Remarks at UN 70th Anniversary Reception, Sydney

October 23, 2015

Well thank you very much, Mike – and can I adopt and embellish all of your acknowledgements to all the very distinguished guests we have here tonight.

Can I also echo your remarks about the loss of Jackie Sutton. The workers, the staff of the UN put their lives on the line all the time and all too often pay the highest price.

The United Nations is often seen as being a largely administrative exercise but its servants, its collaborators, including many Australians, many Australian servicemen and women and policemen and women, over many years, over 65,000 Australians have served in UN missions around the world. Keeping the peace, supporting the peace, helping the helpless is often very dangerous work.

And when we celebrate the 70th birthday of the United Nations, the United Nations is born on the same day that I was born. I am a little bit younger than the United Nations. But all my life, I’ve had my birthday on United Nations Day, so I feel specially privileged to be here as your Prime Minister celebrating United Nations Day.

But can I also add to the list of acknowledgements that of Robert Hill – a very distinguished predecessor of Marise Payne as defence minister and also a predecessor of mine as environment minister but above all, in this context, Australia's Ambassador to the United Nations.

Australia plays a very committed role in the United Nations system. As you know, Doc Evatt – Herbet Vere Evatt – was the third president of the General Assembly. We were there at the foundation and we have been an enthusiastic partner, member of the United Nations ever since.

Julie Bishop demonstrated how important a role on the Security Council could be when she was able to secure the entire support of the global community to stand up and take on the challenge of the shocking crime that was committed over the Ukraine in the shooting down of MH17. Julie demonstrated how powerful that United Nations platform was.

And as you know, we have logged a claim for a future bid for the Security Council, some years hence, and we’ve also lodged a bid to join the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. So, there is a continuing commitment to the United Nations.

Mike talked about the compassion of the UN and the compassion of Australia. Let me say this to you, that the United Nations is the single largest most idealistic organisation in the world. Every nation is a member. It was designed or built by some, I suppose, to end wars but more realistically, to work together and challenge the proposition that might is right.

Two and a half thousand years ago or thereabouts, the Athenian general Thucydides wrote what is probably the earliest work of real history – his history of the Peloponnesian War, the war between the Athenians and Spartans. And in book five he describes a time when the Athenians led by the general Alcibiades went to the island of Melos, which was neutral and said to the Melians, you are either with us or against us. You have to join with us or we will finish you off. The Melians said we are just a little country, we’re just a little city, we want to stay neutral, we want to be independent.

And the debate is chronicled by Thucydides – it’ called the Melian Dialogue, it’s probably the earliest exposition of realpolitik, because at the end of it the Athenian ambassadors losing patience say to the Melians, enough of this nonsense about justice and fairness, you know that in the real world justice is only found between equals in power, as for the rest, the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.

That might is right proposition, has dominated realpolitik forever since and no doubt before the Melian Dialogue. But that is what the United Nations seeks to take on. The challenge that nations working collectively can say to the great and powerful, there are rules, the weak must be protected, the rule of law must be obeyed, not just domestically but internationally.

Imperfect in its execution, often, dissatisfied, often, but the ideal of the United Nations is a vitally important one. And I wanted to just conclude with this thought: that we are standing here on the shores of this beautiful harbour, in this great city in our great nation, we are the most successful multicultural society in the world. There is simply no other country – no other comparable country – whose population is so diverse, that is drawn from so many backgrounds, from so many faiths, ethnic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, as Australia.

In this city of Sydney, nearly a third of all the people that live in this city were born outside of Australia and we live together with great harmony – we live together with great harmony. And what defines that harmony, nothing less than respect – mutual respect. That two-way street of respect is what enables us to live together so successfully. It is the ideal which the United Nations aspires to. The rule of law, respect for others – high ideals, hard to achieve, but so important to work hard and to aspire to.

This is a great day – the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations. A great ideal. I think we should all look forward to another 70 years of practical idealism from the United Nations.

Thank you very much.



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