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Friday, 23 October 2020
The Cenotaph
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

I also pay my respects to our traditional owners, Gadigal Elders, past, present and emerging.

It is a great honour to join you, as Patron of the United Nations Association of Australia in NSW, as we celebrate the work of the United Nations, past, present and future. The 75th Anniversary of the United Nations is an especially significant commemoration. In this year of pandemic and, for many nations, food insecurity, the world is, indeed, thankful for the United Nations and its agencies: the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme. As we know, the World Food Programme was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize: ”for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”[1]

In recognising the importance of the United Nations to the world, it is instructive to return to that day 75 years ago - 24 October 1945 - in which the United Nations came into being.

In the closing months and in the dark shadow of the Second World War, representatives of 50 nations came together to create an instrument that would recognise universal rights, goals and principles - peace, freedom, justice and equality. That Charter of the United Nations, signed on 26th June 1945 in San Francisco and formally ratified on the 24 October 1945, aimed ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war …’[2]

As a founding signatory, our nation is deeply committed to the United Nations Charter.

In fact, three Australians played a significant role in the drafting of its 111 Articles. Frank Forde, Deputy Prime Minister and Dr Herbert ‘Doc’ Evatt, Minister for External Affairs are well-recognised for their roles. Not so well-known is the influence of Jessie Street, the only female Australian delegate and one of just eight women at the Conference.[3]

Article 1, part 3 of the Charter reads:

‘To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.’

“The inclusion of the word ‘sex’ was Jessie Street’s influence. ‘Where the rules are silent’, Jessie Street had said, ‘women are not usually considered’.[4]

Jessie Street and the other women delegates also introduced a major clause to the Charter in Article 8, which states: ‘The United Nations shall place no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate in any capacity and under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary organs.’”[5] In 1947, Jessie was to become Vice-Chair of the newly established United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.[6]

To this day, we can thank these women, and the men who had the wisdom to vote in support, for enshrining the eligibility of women to hold positions of office in the United Nations and in its peacekeeping operations. This year’s International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers[7] celebrated the theme: ‘Women in Peacekeeping – A Key to Peace’ to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This resolution acknowledged the impact of conflict on women and children, and encouraged women’s participation across all aspects of the peace process.[8]

Our service on United Nations Day recognises the significant contribution made ‘in the service of peace’ by over 80,000 Australian peacekeepers – military, police and civilian – to more than 60 United Nations and other international peacekeeping missions since 1947. It commemorates Australian participation in the very first UN mission (UNGOC)[9] in Indonesia, through to missions including Cambodia, the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, the Middle East, South Sudan and Cyprus, in which we served a total of 53 years, through 111 contingents, until 2017.[10]

At the Australian flag-lowering service in Cyprus, the UN Head of Mission recognised that: “Australia has led by example with respect to one of the mission’s key objectives, and that is to ensure that women are strongly represented among our peacekeepers.”[11]

Australian peacekeepers are currently serving in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Middle East and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).[12]

Last year, Australian David McLachlan-Karr commenced in his role as Deputy Special Representative in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO),[13] also serving as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator.

From peacekeeping to ‘peacebuilding’[14], our men and women face difficulties and dangers in remote and isolated regions, ‘where infrastructure is destroyed and peace is, at best, fragile’.[15] Their skills, professionalism and resourcefulness help navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.

In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “Efforts to build and sustain peace are necessary not only once conflict has broken out, but long beforehand, through preventing conflict and addressing its root causes. We must work better together across the peace continuum.”[16]

In honouring the almost 4000 UN peacekeepers and the small number of Australians who have lost lives in the service of peacekeeping - and remembering the sacrifices of their families - it is right that our remembrance should transcend nation and citizenship.

The responsibility for peace should never be the responsibility of one nation or organisation alone, even one that has been as magnificent in its vision as the United Nations.

In this 75th Anniversary year - amid a global pandemic, world food shortages and ongoing conflict, may “we the peoples …”[17] - in those resounding first words of the United Nations Charter - give thanks to the United Nations for its work for the benefit of all humanity.


[3] UN Conference on International Organisation



[7] 29 May 2020


[9] United Nations Good Offices Committee became UNCI - United Nations Commission for Indonesia

[11] - Australian flag lowered in Cyprus on 16 June 2017



[14] UN Peacebuilding Commission and Funds:

[15] Ibid




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