Is it really in Australia's interest to be in the UN ?
In 1945 as World War II came to an end the United Nations (UN) was formed and Australia was a member from the start. (1) Australia’s Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt, was a keen supporter but was also concerned that our nation’s sovereignty be protected and that the White Australia Policy, which he supported, would continue. (2) Evatt held his position of Minister from 1941 until 1949 when the Labor government was succeeded by Robert Menzies’ Liberal government. Unfortunately both our sovereignty and the White Australia Policy were to be threatened.
Since 1945 Australia has acceded to over 300 United Nations treaties and currently 235 of these are still in force. (3) While some of these treaties may be of some practical use many do in fact impinge on our sovereignty and the way we run our country. They affect our law making and the way we live our lives, often involve substantial costs to be borne by the taxpayer, and can have disastrous results.
Take for example the Convention on Refugees that Australia signed in 1951. We already had a very generous intake of refugees, mainly those displaced by World War II or fleeing repressive regimes in Eastern Europe. However once we signed the Convention we lost a lot of control as now anyone who arrived on our shores and claimed to be fleeing persecution could not be turned away, at least not until they were proven not to be genuine refugees. This really became a problem when thousands of boat people started to turn up, or for the less lucky, died on the way. While various attempts were made to stem the flow under Tony Abbott’s Liberal government and the boats were finally stopped, the cost directly in lives was over 1,200 with the financial cost running into billions of dollars. This was taxpayer’s money that should have been spent on things like roads, schools and hospitals in Australia.
Then there are the various human rights treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While these sound good they raise the question of exactly what rights should be included in these treaties or for that matter who is to decide this. A further problem is the creation of human rights bureaucracies and highly paid commissioners who not only cost the taxpayer money but seem intent on interfering with what the everyday man-in-the-street would consider his rights such as freedom of expression and association. As Mark Latham points out Australia’s Human Rights Commission is becoming a law unto itself with the Race Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, engaged in social engineering totally unnecessary and unwanted by the majority of people in this country, including racial minorities. (4)
Meanwhile in many parts of the world slavery continues, in some cases flourishes, and there are probably now more slaves than at any time in history. (5)
Related to the human rights is racial discrimination and in 1966 the UN passed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, something that Australia acceded to although anti-discrimination legislation was not passed by federal parliament until 1975. The year that saw the convention passed also saw the start of the ‘reform’ of the White Australia Policy: So much for the hope that membership of the UN would not affect our national sovereignty. The convention contained an article against racial vilification which was included at the request of the Soviet Union, probably the country which had the worst human rights record of any in the 20th century.
In 2007 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples although at the time Australia, along with Canada, New Zealand and the United States, opposed this declaration. In 2009 Australia reversed its position and accepted the declaration without reservation. In view of the convention on racial discrimination it would seem to be a bit hypocritical to have another convention just for an indigenous minority, one that sought to guarantee a right to self-determination, rights to maintain their own political and cultural institutions while at the same time maintaining rights to participate in the political and cultural life of the State. (6) The implication would seem to be that indigenous peoples have a right to separate development if they so wish, something not granted to the non-indigenous majority.
The practical implementation of these treaties has been hypocritical and full of ambiguities. Most of the people who write them would not have set foot in Australia or most of those countries that are affected by the treaties. The hope that the UN would bring about world peace has not been realised as the current warfare in the Middle East shows. Overt racial discrimination under South Africa’s Apartheid system finished but legal discrimination against minorities in Malaysia still continues. As far back as 1948 the UN adopted a Genocide Convention but this did not stop the genocide in Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime or in Rwanda in 1994. (7)
All the while there has been a growth in what may be called the human rights industry and human rights has formed one of the fastest growing areas of national and international law, along with the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). But are we really freer or otherwise better-off? The ordinary citizen doesn’t get a say in what goes on in the UN or what any of their treaties contain. We don’t get to vote for delegates to the UN. In fact in many ways we seem to have less control over our lives despite the supposed growth in human rights. Along with this there are the millions of tax payer funds that it costs to be a member of the UN. All things considered we would probably be better off leaving the UN.
(1) Heather Docalavich, “The History and Structure of the United Nations”, Mason Crest Publishers, Philadelphia, 2007
(2) James Cotton and David Lee (Eds.), “Australia and the United Nations”, Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, book production by Longueville Books, 2012
(3) Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, Downloaded 26 June 2017
(4) Mark Latham, “Just Too Big for Its Boots”, Daily Telegraph, 4 July 2017
(5) E. Benjamin Skinner, “A Crime So Monstrous”, Free Press, New York, 2009
(6) https://www.humanrights.gov.au/united-nations-declaration-rights-indigenous-people... Downloaded 26 June 2017
(7) James Waller, “Becoming Evil”, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002