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Reception in recognition of UN Day, Government House


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good afternoon, all.

Linda and I are delighted to welcome you to Government House for this reception in honour of UN Day in this the 75th anniversary year of its founding.

Our meeting just now with Louise Aubin [UNHCR Regional Representative and A/g Director UN Representations in Australia], Dr Patricia Jenkings [UNAA Vice President] and Brian Gleeson [UNAA ACT President] reinforced in my mind the wealth of experience that exists among members of the United Nations Association of Australia [UNAA] and in UN agencies based here in Canberra – experience across many areas and in both the private and public sectors.

Thank you all for your contributions thus far to inform, inspire and engage Australians on the work, goals and values of the United Nations to create a safer, fairer, more sustainable world.

That experience and expertise is critically important in Australia and globally at this juncture as we manage the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare to meet its global consequences.

In preparation for this event I was reading the UNAA Strategic Plan 2018-2023. Under the heading, ‘Our geopolitical context’, the Plan says:

‘The next five years will be crucial for Australia and the international community.

‘In an increasingly complex world, peace and security will remain fragile …

‘Ensuring human rights for all and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will be an enormous challenge for Australia and the world.’

Two years into the plan and that geopolitical context has been turned on its head by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As stated by UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in his UN Day speech: ‘At its birth, the United Nations was a symbol of global unity. Today it is the epicentre. Our mission is more important than ever.’

Last week, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world passed 40 million. The impact of the pandemic on food security and household income in many countries has been severe and has disproportionately affected women the world over, including here in Australia.

We are in unchartered waters, so a bold yet measured approach to a new normal is what’s required.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has further stated: ‘The pandemic has taught us that our choices matter. As we look to the future, let us make sure we choose wisely.’

As co-patrons of the UNAA, Linda and I want to commend the Association and its partners for the choices and actions you have undertaken to look at ways to utilise the skills and experience of the UN Alumni Network.

Network members (some of whom are present here today) have capabilities in health, humanitarian, security and crisis response — valuable resources that can be used by governments in their attempts to slow the spread of the virus, manage the fallout of the virus and help nations rebuild and recover.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the UNAA had arranged a two-day forum to bring together civil society, government, business and UN leaders under the theme of ‘Building sustainable partnerships to progress the Sustainable Development Goals’. The event had to be postponed because of restrictions on large gatherings, but I’m informed it’s now back on and scheduled for April 2021.

The digital UN & Australia Sustainable Partnerships Forum will enable U-N-A-A to bring global speakers and audiences together with current and future Australian Sustainable Development Goals leaders. Plenary sessions, interactive breakout discussions and networking opportunities will help promote dialogue, connections and ongoing collaboration, including on how we all work together in recovery and rebuilding.

It’s a fine example of how the UNAA can contribute positively to managing the impact of the pandemic.

In the current environment, the work of the UNAA to create a safer, fairer and more sustainable world has perhaps never been more important.

Australia is a founding member of the UN and our membership on the Human Rights Council ensures we are a trusted partner in international affairs.

We all have an important role to play and must do all that we can to maintain a strong United Nations.

On behalf of our nation, thank you for the work you are doing to promote the values of the UN and to make the world a better place for us all.