090713 AMUNC Speech

Asia Pacific Model United Nations Conference (AMUNC)

The University of Queensland

12-17 July 2009                                                

13th of July, 2009


Ms Grace Grace MP, Member for Brisbane, representing the Premier,

Brisbane City Councillor, Nicole Johnston, representing the Lord Mayor of Brisbane,

Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Queensland, Professor Deborah Terry,

Our distinguished speaker and my longstanding associate, Professor Ramesh Thakur,

Other distinguished guests,

Conference Co-convenors,

Delegates and observers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


In the spirit of the reconciliation that we wish to promote throughout Queensland and Australia, so that indigenous and non-indigenous Australians may better understand, respect and value one another and true social justice be achieved for all, I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathered, the Jagera and Turrbal peoples; and I thank Maroochy Barambah, song and law-woman of the Turrbal peoples, for her wonderful "Welcome to Country."  I have heard Maroochy on many occasions and never fail to be moved by her eloquence and by the power of her voice and message.

It is a very great pleasure for me, as Governor of Queensland, as the Patron of the Queensland Branch of the United Nations Association of Australia, and as Official Visitor of the University of Queensland, to welcome all delegates, participants and presenters to the 14th Asia-Pacific Model United Nations Conference.

I extend a special welcome to our delegates from interstate and overseas. We are pleased and proud that the largest Model UN Conference in our region is this year taking place in Queensland.  2009 is a very special year for Queensland and for Brisbane: both are celebrating their 150th anniversary and you will find there is a lively sense of celebration evident in the community, which Queenslanders are eager to share with visitors.  In addition to finding a warm welcome, I hope that our participants - and the 26 different nationalities represented - in this international event will feel quickly at home in our State.  From its beginnings as a penal settlement and British colony, Queensland has grown to become a vibrant multicultural society, thriving on diversity: 200 different cultures are now part of our community, with over 1,500 ethnic organisations represented and active - including the Balinese music and dance group whose performance we all enjoyed today.  Queensland is, therefore, an admirable environment to hold this conference, with its purpose of promoting generally greater intercultural exchange and engagement, improved dialogue and cooperation between nations and more specifically, greater unity and understanding within the Asia-Pacific Region.

As someone who has spent a lifetime working in the sphere of international relations, and as a devout multilateralist, I can only applaud these goals and your commitment to them.  Model UN's have been around for a long time - I have attended and supported many over the years; but never have we needed them more, to inspire students on the threshold of their careers, with important choices yet to make about life-directions, that those choices need to encompass, to embrace, an international dimension - and a realisation that greater cooperation between peoples and countries is not just an ideal for the high-minded or the ‘do-gooders' - it is an IMPERATIVE - if not THE imperative of our times.

This conference is being held in an extraordinary international context.  Rarely has a constellation of traumatic, deepening world problems impressed on us with such force the urgent need to move away from narrow nationalism to a global, multilateral approach and, as the conference theme puts, towards a global civilisation.

In the world of diplomacy that I inhabited for forty years, words count for a great deal.  They are at the very heart of your work, as negotiators, as people who must argue, persuade, find ways of resolving differences.  Communication is your craft - you need to be clear, to understand the value of precision (and, at times, of creative ambiguity) and you will find, over and over again, that definitions are critical.  If people cannot agree on the way to define a problem or the purpose of a discussion, they have little prospect of finding a solution.

So, as a matter of course, when tackling a subject, I start at the beginning, with the key words.  In this case, I started with your conference theme - "Towards Global Civilisation" - which the AMUNC brochure said was to be "the driving force behind every committee session, guest speaking opportunity, discussion panel, workshop and even social events."

I looked up "civilization".  It would have been easy to accept the most basic definition - namely "the type of culture of a specific group" e.g. Greek or Roman civilization - because you are seeking - or you will be during the coming days - to create greater understanding between cultures.  However, there are other layers of meaning which need to be thought about by participants in this conference - ones that I believe helped drive the vision of those who launched the ‘Alliance of Civilisations' initiative, including former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.  Australia's National Dictionary, the Macquarie dictionary, defines civilisation as "an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of art, science, religion and government has been reached."  It also defines it as the "act or process of civilising."  If you then burrow further (as you should always do as practicing diplomatists), and look up "civilise", the verb - you will find it defined as "to make civil; bring out of a savage state; elevate in social and individual life; enlighten; refine."  Those are your goals at this conference - not to compete, to assert your rights as the individual nations you will represent as delegates, as tempting and as enjoyable as it may be to debate vigorously, to show off your knowledge and skills and to try to score points off others.  The real test - and what ultimately secures outcomes in difficult, emotionally charged negotiations, where vital national and international interests are at stake and in conflict - is learning not to talk at cross-purposes (either literally or figuratively), of learning to let go, to compromise, to sympathise and empathise with others - to realise that if everyone digs in, nobody wins - everyone loses.

And if that was true during my life as a negotiator, as Australia's Ambassador to the UN and Ambassador for the Environment - negotiating Agenda 21, the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity, the UN Security Council Resolution on East Timor, which secured unanimous agreement on an intervention force with a Chapter Seven mandate, the UN declaration on HIV/Aids, the Plan of Action on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, the Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security ... it is even more so today, when the challenges seem even greater - even more ‘savage'- to return to my dictionary and your goal of getting to a higher level of global cooperation.

