Australia to take seat on UNHRC from 2018

Australia will take a seat on the powerful United Nations’ Human Rights Council for the first time after seeing off diplomatic powerhouse France.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed France’s withdrawal will clear the way for Australia and Spain to take up two vacancies on the council, from 2018.

France’s strategic withdrawal came after Australia secured 141 written pledges and more than 20 verbal pledges from 192 of the UN’s member countries to back Australia’s bid.

The result came after a mammoth lobbying effort led by Ms Bishop personally, and Australia’s network of ambassadors and diplomats around the globe, focusing particularly on small island nations and the Indian and Pacific oceans countries.

A plush toy kangaroo wearing a green and gold hoodie was also part of the “soft diplomacy’’ push.

Speaking in the Serbian capital Belgrade, Ms Bishop said the bid was run under the existing budget.

“We didn’t use our aid budget, we didn’t make promises we couldn’t keep. We very much campaigned on our record and how we would act on the Human Rights Council,’’ she said.

“We also drew on our experience on the (UN) Security Council where Australia was considered to be a principled, pragmatic, outcomes-driven member and I think that certainly put us in a very positive light for the Human Rights Council.’’

The 47-member council, whose membership is chosen by the wider UN country network, has members including Saudi Arabia, which executes people for religious crimes, and China, which routinely abuses free speech and human rights.

Ms Bishop said it was important democratic countries like Australia stood for election to the Human Rights Council on that basis.

“You either go on the Human Rights Council and promote these values or you allow others who don’t have the same human rights record to go on the council and set their standard,’’ she said.

“We don’t lecture and we don’t hector but we provide examples and experience and work with countries to try to improve the situation through comparisons to what’s happened in other countries.

“It puts us in a very significant position to work with other countries to improve the human rights situation in their borders.”

Ms Bishop said “like-minded nations’’ had urged Australia to bid for a seat.

Australia campaigned on five key areas — indigenous rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women, freedom of speech and freedom of expression, strengthening domestic national human rights institutions and governance, accountability and transparency.

Critics will likely point out the brawl between former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs and the Turnbull government, which saw Attorney-General George Brandis encourage Ms Triggs to resign.

While the United Nations still has to vote on the council membership, the overwhelming support for Australia will deliver the seat.

“The result will presumably be that Australia and Spain will be elected onto the Human Rights Council because France withdrew so there won’t need to be a contest,’’ Ms Bishop said.

“We had secured 141 written pledges which is an outstanding, given we only secured 123 for the Security Council bid under the Rudd Government and they spent a fortune.’’

Ms Bishop said a Human Rights Council seat had always been a foreign policy ambition of hers but she was not able to achieve it under former prime minister Tony Abbott.

However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull embraced it after he took over in September 2015. (Courtesy Herald Sun)