mix!

But of course, we have received good support from our region.

The themes Australia is pushing for in its bid are gender equality and the empowerment of women; freedom of expression; good governance; the rights of indigenous peoples; strong national human rights institutions and capacity building. Do you feel Australia’s themes are properly being addressed currently, especially for the Pacific region, by the Human Rights Council?

These five pillars represent areas where Australia can advance human rights in practical, sensible ways that will have far-reaching systemic effects over time — areas where we are already leaders in promoting improvements, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.

If elected to the council, we will also be a strong advocate for a wide range of other important human rights issues, including global abolition of the death penalty, freedom of religion or belief, the rights of people with a disability, and the rights of children and older persons. We will bring to bear our perspective as a multicultural, tolerant and inclusive society.

The Pacific office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, based in Suva, has a strong focus on gender equality and building the capacity of Pacific Island countries to participate in treaty body reporting and the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review.

How important are addressing these themes by the Human Rights Council to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals, in addition to having a strong focus on the Pacific region?

The Australian government is committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  We were active in the two years of negotiations for the SDGs, with a particular focus on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment and peace and governance, which includes human rights.

The 2030 agenda reaffirms the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments relating to human rights. It highlights certain human rights, such as reproductive rights, the right to water and sanitation, labor rights and equal rights — among women and men — to economic resources and basic services. Gender equality and good governance are both important standalone goals — but are also cross-cutting priorities and fundamental to achievement of the SDGs in total.

As the principal global forum addressing human rights, the Human Rights Council can help support the achievement of the SDGs.

How does Australia’s agenda differ from the agendas of France and Spain, who are also seeking a role on the council?

Australia is competing against Spain and France in the “Western Europe and others” group for the 2018-2020 term. Australia brings a different perspective on world issues, since we are located in the Indo-Pacific region, not Europe.

If elected, we will bring a commitment to work with partners to reach practical solutions that have long-term benefits. It is the same principled, pragmatic and consultative approach that distinguished our term on the U.N. Security Council in 2013-14.

How will Australia's presence on the council impact human rights and identification of breaches of human rights in Australia and the region?

We are strongly committed to the U.N. human rights system, believing it plays a critical role in ensuring appropriate scrutiny and accountability. Rather than shying away from problems, we seek to identify them, address them and learn from them. Australia has a strong human rights record, but we are willing to work with global partners in addressing challenges within Australia, such as the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Australia has a standing invitation for Human Rights Council special rapporteurs to visit, demonstrating our commitment to transparency, scrutiny and accountability. 117 member states of the U.N. have standing invitations, with the others assessing requests to visit on a case-by-case basis. We will welcome visits by five Human Rights Council special rapporteurs during 2016-2017.

Reflecting our commitment to transparency, Australia is preparing a website outlining our response to recommendations received during Australia’s Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review. This will report on progress of recommendations accepted during the UPR.

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About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.