I am an optimist by nature.  I simply don't believe we have a choice to be otherwise - but it is a fact that at this time in our global history, there are many who feel pessimistic about the future, considering the state of the planet and the problems it confronts.  Looking ahead, they/we all can see a number of huge tectonic ‘issue plates' which are on a collision course. Most obvious among these are the global population explosion, climate change and global consumption - issues which will take centre stage in a many of your deliberations.

If this movement of issues is allowed to continue on their present course we stand to leave behind us a shameful legacy of global hunger, poverty, conflict and environmental destruction.

That might sound a little exaggerated - particularly for those of you who are Australian students.  You have, until very recently, enjoyed growing up in a decade of unprecedented prosperity and of what some are now describing as an era of hyper-consumerism.  But we have all been reminded in recent months of the extent to which that affluence is  dependent on the globalisation of the world economy - and that that globalisation - which has brought great benefits in many areas, has its downside - most obviously seen in the worst global recession since World War II.

And it is also that globalisation which is acting to accelerate - at an alarming pace - the speed at which those tectonic issue plates are moving.

The UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates a global population of just over 9 billion by 2050, from the current 6.8 billion.  Almost all of the increase will be in developing countries which will accommodate almost 8 billion.  Current estimates are that food production will have to double in the next 20 years to meet this global demand.

If we add to this the level of resource exploitation needed to sustain Western consumption levels and deliver rising developing country affluence and appetites, it becomes an unsustainable equation.  By 2050 the UN's scientists - members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) - are warning us that greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced by at least 50% if temperatures are to be kept below a 2 degree increase  - above which uncontrolled climate change effects threaten.  That calls for a fundamental change in the level and patterns of global consumption.  It also calls for a fundamental change in the way in which the international community works together to address these problems - because of their scale and their complexity, they are quite clearly beyond the capacity of any single nation to solve.  They require new and unprecedented forms of cooperation. Which brings me to the United Nations - the existing paramount body and principal vehicle for international cooperation.

Sixty years since its creation in the aftermath of a devastating conflict, the UN is showing its age - creaking at the joints in some respects.  Some consider it incapable of handling today's complex agenda.  It is variously criticised as unwieldy, inefficient, overly bureaucratic and with a decision-making structure reflecting the power configurations of yesteryear.

From personal experience, I can say there is some truth in all of these criticisms.  But my experience also gives me faith in the UN and its capacity to deliver outcomes.  With now 192 member states and myriad accredited observer organisations, with its extensive range of specialised agencies, it has the reach, the structures and connections, I believe, to address the critical issues facing the globe.  Some of the joints may be creaky, but the foundations are strong - and the Charter - its constitution - is as meaningful and compelling today as it was when drafted.  The opening words of the Preamble always give me heart - and should remain your inspiration through this Model UN Conference - "We the Peoples".

Those three words capture the essence of the UN - its spirit and its purpose - a determination to take collective action, with people both at the centre and assuming responsibility.  People looking beyond self, beyond individual countries, committed to serving a larger purpose and a common good.

Of course, when it comes to the crunch, of finding the will to work collectively, it is very difficult to achieve.

Over the next four days I am sure you will get some of the flavour of the difficulties inherent in multilateral diplomacy.  It has developed into an art form all of its own.  You will understand that the issues themselves are inevitably more complex that at first sight.  And after some long and frustrating snail-pace progress you will also realize  that reaching a consensus has its own unique, unending complexities tied up in the sheer number of countries involved, their cultural differences, their separate negotiating styles and the so often hidden multiple and differing political agendas.

In the thick of negotiation, of discussions in committee, you will need to step back from time to time to remind yourselves of the purpose and of what is at stake for the global community. Problems are dealt with by breaking things down into the component parts and working steadily through them, bit by bit - but always keep the larger picture alongside - keep your sense of perspective - and your sense of humour - or if not humour (because jokes can fall flat in a multilateral context - especially in translation!) - then your good will towards others.  Pursue a collaborative - not a combative approach.  Think cooperation, not confrontation.  Be willing to persevere and to be patient.  These are the qualities that will mark you as an effective diplomat and accomplished multilateralist, as will your mastery of your subject matter - the development of your communication skills - and your capacity to network and engage and connect with others in both formal negotiations and informal exchanges.

This Model UN conference creates the opportunities for you to do all these things - to practice, test and develop your skills.  I compliment you on choosing to attend - to commit scarce financial resources, time and effort to being here. Of course, we hope you will have fun and enjoy the experience but your decision to participate shows a sense of responsibility - and an awareness of priorities - that is encouraging for all of us who recognise there needs to be a profound cultural and attitudinal shift among the next generation, a strong embrace of a new ethic of global cooperation, if the world is to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Looking ahead to that ‘tomorrow', I hope that by 2050, at the height of your careers, you will have been part - one way or another - of a Herculean effort to resolve the colliding global problems which face us. 

I hope that your understanding of their complexity and urgency will make you exceptional advocates and contributors to addressing them.  In this process, your understanding that the United Nations does give us some of the essential tools to meet the global challenges - and will therefore play a central role - will be invaluable.  So will your understanding that to do so the UN will need to have far greater resources, be given a greatly expanded capacity to act and be structurally reformed in a way which allows it to do so.  And if you can persuade others to think likewise - as I hope you will resolve to do, then I take great heart that we will reach that ‘global civilisation', that you will be the creators - and your children will be the inheritors - of a world which is more livable, more generous, more just and more compassionate.  

Thank you.