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AIIA National Conference 2014: Contribution to Global Issues

24 Nov 2014
By Hale Yildiz

A panel of experts offered advice on Australia’s contribution to global issues at the Australian Institute of International Affairs’ National Conference. Hale Yildiz reports.

Paul Wilson, Former Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations and to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, opened discussion around the Arms Trade Treaty regulating the international transfer of weapons, noting its significance as being a push factor for states to display transparency in exchanges, rather than a disarmament treaty as such. Mr Watson explained that the ambitious treaty, which places export blocks on arm transfers deemed controversial by the UN Security Council or for other humanitarian reasons, depends on effective implementation.

The 2012 ATT negotiations took place among a range of international organisations and constituencies, with the aim of achieving humanitarian outcomes. After the first round was unable to reach an agreement, the second conference became an exemplar of multilateral cooperation that moved away from developed-developing world paradigm to a humanitarian coalition of affected states.

Australia’s active role in the international arms control regime serves to consolidate Australia’s current and future standing as a top 20 nation.

Professor Megan Davis spoke on the underrecognised UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues based in New York that has been active for 30 years. Equipped with a broad mandate, the focus of UNPFII is to provide advice to the Economic and Social Council on issues pertaining to indigenous affairs, women’s rights, violence, maternal health, cross-border issues, environment and constitutional matters.

President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, commenced debate on Australia’s approach to human rights. Mentioning that Australia currently lacks a bill of rights, resulting in a limited mandate for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as it is separate from Australian legal framework, Professor Triggs gave the view that Australia assumes an isolationist stance in implementing human rights policies. Australia remains the only western country without a ratified Bill of Rights, with Asia-Pacific being the only region in the world without a human rights charter.

Professor Triggs opened a broader debate on how Australia can break out of its negative reputation. Criticising recent government actions on bolstering anti-terrorism laws, she stated that these policies are potentially more restrictive than would be allowed by a hypothetical bill of rights. In a sobering reminder of Australia’s conflicted approach to human rights, Professor Triggs cited offshore processing practices for asylum-seekers and concluded with the need for a more humanitarian realist approach and openness to rethinking adopting an Australian bill of rights.

Hale Yildiz is a former research intern at the AIIA National Office. She can be reached at